Read any Pakistani newspaper on any given day and you will find a series of articles on the country’s deteriorating relations with the United States. The Donald Trump Administration, unlike its predecessors, without mincing words, has accused Pakistan of supporting cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries in the region, in a clear reference to Pakistan sponsored terrorism in India. President Trump, in a snub to Pakistan, also asked India to participate in Afghanistan’s economic development more actively. Most of these Pakistani writers accuse Trump and the US of being unfair to Pakistan and claim that it is their country, which is one of the biggest victims of terrorism. However, they also bluntly accuse their own establishment of patronising terrorist groups, leading to the growth of a jihadi mindset in Pakistan. The US, apart from stopping $225 million in aid, is threatening to withdraw the “Major non-NATO” ally status bestowed on Pakistan, and is obliquely hinting at declaring Pakistan a state sponsoring terrorism. The US has declared Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin as a globally designated terrorist. On 19 September 2017, Trump in his address to the UN Assembly stated, “It is time to expose and hold responsible those countries who support and finance terror groups like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Taliban and others that slaughter innocent people.” The reference to Taliban and Al Qaeda was directed against Pakistan.
The US wants to exit from Afghanistan, but not without stabilising that country. It does not want Afghanistan to be ruled by a fundamentalist Taliban regime, which is controlled by the pro-Pakistani Quetta Shura (governing council), which in turn is dependent on the Haqqani network. And the Haqqani network has close ties with the ISI. It must be underlined that the US and the rest of the West are scared of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. They are worried that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan would lead to a wave of radical Islam sweeping through Central Asia and West Asia. After achieving a victory in Afghanistan, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda would ensure that they gain power in a nuclearised Pakistan as well.
There is a realisation around the world that Pakistan’s Afghan policy—which includes the use of Islamic terrorist groups, even when these groups are not directly operating in India—is solely guided by Pakistan’s false pursuit of gaining strategic depth vis-a-vis India. The international community understands that the growth of radicalism in Pakistan is the direct result of the encouragement that anti-India jihadists get from that country’s establishment. Only Sunni Punjabi Pakistanis and maulvis are interested in Kashmir, while all the other sects and ethnic groups such as Shias, Ahmadis, Sindhis, Balochis and even Pashtuns are least bothered whether or not the valley remains with India or joins Pakistan. The growth of jihadi psyche in Pakistan too can be traced to the Punjabi dominated Pakistani establishment, especially the army-sponsored religious groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami (Salafi), Jamaat-e-Ulema (Deobandi), Jamaat-Ahle-Wal-Sunnat (Barelvis) and Jamaat-Ahle-Hadees (Salafi). These groups are radicalising the youths in universities, colleges, schools and madrasas, and asking them to wage a jihad against India, by creating the phobia that India poses an existential threat to Pakistan.
A realistic assessment will show that India’s only interest in Afghanistan is to ensure that the latter does not return to being the headquarters of international jihadi terrorism. India’s economic aid to Afghanistan is only aimed at modernising that country and thus reducing the growing radicalism among Afghans. It is neither the intention of India, nor is it possible for India to use Afghanistan as a security prop against Pakistan.
Pakistan is not an obsession for ordinary Indians. Indian industry and business do not have an appetite for the Pakistani market. To put it crudely, India will never try to occupy Pakistan, as both India’s right-wing and “secularists” dread the prospect of adding to this country’s population, 20 crore Muslims—a significant section of which is radicalised—thus diluting the majority of the Hindus. Also, for a security analyst, there cannot be a more frightening scenario than a Salafist independent Waziristan, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. So Pakistan needs to realise that India wants a stable, strong but de-radicalised Pakistan as its neighbour. Pakistan also needs to understand that India will never ever allow Kashmir to separate. At the same time, contrary to public posturing by politicians, India will never make any military efforts to free Pakistan occupied Kashmir. My advice to the Pakistan establishment is to act quietly to stop terrorist infiltration in Kashmir and lock up the cadre of LeT, JeM and Hizbul. This will improve its international image significantly. It is not Chinese props like CPEC or OBOR, but a multilateral trade and transit agreement among India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Central Asian republics that would change the economies of the region the dramatically. Pakistan will be the biggest beneficiary of that agreement. Such an agreement will also instil confidence in the West about Pakistan moving on a path of moderation. Pakistan would thus cease to be an international pariah. The way forward for Pakistan is to normalise and develop cordial relations with India, apart from de-radicalising its society to win the confidence of the world.
Rajinder Kumar is a former Special Director of Intelligence Bureau and an expert on Pakistan.