Islamic Militancy in Pakistan and India’s Realist Stance

Pakistan, a nation plagued by Islamic militancy, is one of the most fragile places in the world, vulnerable to terrorist violence, political upheavals and huge economic challenges. Over the years civilian and military leaders have used Islam to gain legitimacy for their rule and as tools of state policy, strengthening the role of religious parties in politics and society. Since the 1980s, following Pakistan’s involvement in arming the Mujahideen to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Pakistani army’s continued support for Islamist militants; Islam has taken a radical turn in Pakistan.

Today, Pakistan has emerged as a centre for global jihad as well as the main haven for Taliban fighters at war with US-led forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan also faces its own instability and violence as militant groups target the state itself too. For instance, on 24 July, a suicide attack killed 26 people, including nine policemen, in Pakistan’s city of Lahore. The preliminary investigation suggested it was allegedly the first assault by the new Taliban Special Group (TSG), which comprises of trained suicide bombers (fidayeen commandos). The assassination of Punjab’s governor and the Minorities’ Minister in 2011 heightened concerns over the threat posed by religious extremism. It must be remembered that any attack in Pakistan’s Punjab province is politically significant as it is the home turf of the ruling PML-N.

Pakistan’s military has used real and perceived threats from India to remain at the center of decision-making in the country, especially on foreign policy. It has seized power many times, undermining democratic institutions. Military-dominated politics in Pakistan has given religious parties a larger role and share in Pakistani politics. Pakistan has also used these Islamist militant groups to wage war against India in Kashmir. Several religious parties also support these militant groups, and in some cases, act as a political front for them. Since 2001, Pakistan has been cooperating with the United States in targeting terrorist sanctuaries in its tribal areas.

It is not that Pakistan’s association with such groups has been an entirely beneficial one, however. It has been witnessed that Pakistani army remains selective in the terrorist groups it targets, the army’s action against groups such as Al-Qaeda and its affiliates has led to a blowback within Pakistan which has caused deep domestic unrest on many levels and fronts. Many local militants, in particular the Pakistani Taliban, now target the Pakistani state, and terrorist violence is on the rise. Almost all religious parties hold the United States responsible for increasing violence and suicide bombings inside Pakistan. There is almost a consensus among experts that Pakistan’s education system, an important factor in inciting intolerance, must be reformed.

For three decades, the Pakistan army and the ISI —known as the ‘deep state’— have been waging a proxy war against India as part of their strategy of ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’. Neither after the attack on Parliament in December 2001 nor after the multiple terrorist strikes at Mumbai in November 2008 did India choose to inflict punishment on the perpetrators of terrorism operating from bases in Pakistan and PoK. While our leaders blame Pakistan, they avoid reacting overtly. It is evident then that India must be pro-active in framing its responses to terrorist incidents with their origin on Pakistani soil.

India’s counter-proxy war strategy should be based on a realistic assessment of the threat and carefully formulated to achieve national security objectives. It should be a national priority to reach out to the people of Kashmir and stabilise the situation. If instability in Kashmir continues, Pakistan will exploit it to the hilt. By launching trans-LOC strikes on terrorist training camps with its Special Forces India had sent several messages to Pakistan. Firstly, the present Indian government will not tolerate the wanton killing of innocent Indian civilians or soldiers by state sponsored terrorists from Pakistan. Secondly, the surgical strikes were a warning to the Pakistan army that if it does not put an end to cross-border terrorism, it may expect even more vigorous Indian responses.

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