Pakistan’s Security Approaches: Reasons and Consequences

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Hesamoddin Hojjatzadeh

As tenure of Muhammad Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan’s prime minister draws to an end and while various Pakistani parties as well as political and civil forces are getting ready for next year’s elections, security approaches adopted by the government of Pakistan toward neighboring countries have raised serious questions among analysts. Tensions have soared high between India and Pakistan across their de facto border in Kashmir over the past months, especially in late 2016. Through several cases of exchange of fire, which left a number of their border guards and military forces dead and wounded, the two countries showed that they were not willing to reduce intensity of their conflict. In the meantime, the Pakistani side of this equation has appeared more active and more resolute in this regard. In order to prove that India is an enemy, Pakistani officials put a former Indian navy officer called Kulbhushan Jadhav on trial in early days of April 2017 on charges of espionage for New Delhi. After he confessed to having spied for India in a televised interview, the Indian navy officer was sentenced to death. Pakistani officials claimed that the Indian national had admitted at the military court that he had been working for India’s foreign intelligence service, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and had been trying to implement plans in order to destabilize Pakistan and incite all-out war in Balochistan province as well as Karachi port, which is the capital city of Pakistan’s Sindh province. Similar accusations were leveled against India and Iran by the government and army of Pakistan in early 2016 after Islamabad claimed that it had arrested an Indian spy when he entered Pakistan’s Balochistan province through the common border with Iran. In an extreme case, during a visit to Pakistan by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, General Raheel Sharif, the former Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, clearly warned Tehran against cooperation with New Delhi for what he called destabilizing Pakistan. Of course, this accusation was strongly rejected by Rouhani and other high-ranking political and military officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The story, however, did not end there. In line with its large-scale security approach and within framework of its strategy to create “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, Islamabad has been supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan for over two decades. On the other hand, during the past couple of years, it has appeared passive in the face of military moves by Daesh-affiliated elements in Afghanistan and has even taken steps to increase tensions along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan since last year. As a result, border regions along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, which is known as the Durand Line, have witnessed unprecedented military conflicts between the two countries’ armies and border guards over the past six months. Tensions started to rise after political and security officials in Islamabad accused Afghanistan’s government and the National Directorate of Security (NDS) of collusion with militants affiliated with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group in order to destabilize Pakistan. Subsequent tensions led to closing of the two countries’ border crossing in Torkham district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tribal region by Pakistani army. Later on, in the middle of April 2017, Pakistan’s military officials announced that Ehsan Ullah Khan, who is known to be a leader of the terrorist group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, had given himself in to Pakistan’s security forces or the army in his birthplace, Mohmand Agency, located in the country’s northwestern tribal regions. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar branched off from Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in 2014 after differences intensified among various ranks of the Taliban in Pakistan over choice of Mullah Fazlullah as the leader of this terrorist group, and then swore allegiance to Daesh. After Daesh lost much of its military and propaganda power in Iraq and Syria, the leaders of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda. In the meantime, they have continued massacring Pakistani Shias, chieftains of opposition tribes, as well as state officials and security forces of Pakistan in tribal regions and also in such big cities as Peshawar, Lahore, and Quetta.

Ehsan Ullah Khan has said that he joined the Taliban in 2008 and has been spokesperson of two terrorist groups; that is, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, for a period of about a decade. Now, General Asif Ghafoor, the current director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), claims that Ehsan, whose original name is Liaquat Ali Khan, has suddenly decided to submit himself, along with a group of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar members, to the Pakistani army. Shortly after that, on April 26, a short video of his confessions was released by the Pakistani army. The contents of his confessions, however, more than revealing various dimensions of crimes committed by the biggest splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, were indicative of the beginning of a new round of hostile security measures by Pakistan’s army and intelligence service, known as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), against the country’s neighbors. The former spokesperson of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has admitted in his confessions that young people have gone astray as a result of the extremist teachings of these militant groups. He has also accused intelligence services of India and Afghanistan that after military operations against Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, which made its members escape to Afghanistan, they had taken advantage of their uncertain situation and established contacts with TTP. He claimed that Indian and Afghan intelligence services had given money to that terrorist group and paved the way for infiltration of its forces into the Pakistani army in order to deal a blow to Pakistan. This big claim has been put forth by one of the most notorious militant leaders of Pakistan using the same literature that is common among the country’s political and military officials. This claim also contradicts the fact that during the past two decades, Pakistan’s government and army have been frequently accused by Indian and Afghan officials of arming, funding and training proxy military groups in order to destabilize India and Afghanistan, jeopardize their national security, and deal blows to military targets and economic infrastructure in these countries. On the other hand, due to the control that Pakistan’s intelligence agency and army have on their country’s common border with Iran, emergence, training, funding and arming of such anti-Iran terrorist groups as Jundallah and Jaish al-Adl would have been impossible without their knowledge as well as their direct or indirect cooperation with these groups. Let’s not forget that the aforesaid terror groups have frequently infiltrated into Iran through the country’s common border with Pakistan over the past decade and have killed hundreds of ordinary people as well as Iran’s military and police forces in addition to senior state officials in southeastern Sistan and Baluchestan province.

The main reason why Pakistan’s government and army continue such security approaches is that they want to divert public attention from acute political and economic problems with which the country is grappling, especially the political crises resulting from involvement of Nawaz Sharif’s family in the financial scandal known as Panama Papers. Other goals pursued by the Pakistani government and army include: attracting attention of Salafist groups that are against India, but support the government and are allies of the Pakistani army such as Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam / Maulana Fazlur Rahman branch on the verge of fateful elections in 2018; reducing domestic and foreign criticism of regional and international isolation of Pakistan due to its support for sectarian groups by accusing neighboring countries of trying to destabilize Pakistan; and finally, to make an effort to deceive the administration of US President Donald Trump and US Senate by convincing them that Pakistani officials are engaged in a decisive fight against terrorism in order to guarantee continuation of Washington’s economic and military aid for Islamabad.

Nonetheless, adoption of such negative security approaches by the government of Pakistan has had certain consequences for Islamabad, which include increased tensions in Pakistan’s relations with such important neighbors as India, Iran and Afghanistan and intensification of border conflicts with these countries. On the other hand, regional convergence between Pakistan and its neighboring countries both bilaterally and within framework of such regional organizations as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has decreased in return for relatively increased US support for Pakistan’s government and army.

*Photo Credit: Alamy

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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