The shifting sands of Pakistan’s support to terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir
Sections of the Indian and Pakistani media reported last week that the Pakistani security apparatus had in June this year shut down as many as 20 terrorist camps that it had established and was running in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir. These camps housed and trained terrorists belonging to several Pakistan-created and nurtured terrorist groups such as the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), among others. The terrorists from these camps were armed and infiltrated by the Pakistani military and its spy agency the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) across the Line of Control (LoC) that separates the Indian and Pakistani-Administered parts of Jammu & Kashmir to unleash mayhem in Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir, as well as in parts of India.
That bit of news, significant as it was, was overtaken by the remarkably candid admission by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan during his visit to the United States (US) earlier this week. Speaking at the United States Institute of Peace think-tank in Washington on 23 July, Khan divulged that between 30,000 to 40,000 terrorists who had trained and fought in Afghanistan and Jammu & Kashmir were presently living in his country. He said, “Until we (Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party) came into power, the governments did not have the political will, because when you talk about militant groups, we still have about 30,000-40,000 armed people who have been trained and fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir”. Khan further disclosed that there were over 40 terrorist organizations operating out of Pakistan. He said, “Unfortunately, when things went wrong, where I blame my government, we did not tell the US exactly the truth on the ground. Part of the reason was our governments were not in control. There were 40 different militant groups operating within Pakistan. So, Pakistan went through a period where people like us were worried about could we survive it. So, while the US expected us to do more and help the US win the war, Pakistan at that time was fighting for its own existence”.
Khan also lent credence to the media reports that suggested the closing down of the 20 ISI-run terrorist camps in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir. He claimed that his government was the first to start disarming terror groups when he said that “This is the first time it's happening. We've taken over their institutes, their seminaries. We have administrators there”.
Khan’s asseverations lead to some very significant conclusions about the Pakistani government and its policy towards terrorism. Firstly, to act against the terrorist outfits and their personnel that Khan claims his government is now doing, the government needed to be aware of the locations of the terrorist camps, “their institutes, their seminaries” and their inhabitants. After all, Pakistani security forces did not just fortuitously stumble upon 20 terrorist camps and dozens of institutes and seminaries overnight. The Pakistani military establishment knew very well all along where the terrorist infrastructure and personnel were located simply because it was this very same establishment that in the first place had set them up at the locations where they were. Despite that, the highly deceptive but passionately articulated refrain of successive Pakistani governments over the decades has been that it was itself a victim of terrorism, had contributed immensely to the US-led war on terror, and that it had no linkages whatsoever to any terrorist outfit.
Secondly, the sheer volume of the numbers quoted by the Prime Minister of Pakistan is staggering. Even if the Pakistani establishment is given some leeway and it is assumed that a few out of the claimed 40 terrorist groups had not been propped up by it, there is little doubt that the number of terrorist groups that it did create is substantial. Similarly, to say that 30,000 to 40,000 armed terrorists roam the country freely, and the government is well aware of them, brings ghastly images of a terror-churning factory to mind.
Thirdly, Khan has alleged that his preceding governments in Pakistan “were not in control”. That is a very dangerous situation for a country that is producing tactical nuclear weapons almost in bulk, and is home to possibly the largest number of terrorists of any country in the world, to be in. The other side of this coin is that if the Pakistani governments were not in control, the military establishment did hold whatever little control there was. This establishment that set up the great Pakistani terror factory is widely accepted within and outside Pakistan as having propped up Imran Khan as Prime Minister. What control, then, does Khan have, or can be expected to have? In sharp contrast to Khan’s statements in the US, the Pakistan Army spokesperson had asserted as recently as in April this year that there were “no terrorist organizations” in the country.
Fourthly, Khan accuses previous governments of not telling the US “exactly the truth on the ground” vis-à-vis the scale of the terrorist assets that Pakistan had created. This statement rips the credibility of Pakistan as a country into tatters. It also renders the question of how much of the truth Khan was now telling highly pertinent. Khan said that during his meetings with President Donald Trump and other senior office bearers in his US visit, he had underlined the importance of “mutual trust” to rebuild strained bilateral ties. Khan’s statement that past Pakistani leaders had been less than truthful with the US would certainly not fill the US leadership with a newfound faith in Pakistan, nor would it give them any reason to view Khan as more trustworthy than those that came before him.
The Indian government, meanwhile, reacted sharply to Khan’s revelations. Its Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on 25 July described Khan’s statement as “a glaring admission by the Pakistani leadership”, and urged the country to take “credible and irreversible action” against terror groups on its soil. Reports suggest that India is considering making Khan’s admission a part of its submission ahead of the next meeting of the international terror financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in October this year. Pakistan is already on the grey list of FATF and may be downgraded to the blacklist at the October meeting in Paris. India is likely to press for Pakistan’s blacklisting by pointing out to FATF that the numbers quoted by Khan were considerably higher than those formally submitted by Pakistan at the FATF. The Pakistani government has listed only 8,000 active militants in Schedule-4 of Pakistan’s ‘Anti-Terrorism Act’ that details banned organizations. Khan’s quoted figure of 30,000 to 40,000 armed terrorists has generated doubts about the truthfulness of the facts presented to the FATF by Pakistan and about the effectiveness of Pakistan's compliance with the FATF Action Plan drawn up for it.
Given Pakistan’s inglorious track record in stoking militancy in Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir, the closure of the terrorist camps in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir is viewed with much skepticism by security analysts. Such actions by Pakistan, albeit on a lower scale, have been witnessed before too when the country came under severe pressure from India and the international community following the terrorist attack on India’s parliament in 2001, and after the Mumbai attacks of 2008. The establishment’s orders to the terrorist groups to exercise restraint were lifted once the Indian pressure wore off. The present move is being interpreted as a similarly temporary measure put into action to circumvent blacklisting by the FATF and to hoodwink the international community, which in recent years has been bringing much more concerted pressure to bear on Pakistan to act tangibly against terror. The stellar role being played by the FATF in objectively analyzing the terrorist threat posed by Pakistan and maintaining pressure on the country to mend its wayward ways or face strong punitive action is what has actually had the most salutary impact on Pakistan.
Even if temporary, having Pakistan on the back foot has boded well for residents of Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir. Infiltration of terrorists during the peak summer months has shown a 43% reduction, the intensity of ceasefire violations on the LoC has tapered, and civilian and military casualties from ceasefire violations have reduced. The Indian government has, thus, been presented an opportunity to make full use of this lull to push forth policies in Jammu & Kashmir that are people-centric and help in regaining the confidence of the people.
As for Pakistan, an interesting opinion piece by H. Iftikhar, a Pakistani student of humanities, that appeared in The Kashmir Images, an English language daily published from Srinagar, contended that persisting with the policy of promoting terrorism in Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir may well bite back to threaten the very existence of Pakistan. Iftikhar wrote, “People in Pakistan…., particularly young and educated, who understand geo-politics, have started questioning the very basic concept of militancy in Kashmir. They argue that challenging a big power like India with a few hundred Kalashnikovs was, in the first place, an illogical and unreasonable decision…. Almost three decades, and the militancy’s achievement is BIG 0. In fact, it is in minus. If militancy has given anything, it is hundreds of new graveyards in Kashmir; armies of widows, orphans, and wailing parents; destruction of all institutions including economy, tourism, education, health etc. Militancy in Kashmir has contributed one more thing – it has disempowered Kashmiris politically. Separatist leaders, on the behest of Pakistan made people to stay away from elections and militants enforced the dictate. As majority stayed away from the democratic process, genuine voices could not reach the state’s legislature and thus politically the majority was reduced to nothingness. Also, its unapologetic support to militancy in Kashmir has almost isolated Pakistan internationally. Domestically, Pakistan’s economy is going down the drain. Gun culture has encouraged several groups to prop up who now have been eating into the very vitals of Pakistan’s own society. This has forced Pakistan to rethink over its Kashmir policy. If reports making rounds in and around Muzaffarabad are to be believed, Pakistan has started closing down militant launch pads and training camps. Camps at Athumuqam, Kundal Shai, Shakaila and Chakma have been closed while such camps at Mandakuli Bela, Chenaniyan, Nowkot, have been shifted. Similarly, militant training camps from Balakote, Manshera, Jungle-Mangal, Pir Chinasi, Muzaffarabad, Balapir, Muzaffarabad and Sharif Camp have been shifted. Reports also suggest that there is a strong voice within Pakistan establishment that has realized the futility of supporting militancy in Kashmir. According to these voices, Pakistan is facing an existential crisis and cannot risk its sovereignty and its own people by pumping in more guns and militants into Indian Administered Kashmir…. However, there still is a powerful lobby within Pakistan establishment that wants to keep the pot boiling without giving a damn to outcome”.
For Jammu & Kashmir and its people, the earlier the hard-line “pot boiling” lobby is marginalized and sent to the barracks and the “strong voice” that recognizes the “futility of supporting militancy” wrests a controlling stake in the Pakistani military establishment, the better the prospects for a return of peace and the search for a lasting solution.