09 January 2013

Is Kashmir Just a Led Zeppelin Song?

When I first wrote about Pakistan, I used the title "Why is no one worrying about Pakistan?"

My next post was entitled "Pakistan Worries."

Today I was tempted to use either headlines again. Don't take my lame joke about the Jimmy Page-Robert Plant classic a sign that I am no longer worried. Now, I am positively scared.

If you have been reading the news, you probably know why.

Last Sunday, Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire near the Line of Control and one Pakistani soldier died during the incident.

Two days later, there was a recurrence.
A firefight broke out between Pakistan and Indian troops, lasting about half an hour before "the intruders retreated back towards their side" of the LoC, the Indian statement said.
This time two Indian soldiers died. Moreover, Indian government claims that one of them was beheaded by Pakistani troops.

This is a serious escalation that comes at a time when the Pakistani army is under significant pressure on another front.

The Taliban Background

In my previous posts on Pakistan, I chronicled the steady and dangerous deterioration of the US-Pakistan relations. The Pakistani army and its intelligence arm ISI have their own agenda which rarely corresponds with the official government policy or the US goals in the region.

It is a complicated game.

ISI has been supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is an open secret that many Taliban fighters are trained in the Waziristan region in Pakistan and the army and the ISI provide them with arms, money and logistic support.

The Pakistanis have two goals for pursuing this policy. They believe that if Afghanistan becomes stable, there is a strong likelihood that the Pashtun tribe within Pakistan might want to secede and join their brethren in Afghanistan (Pashtun people are the predominant group in that country and they make up the majority of Taliban and the current government).

They also believe that instability in Afghanistan is a major source of preoccupation for India. This is important because India is the sun in the Pakistani universe. They are fixated on it and everything has a connection to India.

There is also a Taliban in Pakistan known as TTP (Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan). They are well organized in Waziristan or what is commonly referred as "tribal areas." In the past, they attacked army posts and soldiers and made life difficult for the Pakistani military and rendered those areas ungovernable.

For its part, India is believed to be supporting TTP and Pashtun separatists in an effort to destabilize Pakistan. At least this is what the army maintains.
India has over 20 embassies and conciliates in Afghanistan. There is a huge speculation that these are very actively aiding the Tariq Taliban Pakistan, a partisan group inspired by Afghani Taliban but having lesser influence over the border and other small groups inside Pakistan. Allegedly India has nurtured TTP by giving them training, money and weapons in order to cause havoc inside Pakistan and destabilize the country. TTP’s agenda is to overthrow the government and place a Taliban government inside Pakistan. For India this will eliminate the threat of the Pakistani Army who sees eye to eye on its borders with their Indian counters.
In recent years the army changed its strategy of fighting off the Taliban in Pakistan and supporting and arming the Taliban in Afghanistan and made peace with certain Waziristan tribal leaders. In exchange, they promised not to attack army units and buildings.

In the first couple of days of 2013, an unmanned drone killed the most important of these tribal leaders, a man by the name of Mullah Nazir.
He was the head of one of the three major militant groups in the Waziristan region that focused their attacks on the Western troops in Afghanistan.

The other groups are the Haqqani network and the faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.
Since Mullah Nazir was killed along with his top lieutenants, his sudden demise could lead to tribal infighting for top position. Such a scenario would mean the end of the Pakistani army's strategy of stabilizing the region through a delicate balance of power. Moreover,
Many fear that Mullah Nazir's death may upset this balance, especially if the fourth faction in the region, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan group (TTP), is able to force an advantage in Wana region.

The TTP, which is linked to the Mehsud tribe in the region, has been attacking exclusively Pakistani targets since 2007.

In recent months, it has also carried out a number of attacks against their rival Wazir tribe in the Wana region, including a suicide bombing in November that injured Mullah Nazir.
Given this regional background and the fragile state of the US-Pakistani relations (and by contrast the increasingly warm and cooperative US- India relations), the army is likely to see some Indian involvement behind Mullah Nazir's assassination. After all, they'll say, who benefits from instability Pakistan?

The beheading of an Indian soldier and the excursion behind Indian lines seem to indicate the simmering anger in Pakistani army and the willingness to escalate the conflict.

The problem with the escalation is that they are facing a regional superpower with a solid nuclear arsenal and a large army. In case, escalation is deemed unlikely, lets not forget that these two countries had been at each other's throat four times since their independence.

But this time they both have nuclear weapons. And my fear is that, if things get out of hand, the Pakistanis, who would lose a conventional war with India, might be too eager to use them.


A well placed source with the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently told me that, in the last couple of years, Pakistan and Afghanistan relations were largely mediated by Turkey. Apparently, the two sides has so much distrust that they need a third party, an honest broker, to discuss even routine issues.

Some analysts are now pushing for Turkey to host negotiations on something much bigger, the Durand Line:
Durand Line is the 1,600 miles long porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, delineated in 1893 in an agreement signed by the Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman Khan and Mortimer Durand of British India. Afghanistan does not recognise the line as an international border and allegedly cherishes claims over the Pakhtun belt of Pakistan. Pakistan considers it an international border (in other words, a settled issue) and makes a strong demand on Afghanistan to recognise it. In the 1990s, Pakistan brought to power the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then tried to get them to recognise the line but they refused to do so. It is believed that the intervention of Pakistan in Afghanistan is meant to force the latter to yield to the demand of the former. In a tit-for-tat move, Afghanistan has also started intervention in Pakistan. (...)
The issue is an apt case for Turkey to mediate. Turkey enjoys considerable influence with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is highly likely that it may be able to resolve the issue and bring peace to the whole region.
There is also this:
A senior Indian official is expected to visit Turkey next month to discuss Turkish-backed efforts for reconciliation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a process whose results would also affect India.

India is not part of the peace talks mediated by Turkey between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it wants to make sure its red lines about the accommodation of the Taliban in a future Afghan government will be taken into consideration. Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon will visit Turkey in February for talks on the issue, according to a report in The Times of India on Sunday.

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