Is Pakistan the problem?
Out-going Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen accused Pakistan of not only aiding terrorism against the US, but of fomenting it by supporting and directing the militant Haqqani network. By the way, the Haqqanis are located among the semi-autonomous, Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and are a US-manufactured group dating back to the days of our war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Not to be out-done, calls are coming from Congress to take military action against Pakistanand to send US troops within Pakistan to resolve the “Haqqani problem”; it is, after all, time for elections.
While such strong statements may pander well to the American public, they do nothing to help ease the increasingly worsening situation in the “Af-Pak” region in fact, such speeches only underscore the dismal state of understanding of the problems in that region. America defines problems exclusively as they relate to itself and attempts to define the origins and broader impacts of the underlying issues, are regarded as treason. Thus, the Afghan “problem” is caused by Pakistan’s support of the Taliban; solve Pakistan’s attitude, solve Afghanistan’s problems.
In Pakistan’s view, the outcome in Afghanistan is not a tactical issue, but a strategic one that extends to Pakistan’s very existence and KASHMIR, not Afghanistan, is at the heart of the solution. Thus, it is counter-productive for the US to assume that its “Af-Pak” problem can be resolved by threatening Pakistan or, by bribing it.
Kashmir has been at the source of all the conflicts between India and Pakistan ever since their independence from the British in 1947. Just before independence, Kashmir was slated to be a part of Pakistan, along with a large swath of land called the Gurdaspur District. Backstage machinations by Indian and British leaders led to the Hindu Raja of Kashmir to cede his Muslim-majority state to India, in violation of religious-majority region rules for the division of India.
The battle for Kashmir began almost immediately and ceased for a time when Indian Prime-minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir to determine where the people wish to go; it was never held.
At the time of independence five major rivers flowed into Pakistan, two from Kashmir and three from India, to feed the mighty Indus which, for millennia had been a shipping trade route over its thousand mile path. Very soon, India began plans to close off three of the rivers that flowed from India to Pakistan. A water war was staved off by Western countries mediating and helping Pakistan build massive dams to store water during flood seasons to make up for the loss of two rivers and by India allowing guaranteed flows from two rivers, into Pakistan and closing off one river altogether, under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960.
Ever since then, India has been steadily building dams across the rivers flowing into Pakistan, in violation of the treaty and the waters of the Indus have been so reduced that during the dry season, one can cross the river on foot, without getting deeper than the knees…a hundred miles upstream from its mouth. In addition, India has often threatened to cut off all water to Pakistan in retaliation for some dispute or another, leaving Pakistan feeling very vulnerable. Since all the major rivers in Pakistan depend on rivers flowing from either India or Kashmir, Pakistan feels that Kashmir is not an area that can be allowed to go to India although, over the years, Pakistan has shifted its position to allow for an independent Kashmir.
India is adamant about its claim to Kashmir and dismisses all mediation attempts as interference in its internal affairs. India’s efforts have focused on keeping Pakistan unstable in order to maintain its hold on Kashmir and towards that end, India has supported many of Pakistan’s separatist movements. On the other hand, Pakistan is suspected of supporting insurgent Khalistan movements in Punjab and other insurgencies in the past (pre-Bangladesh period), India’s Eastern provinces including Assam and Nagaland. India supported the Pukhtunistan separatist movement calling for the secession of it North-West Frontier Province (NWFP, now Khyber Pukhtunkhwa Province) to Afghanistan. India also supported the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war that successfully broke Pakistan into two countries, thus reducing India’s exposure in war, to a single front. India is also suspected of supported insurgent movements in Pakistan’s Baluchistan and Sind Provinces.
Currently, in an effort to win Afghanistan to its side, India has invested over a billion dollars in building Embassies and consulates in Afghanistan and in providing infrastructure aid. This worries Pakistan tremendously; an India-Afghanistan alliance can destabilize Pakistan by fuelling insurgencies along Pakistan’s Western borders, which would allow India to further solidify its grip on Kashmir…which could cause major water-headaches for Pakistan.
While Pakistan would not mind a neutral Afghanistan, it cannot tolerate the idea of an Afghanistan allied with India. Pakistan therefore, supports various Afghan militants as a means to retain influence in Afghanistan.
Much as the US believes Pakistan’s support for such militants is directed against America or, is driven in pursuit of religious extremism, Pakistan is really responding to what it perceives as the existential threat in Kashmir. The US can threaten, bribe, cajole or humiliate Pakistan as much as it likes, but until such time as the US recognizes Pakistan’s Kashmir concern and works towards a resolution of the same, Pakistan is unlikely to give up its interest in who governs Afghanistan.
The message is simple; resolve the Kashmir and waters disputes and Afghanistan will also be resolved. The solution is not military, but a complex, political one that the US ignores at its own peril.