VIEW: Roots of mistrust

Muhammad Amir Rana in Islamabad/Dawn
Asia News Network

Islamabad (Dawn/ANN) - Can militants reignite the insurgency in India-held Kashmir? This apprehension is a major hurdle in the trust-building process between India and Pakistan. Delhi is still fearful that the militants based in Pakistan's tribal areas could turn against India once they are finished with their job in Afghanistan.

The incidents last month on the Line of Control (LoC) manifested, though after a long time, the typical nature of cross-border attacks and clashes between troops on both sides. No element of militancy was involved in these incidents but they triggered the apprehension that militants could jump in at this critical juncture when the two countries were trying to sustain a bilateral dialogue and the whole South Asian region, particularly Pakistan, was passing through a transition of strategic readjustments.

Policy circles in major world capitals are discussing post-2014 Afghanistan, emerging regional challenges, the changing dynamics of the terrorism threat and, of course, the emerging shift in Pakistan's threat perception. Whatever the reasons for and implications of the current regional and international reconsiderations, Indian apprehensions of Kashmir-centric militancy seem an attempt to ensure international guarantees and to keep building pressure on Pakistan in this regard.

The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a premier Indian security establishment think tank, projected in its recent report that "having designated domestic terrorists as the principal threat, it would be in Pakistan's interest to either engage them head-on or redirect them with state support externally. It is likely that Pakistan would choose the latter course of action". The think tank also tried to link the recent LoC incidents with efforts to create circumstances for such redirection, which it implied could be a result of a shift in Pakistan's strategy.

The assessment fantasises the Indian threat perception and indicates that the Indian security establishment is reluctant to consider emerging strategic shifts in Pakistan's security doctrine in line with new security challenges and internal and regional geo-economic realities.

As far as the militant threat is concerned, the Indian approach doesn't reflect the ground realities. Apart from the Kashmir-focused militant organisations' weakened capability to re-trigger the insurgency inside Kashmir, their cause and modus operandi now hold little attraction in Kashmir and Pakistan.

The Kashmir spring of mid-2010, which witnessed protests by the youth, was the first manifestation of the fact that Kashmiris are equally fed up with the militancy and the heavy-handed crackdown by Indian forces. It was a prime opportunity for Pakistan to further exploit the situation and take the issue to international forums, but Pakistan limited itself to oral support and only a few official statements were issued at the time.

No doubt the militant landscape of Pakistan has become considerably more complex than it was when the first ban on militant groups was ordered in January 2002.

Banning a few organisations is unlikely to serve the purpose anymore. The groups involved in terrorist activities across Pakistan are largely splinter groups of banned organisations, in addition to a few new groups that have emerged recently. The banned organisations, which were once strategic assets of the state, were initially focused on Kashmir and had 'nationalistic characteristics' but after the ban they passed through two major transformational stages.

At the first stage, anti-establishment sentiments grew among some cadres of militant organisations. They strengthened their links with foreign militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas. They absorbed al-Qaeda's ideological tendencies, particularly those which justified and strengthened their anger against the Pakistani establishment and its changing 'jihad' policy.

At that stage, the militants revolted against their leaderships and labelled them stooges of the establishment. The leadership of militant organisations tried to keep such angry militants in their ideological fold but failed. The internal confrontation and rifts among these groups gave birth to a new phenomenon. The militant leadership became disillusioned and their cadres that had joined al-Qaeda hijacked the cause of 'jihad' and took it to a new level that was also anti-state.

At the second stage, after rejection from al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their former fellows, the militant leadership, preferred to become part of Pakistan's far right, a vocal supporter of jihad and only active at the level of rhetoric.

The Deobandi militant groups including Jaish-i-Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen and Harkatul Jihad-i-Islami had suffered much as compared to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). But ultimately all the groups chose to stand with the far right for one reason or another.

Obviously India is more concerned about the Jamaatud Daawa and the LeT but the former has deliberately tried to keep its distance from the latter and from militant movements in the tribal areas. These movements had become self-reliant both in ideological and logistical terms. The JuD took it upon itself to condemn dissident thoughts among militant groups and the LeT distanced itself from all such groups, and even spurned any cooperation with the Pakistani Taliban.

This defines the direction of all pro-state militant organisations in Pakistan and signifies the far right's preference for change in the country through peaceful means, while justifying the use of force to protect regional interests.

As far as Kashmir's indigenous groups are concerned, most of them eventually disappeared and those remaining have lost their operational capabilities. The United Jihad Council, the alliance of Kashmiri militant groups, is no longer functional. Former militants are on the way back to their homes in India-held Kashmir and now it depends on Indian authorities to reintegrate them in society.

There is no denying the fact that militancy is a grave internal issue for Pakistan and has less potential to turn or to be turned against India, unless a crisis situation is created in India-held Kashmir such as the one in the aftermath of the 1987 election there.

Though militants cannot trigger an insurgency in Kashmir, a few groups still have the capacity to launch scattered terrorist attacks inside India. Or, actors such as al-Qaeda and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan can plan to sabotage ongoing regional changes and the trust-building process between India and Pakistan.

The Indian policy of viewing the LoC incidents or other incidents of terrorism in India from a traditional perspective of distrust won't help to strengthen bilateral engagement for regional peace and stability. To reduce the impact of such incidents, the restoration of a joint counterterrorism mechanism between the two countries is a possible way forward.

The writer is editor of the quarterly research journal Conflict and Peace Studies.