An insurgency swells, but Pakistan focuses on India

An insurgency swells, but Pakistan focuses on India
By H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe, October 20, 2009

PAKISTAN REELS from almost daily bombings, and its cities, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and Islamabad are cited in news reports as once were Ramadi, Najaf, Samarra, and Baghdad when Iraq was on the boil.

The Pakistani army is now engaged in the frontier tribal areas as never before, and its intelligence officers are admitting to an increasingly coordinated threat from the Taliban and Punjabi militants, both with links to Al Qaeda. Most worrying is the rise of Islamic militancy in the Punjabi heartland, showing that the growing insurgency cannot be limited to the Afghan frontier.

Americans have been telling the Pakistanis that the real threat came from this insurgency nexus, not from Pakistan’s traditional enemy, India, and that Pakistan should wake up to the danger. Yet the bulk of Pakistan’s armed forces are still focused on the Indian border.

After three Indo-Pakistani wars since the British partitioned the sub-continent in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, old fears of India run deep in the Pakistani psyche. So is distrust of America, which uses Pakistan and then discards it “like a used condom,’’ as bitter Pakistanis are wont to say. Pakistanis particularly remember how the United States simply walked away when the Russians were defeated in Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan with the chaos on its border.

Too many Pakistanis view the fight against Islamic militants and the battle for Afghanistan as America’s struggle - not really theirs. Elements in the Pakistani military and intelligence service have long tolerated the Taliban as an ace up the sleeve, and as a counter to Indian influence in Afghanistan.

But haven’t the provocations, the Mumbai hotel bombings, the attack on the Indian parliament, and the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, come from the Pakistani side, and hasn’t India shown restraint? Yet, from Pakistan’s vantage point, every Indian consulate opened in Afghanistan is an encirclement, and every move has a hidden anti-Pakistani agenda.

Communal violence between Muslim and Hindu was the midwife to the birth of Pakistan, and there is a feeling that India has never really recognized the legitimacy of the homeland for Muslims that Pakistan was intended to be.

In 1971, when the Bengalis of East Pakistan sought to establish an independent country, it was an Indian invasion that accomplished the birth of Bangladesh. But, as Henry Kissinger discovered when he tried to prevent that war, it was the dismemberment of Pakistan that India really wanted.

No doubt the Pakistani military’s brutal behavior in east Bengal, and an intolerable flow of refugees into India were part of the drama. Millions were hemorrhaging out of East Pakistan. You could track their columns by the flocks of vultures overhead. But independence for Bangladesh was becoming inevitable. It did not need an Indian invasion.

India’s prime minister, Indira Gandhi, according to Kissinger’s memoirs, held the belief that “Pakistan was a jerry-built structure held together by its hatred for India. . .’’ Neither Baluchistan nor the Northwest Frontier properly belonged to Pakistan, she told Kissinger and President Nixon. They too wanted and deserved greater autonomy; they should never have been part of the original (partition) settlement and were among the “ congenital defects ’’of Pakistan. She implied that confining her demands to the secession of East Pakistan amounted to Indian restraint; that “the continued existence of West Pakistan reflected Indian forbearance, ’’ Kissinger wrote.

Times change, and serious Indians have little desire today to dismember Pakistan. Indeed, India’s greatest fear is shared by the United States: that Pakistan will disintegrate into chaos. But old fears die hard, and it isn’t likely that Pakistan is going to let down its guard to concentrate all its resources on the home-grown insurgents that are threatening the state.

Like so many of the world’s hot spots that have bedeviled the United States - Vietnam, Iraq, Israel-Palestine - the India-Pakistan conflict was spawned in the break-up of European colonial empires after World War II.

Pakistan is far more important than Afghanistan will ever be, and if the United States wants to see it remain a viable ally, nothing could help more than a concerted diplomatic effort to lessen the continuing tensions between Pakistan and India that so hinder efforts to contain Islamic militants.

H.D.S. Greenway’s column appears regularly in the Globe.

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