Pakistan Army Brass May’ve Changed, But Anti-India Policy Won’t

Within a fortnight of taking charge as Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa has reshuffled some of his senior commanders and principal staff officers. Among the important changes is the appointment of Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar as the new Director General (DG) ISI. Till recently the corps commander at Karachi, he had earlier headed the counter-terrorism wing of the ISI and is perceived to hold hawkish views towards India.

Lt Gen Bilal Akbar, who was DG, Pakistan Rangers at Karachi and has been dealing with internal security, has been appointed Chief of General Staff (CGS). Together these two appointments are indicative of General Bajwa’s emphasis on internal security to defeat the demons within.

But, will Team Bajwa work towards keeping the eastern front with India quiet, like General Kayani had attempted to do, or will it ratchet up tensions with India like General Raheel Sharif, the outgoing army chief, had done? Also, will the new dispensation stop supporting ‘strategic assets’ like the LeT, the JeM and the Haqqani network to launch terrorist attacks in India and Afghanistan? To answer these questions, it is necessary to analyse the abiding institutional make-up of the leadership of the Pakistan army.

Guarantor of the Idea of Pakistan

The Pakistan army thinks of itself as the guarantor of the idea of Pakistan. India is perceived to be the arch enemy that must be punished in order to avenge the vivisection of Pakistan in 1971. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is seen as the prize that must be snatched from India. In order to justify its strength of half a million soldiers and a defence budget that consumes over 20 per cent of the total government expenditure, the army cites the bogey of an existentialist threat from India.


Despite having handed over power to a duly elected civilian government that enjoys majority support in the National Assembly, the Pakistan army’s shadow looms large over the country’s polity. The army continues to play a ‘guiding’ role in the formulation and execution of the country’s foreign and security policies, especially those related to India and Afghanistan.


The army has full control over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and, in conjunction with the ISI, continues to sponsor terrorist attacks in both India and Afghanistan. In fact, the army and the ISI – Pakistan’s deep state – have been waging a war against India through asymmetric means. All of this will not change simply because a new team has taken over the reins of powers. As a state with revisionist strategic objectives driven by the army, Pakistan will continue to attempt to bleed India through a thousand cuts.


Civil-military Dissonance


As reported by Cyril Almeida in Dawn on October 6, 3026, India’s surgical strikes across the LoC following the terrorist attack at the brigade camp at Uri in September 2016 emboldened PM Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet colleagues to ask the army and the ISI to put an end to their sponsorship of terrorism to avoid international isolation. However, General Raheel Sharif prevailed on the prime minister to deny that any such instructions had been issued.


While the Pakistan army will for some more time remain preoccupied with fighting the scourge of fundamentalist terrorism within Pakistan, India can ill-afford to let its guard slacken. Sooner rather than later, new attempts will invariably be made by the Pakistani Generals to again enlarge the scope of their war against India.


In keeping with its tradition of launching grand strategic initiatives like Op Gibraltar of 1965 and the Kargil incursions of 1999 – both monumental blunders, without due thought being given to the consequences, the Pakistan army, aided by the ISI, may attempt to get its mercenary marauders to ‘seize’ a small town in Kashmir and proclaim that it has been liberated by the Mujahideen. Such attempts need to be guarded against through effective intelligence networks and vigorous counter-infiltration operations by the army.


The real problem between India and Pakistan is the Pakistan army and its abnormal influence in Pakistan’s affairs, and not the Kashmir dispute or any other challenge. Till the Pakistan role in the country’s affairs is reduced and genuine democracy takes root in Pakistan, India-Pakistan problems will remain intractable.


Pakistan Army must be Isolated


Concerted international efforts must be made in the long-term interest of Pakistani democracy and regional stability to ensure that the Pakistan army is not allowed to rule unhindered from behind the scenes and meddle in the internal affairs of its neighbours by using Jihadi extremists. India must leverage its influence with western democracies to prevail on them to refrain from conducting business as usual with the Pakistan army, particularly from providing free military aid.


Under the prevailing circumstances, with civil-military dissonance, internal instability, ethnic tensions, socio-economic deprivation forming an explosive cocktail in Pakistan, India must carefully formulate its strategies to raise the cost for the Pakistan army for waging an asymmetric war against India.


While it is necessary to continue to engage the elected civilian leadership of Pakistan, not the least because it will gradually reduce the salience of the army in the country’s polity, it would be counter-productive to pin hopes on early resolution of the complex issues that have plagued the relationship for almost 70 years.


The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.