It is time for Pakistan army to give peace with India a Chance

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s chief of army staff, has managed to increase his clout, especially over the civilian establishment. Many are already speaking of a “Bajwa Doctrine”. His statement recently that Pakistan will not seek resumption of US aid as Islamabad feels “betrayed” needs to be seen in this light.

In a recent, and rare, briefing to Pakistani parliamentarians, General Bajwa said the army will back the political leadership if it seeks to normalise relations with India. However, in the same speech, he defended the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed, chief of the terrorist organisations Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to support the Kashmir cause.

For more than 70 years now, the Pakistan army has been waging a low-intensity limited war against India at the Line of Control (LoC), ostensibly to complete what it calls the “unfinished agenda of the Partition” — the merger of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan.

In keeping with its strategy to ‘bleed India through a thousand cuts’ Pakistan’s army and ISI have been supporting terrorist groups like LeT and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), to launch terrorist attacks on military and civilian targets in India. The spate of incidents in the Valley is part of this strategy. The ISI designates terrorists as strategic assets and as good or bad terrorists. Good terrorists launch attacks in India and Afghanistan at the ISI’s bidding; bad terrorists target the Pakistan army.

What Pakistan’s ‘miltabishment’ euphemistically calls the provision of political, diplomatic and moral support to so-called Kashmiri freedom fighters, in effect includes the recruitment, training, arming, equipping, funding and the launching of radical extremists to conduct what they are indoctrinated into believing is a jihad.

Maintaining half-a-million armed forces to ward off phantom threats has drained Pakistan’s exchequer and hampered its socio-economic development. The conventional wisdom in GHQ Rawalpindi is that India poses an existentialist threat to Pakistan. The GHQ is of the view that keeping India embroiled in countering cross-border, State-sponsored terrorism is a low cost, high pay-off option to weaken and destabilise India.

If the Pakistan army carries out a dispassionate analysis of the actual pay-offs of its policy of giving State patronage to terrorist groups within Pakistan, it will realise that it has created a Frankenstein that is gradually but inexorably spinning out of control. The GHQ will find that hostility with India over seven decades has yielded no dividends. Radical extremism is gnawing at Pakistan’s innards and its name has become synonymous with international terrorism.

The Balochis are fighting for their independence, despite the military jackboot riding roughshod over their human rights and dreams. The Shia-Sunni sectarian divide appears unbridgeable and creeping Talibanisation is posing new threats. Pakistan’s economy is in the doldrums and, with the $54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in full swing, the country is heading for an inevitable debt trap.

The international community is apprehensive of the likelihood of a few of Pakistan’s nuclear warheads falling into jihadi hands through subversion. Given the extent of radicalisation of the Pakistan army, even more worrisome is the possibility of a jihadi-led coup from within the army. The consequences of such a coup are likely to be horrendous — both for the region and the international community.

India has shown immense strategic restraint in the face of the gravest of provocations to keep the level of conflict low lest it hurts its economic growth. Among the world’s large economies, India’s economic growth rate has consistently been the fastest for over a decade. At less than 1.60% of the projected GDP for 2017-18, India’s defence expenditure is among the lowest in the world. Resilient India is a rising power in the emerging polycentric world order.

The leadership of the Pakistan army must realise that there is no point in continuing to pursue a fundamentally flawed policy. In war, a general never reinforces failure. Since conflict has not paid dividends, it is time to give peace a chance.

If Pakistan were to stop supporting radical extremism, put an end to cross-border terrorism and extend the hand of friendship, India will reciprocate with enthusiasm. General Bajwa can rise to the occasion like a statesman, or fall by the wayside as another also-ran — like many of his predecessors. The ball is in his court.

Gurmeet Kanwal is distinguished fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi

The views expressed are personal

(N.B. The first paragraph was added by the editors.)