Pakistan in the Firing Line


Asif Haroon Raja

War against the Soviets

Fearing takeover by the fundamentalists, 40th Soviet Army intervened and occupied Afghanistan on December 27, 1979, killed Hafiz Amin and installed a communist regime under Babrak Karmal. Pakistan could not remain unconcerned with this intervention because of Moscow’s age-old quest for warm waters, its strategic partnership with archrival India and 7 million Afghan refugees having barged into Pakistan. The military regime under Gen Ziaul Haq decided to support the Afghan Mujahideen in their struggle to push out Soviet forces.

When the US decided to stand behind Pakistan, it used Afghan Mujahideen as proxies and made tribal belt of Pakistan a base of operation to conduct proxy war. The Afghan and Pakistani Mujahideen were baptized as holy warriors. Ronald Reagan invited key leaders including Jalaluddin Haqqani to the White House and eulogized their role profusely. 1.5 million Afghans lost their lives and as many crippled for life, but won the war.

The US after achieving its objectives in 1989, hastened to withdraw and left the Mujahideen in a lurch. Pakistan fell from the US grace and was put under sanctions. America’s callous abandonment infuriated the Mujahideen. Osama bin Laden (OBL), once the darling of CIA, was incensed when the US established a military base in Saudi Arabia in 1990 to hit Iraq. OBL’s Al-Qaeda started striking the US targets. In 1997, the US targeted OBL’s camp in Afghanistan but he survived.

Militarization of Pakistan Society

The 10-year Afghan war followed by uprising in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) and Indian military barbarities against Kashmiris militarized the Af-Pak region and gave birth to militant and Jihadi groups. 30,000 Mujahideen gathered by CIA from 40 Muslim countries to fight proxy war didn’t return to their respective countries. Pakistan bore the entire brunt of fallout effects of war-torn Afghanistan, which got embroiled in a vicious civil war from 1990 to 1994. Burden of Afghan refugees, weapons and drugs smuggling from Afghanistan affected Pakistan economically, socially and politically. It gave rise to extremism, intolerance and militancy. The two ideological rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia stoked sectarianism in Pakistan.

Political instability in the 1990s due to extreme polarization between the two mainstream political parties PPP and PML-N handicapped four successive regimes to confront the ill effects of Afghan war. Punjab became the hotbed of sectarianism, while Karachi got infected with ethnicity and violence due to MQM militancy. Peshawar became the meeting ground of Mujahideen leaders. Wadera culture in interior Sindh and Baloch Sardars in Baluchistan kept the provinces under developed and lower and middle classes oppressed.


Taliban Regime in Afghanistan

The Taliban under Mullah Omar in their five-year rule from 1996 till 2001 enforced Islamic Sharia law stringently. They were against western education, women freedom and foreign culture, but managed to wipe out most vices from the Afghan society. War lords were reined in, poppy growing, narcotics business and thefts were eliminated, and the country was made almost crime free.

Taliban regime enjoyed cordial relations with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE, but became a monstrosity for USA, the West, Iran and India. Central Asian Republics, China and Russia also remained uncomfortable with the fundamentalist regime due to its linkage with IMU and ETIM and Chechnyans.

Cordiality in Pak-Afghan relationship was the outcome of Pakistan’s wholehearted support to Afghan Mujahideen in their struggle to free Afghanistan and treating Afghan refugees as guests. While Afghan war brought Pakistan more close to Saudi led GCC States, coldness occurred in Pak-Iran relations. Influence of Iran and India had waned in Afghanistan during the 5-year Taliban rule but it brought the two closer to each other since both were averse to the Taliban and supported the Northern Alliance under Ahmad Shah Masood.

Saga of 9/11

After the saga of 9/11, the US wanting to occupy Afghanistan to achieve its geo-strategic and geo-economic interests in the region, asked Pakistan threateningly, “Decide, whether you are with us as a friend, or against us as an enemy”. As a friend Pakistan was to be richly rewarded and as an enemy it was to be pushed into Stone Age. Gen Musharraf opted for friendship. Although Pakistan was made a coalition partner, a frontline state to fight war on terror and later a non-NATO ally, but in reality it was listed as one of the targets. The US wanted to steal the nukes after weakening it from within through covert war.

Invasion of Afghanistan

Prior to invading Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, it was strategically encircled with the help of Pakistan, Iran, India, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Pakistan provided air bases, airspace, seaport, logistics routes and shared intelligence. It also deployed 70,000 troops to seal the western border. Iran lent a hand to topple its ideological rival in Kabul and facilitated transfer of power to Northern Alliance (NA) which it had hosted since 1995. Militaries of Iran and India trained, equipped and launched NA ground forces to capture key cities of Afghanistan. Like Iran, India also cultivated NA leaders including Dr. Abdullah. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan provided airbases to the invaders. In support of NA ground forces, the US resorted to massive carpet bombing using B-52s, daisy cutters and cruise missiles.

Objectives of USA

Guided by its imperialist ambitions, the US had a set of objectives against all the regional countries including Pakistan. For the accomplishments of its objectives, CIA, Mossad, MI-6, BND, RAW, NDS were clubbed together at Sehra Naward, north of Kabul, to conduct covert war.

Under the garb of friendship, CIA and FBI wormed their way inside Pakistan to instigate insurgency in FATA and Baluchistan covertly and to find out the secret locations of our nuclear facilities. However, main responsibility of destabilizing, de-Islamizing, denuclearizing and balkanizing Pakistan was given to India. The ISAF comprising military contingents from 48 countries led by US embarked upon counter terrorism operations against Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan, while Pakistan was asked to do the same in FATA.

Balkanization of Pakistan

The secret plan envisaged creation of Greater Pashtunistan comprising eastern and southern Afghanistan, FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pashtun belt of Baluchistan; Greater Baluchistan comprising Baloch/Brahavi dominated regions of Baluchistan and Sistan province in Iran; and Muhajirsitan in urban Sindh.

Before cutting Pakistan into four parts, it was to be destabilized by stoking insurgencies and making Pak security forces fight the foreign aided proxies. After sufficiently weakening it from within, its nuclear program was to be disabled. India is now eying at Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir because of CPEC which passes through these regions.

False Flag Operation

In order to build a narrative against Pakistan that it abets terrorism, India staged a drama on December 13, 2001, which was termed as another 9/11. Attack on Indian Parliament by 4-5 terrorists was engineered to draw further concessions from Pakistan. Pressured by India and USA, Gen Musharraf once again caved in and banned Kashmir focused Jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and several other militant groups in 2003.

Deceptive Peace Treaty

While signing peace treaty with India in January 2004, Musharraf gave a unilateral undertaking that he will not allow use of Pakistani soil by militant groups for cross border terrorism in any neighboring country. He also allowed India to fence the entire length of Line of Control (LoC) and took steps to prevent infiltration. These steps gave a severe blow to the freedom movement in IOK. While he bargained peace along the LoC in Kashmir, he somehow took no undertaking from India that it will reciprocate by not carrying out cross border terrorism in Pakistan.

Cultivation of Proxies

While Pakistan stuck to its commitment with India that it will not indulge in proxy war, and also dutifully did the biddings of USA, India in collusion with its partners activated the Afghan front and started bleeding Pakistan through paid proxies. TTP in FATA and BLA, BRA, BLF were creation of foreign agencies while MQM was cultivated by RAW and later by MI-6. Pakistan couldn’t question India since it had not taken such an undertaking.

Proxy War

TTP under runaway Maulana Fazlullah after being chucked out from North Waziristan is now based in the safe haven of Kunar. Khalid Khurasani heading Jamaat Ahrar, an offshoot of TTP is operating from Nangarhar. Daesh has been brought into Afghanistan by the three conniving intelligence agencies to fight the Taliban and carryout subversive activities in Pakistan.  Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is the coordinator. The Baloch rebel leaders in exile conspiring to make Baluchistan an independent state are being hosted by European countries and USA. MQM under Altaf was mandated to make Karachi lawless and then separate it and pave way for creation of Jinnahpur.

India under Narendra Modi

After Modi took over power in June 2014, his BJP regime maintained a highly aggressive policy against Pakistan. The 2003 ceasefire agreement in Kashmir was broken. Since then, Indian military has been resorting to almost daily unprovoked firing and shelling across the LoC and working boundary in Kashmir sector and drawing blood of soldiers and civilians. The violations have escalated from 315 in 2014 to 580 in 2017. India is now threatening to revoke Indus Basin Treaty and deny water to Pakistan, carryout surgical strikes, attack Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, and fragment Pakistan into four parts (statements of Modi, Parrikar Manohar, Rajnath, Subramanyam, Ajit Doval, Indian Army and Air Chiefs). It is continuing to use Afghanistan as a base of operation to accomplish its ambitions. Egged on by USA under Trump, India has given a fillip to its dangerous agenda.

Anti-Pakistan Nexus

To hide their crimes, the Indo-US-Afghan nexus has been constantly blaming Pakistan for its uncommitted sins. The false narrative built since December 2001 is aimed at painting the trio as victims of terrorism and Pakistan as the abettor of terrorism.

India’s Vulnerabilities

Kashmir uprising in 1989 has tied down India’s 750,000 troops in the valley of Kashmir. India is faced with 17 major insurgencies in various parts of India, and some are over 60 years old. 800,000 Indian security forces are battling the insurgents, but have been unable to quash any insurgency or separatist movement. Of all the insurgencies, insurgency in Kashmir and insurgencies in the Red Corridor (nine states in northeastern India including Naxalites insurgency), are the most dangerous and have been declared as an existential threat to the integrity of Indian Union. Khalistan movement in East Punjab has once again flared up and is looking towards Pakistan for support. Out of 66 terrorist groups in India, 62 are indigenous groups. Hindu fundamentalism has buried the farce of secularism.

Indo-US-Afghan Failures

Speedy ouster of Taliban regime made George Bush and his team to believe that the war had been won. Obama derived satisfaction by claiming that the US had succeeded in disrupting, dismantling and destroying Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, and killing OBL. They never fathomed that the war would turn into longest war in the US history and would hemorrhage the US economy, bleed the US soldiers and bruise the US prestige.

Although the Indo-US-Afghan nexus with the help of proxies has spilled the blood of 70,000 Pakistanis and incurred a financial loss of $123 billion over the last 14 years, it has neither been able to accomplish any of its objectives in Afghanistan nor has it succeeded in denuclearizing Pakistan and making it a secular and a compliant state.

Taliban have control over 47% territory in Afghanistan and are rapidly gaining ground. US-NATO-ANSF do not have the capability to roll them back. Writ of unity regime doesn’t extend beyond the presidential palace in Kabul, which is also guarded by the US Marines.

India is Lone Beneficiary

India has nothing to lose in the US initiated war on terror since so far it has not committed a single soldier in the war. It has very recently turned down the request of Washington for Indian troop induction in Afghanistan. India is the sole beneficiary and  is drawing all the rewards from USA, Israel and the West on account of its readiness to break Pakistan from within through hybrid and covert wars, fill the vacuum in Afghanistan after the departure of US military, and to become a bulwark against China.

Strains in Pak-US Relations

Demonization of Pakistan’s nuclear program on the pretext that it will fall in wrong hands, coupled with application of ‘do more’ mantra by USA from 2006 onward and the US heavy tilt towards India tensed Pakistan. Relations between the two countries frayed in 2011 as result of arrest of US spy Raymond Davis, stealth attack by US Navy SEALS in Abbottabad, Memogate scandal, CJC Admiral Mike Mullen naming Haqqani network (HN) a “veritable arm” of the ISI, attack on Salala posts by NATO, and Pakistan’s counter steps. In 2012, the US designated HN as a terrorist organization. Strategy of blaming and scapegoating Pakistan by the US was adopted as a policy to cover up its failings, hide its embarrassment and making excuses to prolong its stay in Afghanistan.

Donald Trump’s Assertiveness

Unnerved by Pakistan’s achievements in counter terrorism, economic improvement, and the rapidly progressing CPEC well poised to uplift the fortunes of Pakistan, Donald Trump while announcing his Afghan policy in August, marked Afghan Taliban and HN as the main enemies. He warned Pakistan to immediately stop harboring agents of chaos (HN) and Taliban. His threatening posture made it clear that Pakistan was in the firing line.

Clear indications of recommencing and expanding drone war, downgrading or revoking Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, cutting off military and economic assistance and application of sanctions were given by Secretary Defence James Mattis. Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “It is clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups.” Gen Nicholson, Commander Resolute Support Group (RSG) in Afghanistan stated that Afghan Taliban leaders are in Quetta and Peshawar. Chairman US Senate Committee on Armed Services McCain claiming to be knowing the street address of HN in Quetta, pressed the US military generals as to why they have not taken action against the HN?

Trump administration has given a green signal for sending additional 3500 troops to augment 8500 strong RSG. Dunford stated that the current cost for the US in Afghanistan was about $12.5 billion a year, and the new strategy would cost an additional $1.1 billion. That means the total cost come to $ 21.7 billion, which includes the $8.1 billion annual aid to Kabul. This cost will mostly be met out of profits earned from drug business in Afghanistan.


Pakistan’s Successes in War

Pakistan security forces fought the foreign paid and backed proxies from the front foot and achieved outstanding results. The three restive areas of FATA/KP, Baluchistan and Karachi have to a large extent been subdued. What Pak Army, FC, Rangers and ISI have accomplished, no other country could achieve. It has astounded the world but depressed the Indo-US-Afghan nexus.

Lackluster Performance of other Prongs

Once the security forces cleared the areas occupied by the militants and re-established writ of the government, the diplomatic, political, economic and social and judicial prongs of the central and provincial civil governments couldn’t keep pace with the military prong and lagged behind. Most aspects of the 20-point National Action Plan chalked out in January 2015 in the aftermath of APS School tragedy in Peshawar have still not been implemented. Had civil administration, judiciary and police functioned the way the Army and paramilitary forces performed, much better results could be achieved. Corruption and financial terrorism came in the way of rooting out terrorism.

Pakistan’s Policy of Appeasement

In its earnest desire to be in good books of USA and to keep India appeased, Pakistan made no effort to build a counter narrative to put the record straight. It kept getting insulted and whipped without a whimper merely to keep the US in good humor. Gen Musharraf, Zardari and Nawaz Sharif followed this self-defeating policy faithfully, which proved extremely costly for Pakistan and its people.

Pakistan made no change in its apologetic foreign and diplomatic policy even after it came to know that the so-called friends were playing a double game. The terrorist groups, which Pak security forces are fighting resolutely are being secretly fed by CIA, RAW and NDS.

Pakistan foolishly remained in diffident mode and didn’t resort to strategy of offensive defence to put fear into the hearts of the enemies hell-bent to dismember Pakistan. It kept responding to the American mantra of ‘do more’ and getting bled, and refrained from making use of the robust long arm of ISI to deliver a counter punch for fear of getting declared a terrorist state. The hands of ISI were kept tied, while one hand and one leg of the security forces chasing the faceless enemy were also tied to minimize collateral damage.

ISI can easily exploit some of the violence prone regions of India but has been restrained. Resultantly, ISI could operate on home soil only, while RAW and NDS assisted by CIA, MI-6 and Mossad made full use of paid proxies in Pakistan freely and without fear of reprisal actions in India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan leadership has not taken advantage of its strengths. Resilient Pakistani society has not been overawed by tens of hundreds of terrorist attacks, drone attacks and Trump’s fire and brim rhetoric. Social problems emerging out of poverty, shortages of daily commodities, prolonged load shedding, joblessness and lack of social facilities have not disheartened them. The armed forces are more battle inoculated and hardy to fight both conventional and insurrectional wars for prolonged periods. Pak Army and ISI are rated as the best in the world while no one doubts the proficiency of PAF which is par excellence. Pak Navy is defending the sea and coast line with resoluteness.

As long as Pakistan leadership will remain under the spell of USA, it will remain handicapped and will desist from using ISI’s long arm to hit back at the offenders in their home ground with impunity, or to defy the Indo-US browbeating and blackmailing tactics. Till such time such a recourse is undertaken, India backed by USA will keep bleeding Pakistan. Objectives behind this slow bleeding game is to exhaust and demoralize the security forces, cause pain socially, destabilize Pakistan politically, weaken its economy, make it a failed and a compliant state.

Till recent, Pakistan had more influence over the Taliban than any other country involved in Afghanistan. Today, Pakistan’s influence has drastically reduced and that of Russia, China and Iran considerably increased. Russia and Iran are supplying arms and funds to Taliban. Yet, the guns of the US are trained on Pakistan only. On one hand Pakistan is told not to have any linkage with Taliban and on the other it is pressed to bring them on the negotiating table.

Pakistan’s Diplomatic Offensive

People of Pakistan were pleasantly surprised when for the first time the new leadership and the parliament stood up to the American challenge boldly and rejected the Trump’s stance. Gen Qamar Bajwa gave a firm message that there were no terrorist groups or safe havens in Pakistan, Pakistan has done enough, it cannot fight Afghanistan’s war and it is now the turn of USA to do a lot more in Afghanistan. Moral support from China, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia further bolstered Pakistan. PM Abbasi delivered a well-articulated speech in the UNGA and held a productive meeting with Vice President Mike Pence. Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi gave an appropriate response to Indian diatribe by terming India as the mother of terrorism.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif extensively interacted with the US leaders in New York and is now again on a visit to Washington. He has explained the position of Pakistan forthrightly, which is seen in poor light in USA, thanks to the sinister efforts of Indian and Israeli lobbies and anti-Pakistan US Congress Senators. He pressed the right buttons while amplifying ups and downs in Pak-US relationship, the latter’s role in promoting Jihadism and extremism in the region and leaving Pakistan alone to burn in hell. While highlighting the successes of Pakistan in counter terrorism, he candidly pointed out the weaknesses of the US in Afghanistan and that of the Afghan leadership, and Indian interference in Baluchistan. He angrily complained about the US hollow allegations saying this was not the way a 70-year old ally should be victimized. He rejected their allegations. He conveyed that unless the same level of success is achieved in (Afghanistan), long lasting peace in the region will remain out of reach.

While our foreign minister was still in Washington, Gen Qamar Bajwa proceeded to Kabul and held a productive meeting with Ashraf Ghani which has to some extent lowered the ever rising tensions between the two neighbors. Hamid Karzai’s startling disclosure that the US is aiding Daesh in Afghanistan has created ripples. Gen Bajwa will next visit Tehran as a follow up of visit of Khawaja Asif.

Mixed Signals

It looked as if Pakistan’s diplomatic offensive and Asif’s interaction had helped in mellowing down the hawkishness of the US and frowns had been replaced with usual smiles. It was naively thought that the US has climbed down from the high horse and has agreed to cooperate and address Pakistan’s genuine security concerns. However, certain statements by hawkish leaders have once again activated alarm bells in Islamabad.

Mattis stated at a House of Armed Services Committee hearing: “We need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary.”

This statement of giving another chance to Pakistan to cooperate and do its bidding is loathsome. It is clear that the US has lost patience and is turning up the heat by plying the role of a tough cop. It has manufactured an excuse of Pakistan providing safe havens to ’agents of chaos’, while the real reason of its enragement is the CPEC. This can be gauged from Mattis statement that the US opposes China’s One-Belt-One-Road project since it passes through disputed territory in Pakistan (GB and AJK). He spoke Modi’s language. NSA H R McMaster maintained a hawkish posture.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson followed by Mattis are visiting Islamabad end of this month to step up the tempo built by Trump. Their main reason to give Pakistan a last chance is to keep its logistics supply routes open. Increased US-NATO forces, ANSF, TTP and Daesh need replenishments to fight against Taliban and Pakistan. The US want to pitch Pak Army against the Taliban and HN.

Word of Caution

Induction of 3500 additional US troops in the inferno of Afghanistan will not enhance America’s capacity to turn the tide and convert defeat into victory. The US has no intention to do so since boots on ground strategy has not been revived. ANSF doesn’t have the ability to defeat the Taliban. TTP, Baloch rebel groups and MQM have turned into liabilities. Additional US troops would beef up the security of 8 military bases and impart special operations training to Special Forces of ANA.

Daesh that was established at Nangarhar in mid-2014 through joint efforts of RAW-CIA, has been provided another base at Tora Bora. Its targets are Taliban and Pakistan. CPEC has now been assigned as a new target and its fighters will be deployed in Wakhan Corridor to disrupt CPEC. Additional US troops would be imparting training of Daesh (IS Khurasan State) as well.

Need for Re-assessment

We need to re-assess our decision to continue fighting war on terror with no end in sight. Should we fight our way or fight as dictated by USA? By now, we should be clear about our friends and foes. Is the US really sincere in eliminating terrorism and restoring peace in Afghanistan or otherwise? Why the US forces are occupying Afghanistan for the last 16 years and still not giving timeline for their exit? For how long our leaders will let the US exploit Pakistan to serve its selfish interests and let the US leaders insult Pakistan brazenly? Why we are in utter confusion with no strategy how to get out of this bloody war? Military operations are not the remedy. These have intensified extremism and terrorism and strengthened non-state actors. There is no counter narrative to defeat Indo-US-Afghan narratives or the narrative of the extremist groups.

Way Out

Defining our red lines clearly, issuing firm drone policy, speeding up western border management, rejecting the US aid, not bowing to pressure tactics, choking the supply lines if required, bridling hysterical social and electronic media and snakes in the grass promoting foreign agenda, can help in thwarting the most dangerous plan hatched against Pakistan.

Pakistan should forge an alliance with peace makers (China and Russia) and not with war mongers to help in restoring peace in Afghanistan. Since Iran is antagonistic to Daesh, it can also be taken in the peace loop.

The only way to take the sting out of India’s cross border terrorism and belligerence is to pay it in the same coin by activating the long arm of ISI.


Political polarization must end and opposition parties should shun negative and selfish politics and cooperate with the government to meet the looming external and internal security challenges that have overshadowed socio-economic challenges.  Political and religious parties can help in unifying the nation, which is need of the day. Civil-military will have to be on one page in these critical times to find a way out to come out of the inferno of war on terror. United we stand, divided we fall.

Mitigation of root causes will cure the menaces of extremism and terrorism and not the prescription of sledgehammer prescribed by George Bush, Obama and Trump.

The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence and security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows and delivers lectures.




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