Securing Pakistan’s Frontiers

Spearhead Analysis – 23.06.2014

By Shemrez Nauman Afzal
Research Advisor and Consultant (Security and Governance)
Spearhead Research – Pakistan

Securing Pakistan FrontiersPeaceful (if not friendly) relations with neighbours and tranquility on the nation’s borders is a basic prerequisite for internal security, public safety, effective enforcement of law and order, and progressive socioeconomic and human development through sustainable, consistent and committed policies

Pakistan’s suffering since 2004 – particularly because of the situation created in Afghanistan by the invasion of foreign troops in 2001 – only increased in 2007, when different terror groups united and coalesced under the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Pakistan’s own version of the Afghan Taliban insurgent group. As the TTP carried out massive and significantly damaging attacks in the time since then, it also acted as a “rear guard” for the Afghan Taliban, mainly by disrupting NATO supply lines running through Pakistan. But as the fledgling Afghan state tries to consolidate itself and “stand on its own two feet” without the support (particularly security support) of U.S. and NATO-ISAF forces, Pakistan must look to its own security forces in order to return to a condition of peace and stability. The latest military operation, codenamed “Zarb-e-Azb”, launched in North Waziristan is designed to particularly target those elements of the TTP who did not acquiesce to the offer of negotiations from the government: finally, the state of Pakistan lived true to its “talk-fight” commitment; that it will talk to those groups who are willing to lay down their arms and discuss peace, and eliminate those groups who wish to fight on and perpetuate a war-like situation in the country.

The existence of state boundaries between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the sovereignty of both countries (and the challenges posed to it by non-state actors), and the concept of non-interference by one nation in the affairs of the other – a policy still affirmed by incumbent Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – were eroded significantly by the transnational actions of state actors (such as the U.S., its NATO allies, and the U.N. mandate that they were given to restore order in Afghanistan) as well as non-state actors (primarily Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which have now become global and regional franchises, respectively). The already-porous and un-monitorable border between Afghanistan and Pakistan became the favourite refuge of militants attacking the U.S.-led NATO-ISAF troops, the post-2001 Afghan state, and the Pakistani nation-state. Allegations of interference in the sovereign affairs of a nation – particularly in terms of supporting non-state actors and anti-state militants as part of a national security policy for the region – were frequently exchanged, but are yet to be proven with substantial, concrete evidence that does not draw its foundations solely from the anti-Soviet “jihad” of the late 1970’s and 1980’s (dubbed Operation Cyclone by the U.S.CIA, which was as much a participant of the process of supporting non-state actors against Soviet troops in Afghanistan and against the Afghan state run by Najibullah as the ISI is frequently alleged to be).

A decade and a half after the events of 9/11, the world looks back at two conventionally overpowering military interventions that eventually led to the destruction and re-creation of states in Afghanistan and in Iraq – but because of the multidimensional problems of the post-modern global order, the anarchy and chaos that would result from the meting out of “Enduring Freedom” and “Infinite Justice” was not foreseen by the most talented of foreign policy professionals, or the most successful of oracles who have an uncanny ability of being proven right by events beyond anyone and everyone’s control. The global Westphalian order (as it has evolved over the centuries) is now questioned by everyone (if not destroyed from the very core) when one looks at the events going on in Iraq – the takeover of cities and regions by a terrorist group that used to be an Al Qaeda affiliate till the terror group’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri expelled them from the global organization because they “refused to follow orders” issued by him or by the Al Qaeda central “shura” (council) – and the increasing momentum of the Taliban in Afghanistan – in a year when the backbone of Afghan stability, the NATO-ISAF troops, are preparing to “withdraw” from the country, leaving the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and a few thousand U.S. troops to deal with the Taliban on their own. It is obvious that in these cases, the traditional Westphalian state, and the international order of respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity, will not work.

But for Pakistan – which is still struggling in the league of post-colonial states, still trying to define its place in the comity of nations and still struggling to bring peace after seven years of asymmetric guerilla warfare that has claimed at least 50,000 lives – can benefit greatly if it follows and enforces the precepts of the Westphalian world order in its own region. Pakistan must ensure peaceful and normal relations with its neighbours, if it cannot enjoy friendly and cordial relations with them.

India has always been Pakistan’s traditional adversary and, much like pre-Westphalian Europe, it takes years to consolidate and build on confidence-building measures (CBMs) but it takes minutes and hours – if not days and weeks – to completely destroy all efforts to normalize bilateral relations. Significant terror attacks such as the 26/11 attack in Mumbai, as well as cross-border firing incidents on the de facto Line of Control (LoC) that divide the pre-1947 state of Jammu and Kashmir between Pakistan and India continue to plague relations and threaten any kind of improvement therein: even if both countries decide to choose the path of economic interdependence so that, one day, they will neither offer nor be able to afford the option of war against the other. India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has said that India and Pakistan can join hands to overcome poverty if Pakistan takes firm action against the alleged perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks. While the LoC remains volatile and flashes of conflict and confrontation continue to erupt, the international border between both countries will not dissolve anytime soon because of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence and because of mutually assured destruction through nuclear weapons if India and Pakistan engage each other even on the conventional battleframe.

The same cannot be said of Pakistan and Afghanistan: because of the 2,600km-long porous mountainous border between the two countries, Pakistan has to take both preemptive and proactive measures to protect its western border, its tribal areas, and the entire territory of its western provinces as a matter of fact. The developments of May 2014, including the announcement by Pakistan Army’s Commander Southern Command, Lt. Gen. Nasser Janjua, that the Army will be digging a ditch on its side of the Durand Line in order to stall cross-border infiltration from Afghanistan into Pakistan, show that Pakistan has learned – the hard way, of course – that securing FATA and Baluchistan will require force projection into Afghanistan to deter and destroy anti-Pakistan militants. The hot pursuit attacks in response to the “invasion” of around 300 militants at a checkpost on the Pak-Afghan border in the Mohmand tribal agency is a clear signal that Pakistan will no longer tolerate the use of Afghan soil for the planning and execution of attacks against Pakistani security forces: though the din of diplomatic protests from both sides was definitely heard behind the roar of bombing attacks carried out by gunship helicopters and the bang-and-thud of artillery strikes launched by Pakistan on Afghanistan-based militants.

At the same time, Pakistan has to continue its policy of internal stabilization by dividing and then conquering its enemy, the TTP. The split of the TTP into the Fazlullah group (supported by the weak Sheheryar Mehsud group and loyalists of Hakimullah Mehsud) and the Sajna group (led by Khalid Mehsud aka Khan Said Sajna, the chief of the “TTP South Waziristan”, who commands the Mehsud tribesmen – the core of the TTP’s rank-and-file strength – as well as the “Punjabi Taliban”, and has cordial ties with the Afghan Taliban as well as the Haqqani network) is perhaps a victory of the peace process and not so much a victory of the government (which may not have anticipated such a split at all – and sources usually said that dealing with various TTP factions would be much more arduous than negotiating peace with a single TTP grouping). Now, the Pakistani government pursues its own policy of “talk-fight”: those who are willing to surrender and talk peace are welcome to the negotiating table, while those who wish to carry on the fight against the Pakistani state are headed for the “Slash of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) Sword”, that is, Operation Zarb-e-Azb – the military operation that has been going on in North Waziristan and other tribal areas since May 20 (according to news media reports at the very least).

Pakistan can also not afford to ignore its border or its relations with China, the only ascendant mega-economy of the world. Pakistan does not have as much to offer China as much as the latter does: but if Pakistan wishes to realize its role as the traditional gateway of trade between regions (between India and the Persian Gulf, between Asia Pacific and Central Asia, between China’s production houses and the purchasing power of the Middle East as well as the needs of Africa) then a good first step in this direction would be the finalization of the Kashgar-Gwadar rail and road communications system. While this would connect Pakistan’s north-west with its south-west, it also offers China a much better (and cheaper) alternative than the sea route that stretches from the South China sea to the Arabian sea (known by China’s adversaries and competitors as the “string of pearls”). Between China and Pakistan, the future of the relationship will be determined by the benefits of trade, since consistent cooperation and improvement in other dimensions of governance and in fields of life has already become a norm.

Pakistan also has to improve relations with Iran, particularly when there is a moderate President in Tehran who is negotiating with the international community to end Iran’s over-30-years of isolation and the removal of sanctions on trading with Iran. Pakistan and Iran have discovered a security relationship as of late, particularly because of terrorism in Afghanistan affecting its southern (Iran) as well as eastern (Pakistan) neighbour. Iran is also a very important source of natural gas, and can significantly impact Pakistan’s natural resource problems in half a decade if Islamabad is serious about pursuing a meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship with Tehran. When India – Iran’s long-time ally – pulled out of the gas pipeline project (because of American threats as well as the gift of a waiver from the NSG so that India can trade in the global nuclear energy market without having signed the NPT) the time was most opportune for Pakistan to give concrete assurances to Iran that it will not back out: especially because of Pakistan’s own energy crises, and because Iran projects its interests in Pakistan through a large number of Shi’ite Pakistani citizens who belong to all walks of life. The Pakistani government – which enjoys close ties with the Royal House of Saud – faced a mammoth controversy when it received various sums of money from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: opposition leaders in Parliament as well as members of civil society from all walks of life pondered whether these monies were being given so that Pakistan supports the Saudi stance and effort in the Syrian civil war. While the government denied these allegations from the outset, the fact of the matter was proven only a few months later, after no military assistance was given to Saudi Arabia out of the norm, and after the PM explicitly stated (as mentioned above) that Pakistan will not interfere in the internal affairs of Middle Eastern states in particular (a message designed to put this particular allegation to rest once and for all). The recent visit of the PM to Iran in May, and the discussions held with the Iranian President as well as Supreme Leader, show that PM Sharif is able to effectively play the “balancing act” between his brotherly ties to the House of Saud and the country’s necessity of peace and improving economic relations with its south-western neighbour. As time goes by, it may also be the case that Pakistan can play a mediating role between Saudi Arabia and Iran, so that the Sunni-Shi’a proxy wars that erupt throughout the Muslim world can abate, and peace can return to multi-sectarian Muslim nation-states.

The ideal foreign policy for Pakistan was stipulated by the nation’s founder, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in six words: “friendship towards all, enmity towards none”. While this sounds like an idealistic notion in today’s world, it can definitely serve as a foundation for Pakistan’s foreign policy – as well as for consistency in the country’s foreign policy despite changes in governments and regimes. In order to put the country on a path that ensures security stabilization, economic growth and sociopolitical stabilization, it is necessary that Pakistan improve its relations with all countries in the international community in addition to making all-out efforts to improve its “soft image” to the world.

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