On October 15, terrorist attacks in southern Balochistan and Waziristan killed 20 Pakistani troops, including an officer. In Waziristan, of the former Tribal Areas, the Pakistani troops were guarding the frontier with Afghanistan. In Balochistan, a convoy of the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) was attacked by terrorists who were killed by the Pakistani security forces. Add to this regular aggression on the western border, and the daily routine of cross-Line of Control (LOC) rocket-fire on the eastern border with India, and you have a pincer of assaults on a state that is currently proving to be politically unstable too.
The following day, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) held its “mammoth” rally in Gujranwala, demanding the removal of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Gujranwala is a stronghold of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), whose leader Nawaz Sharif is in exile in the UK, convicted at home of corruption and money-laundering. Gujranwala, like most cities in Pakistan, hates PM Khan for the rise in food prices, thanks to the government’s incompetence. The procession of the grand opposition, from Lahore to Gujranwala — led by Sharif’s daughter Maryam — has become popular because of Khan’s incompetence at controlling price rise.
Imran Khan’s popularity has sagged because sugar and wheat shortages brought pressure on a population already haunted by the coronavirus pandemic, floods and locust attacks. His habit of using a language of violence against an opposition, which everybody agrees was most corrupt when in power, has not helped. Yet, the question of rough language will remain at the root of the decline in his popularity. The political discourse in Pakistan is set low because of the savage vocabulary used against each other by its politicians.
Pakistan was supposed to be a “revisionist” state on its eastern and western borders. It challenged the “occupation” of Kashmir by India and used covert war and “jihad” against India for years to the point that in 2020, not a single politician in India will speak in favour of “normalisation” with Pakistan. This was once, ironically, mooted by a BJP leader — the great statesman, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The other side of the “pincer” is the western border called the Durand Line, which Pakistan is in the process of wire-fencing to prevent cross-border terrorism in “sensitive areas”.
The conflict with India has taken a more ugly turn under the BJP government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On August 5, 2019, India revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. It also revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. On the Pakistan side, Imran Khan was determined to pursue a conciliatory policy towards India, unconsciously reviving Vajpayee’s “status quo” doctrine of “normalising” India-Pakistan relations. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s belated attempt to change tack on Kashmir came too late.
On the western border, Pakistan was encouraged by the international community to become a part of the world movement against the Soviet Union and its Afghan policy. It began nurturing the “non-state-actors” of jihad and used them across both borders, east and west. In the process, it allowed “international terror” to base itself in Pakistan, while fighting the Soviet-supported governments in Kabul. Two provinces of Pakistan, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, were sacrificed to this westward policy; but the Tribal Areas in the north were allowed to be literally occupied by international warriors. Today, the Tribal Areas and Balochistan are giving “external trouble” to Pakistan by a mixture of foreign and indigenous elements.
Corruption has always been the main flaw of a state made unstable by its unrealistic revisionism. Imran Khan has added to that an abysmally low-grade political discourse. What takes place on the TV screens of Pakistan, when the hired hands of abuse go at each other’s throat, is also at times seen on Indian TV channels. What is needed in the region is a normalisation of relations between the two nuclearised states attacked by a pandemic that may not go away for a long time. Whatever may be wrong internally with Pakistan, it is ready for a normal, mutually beneficial relationship with India, which will be more beneficial for India’s economy, whose natural outreach is westward, through Pakistan and Afghanistan, to Central Asia.
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 24, 2020 under the title ‘The two-front challenge’. The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.
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