Pakistan is hunting down groups it sees as acting on India’s behalf

Written by Khaled Ahmed

Updated: February 29, 2020 10:02:23 am

It appears that Pakistan is no longer concerned about the already-fenced border with India. It is now worried about an Indian-induced ingress from Afghanistan. (File)

Avinash Paliwal of the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in his revealing book My Enemy’s Enemy: India in Afghanistan from the Soviet Union to the US Withdrawal, has confirmed in a way what Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has already expressed through his campaign of wire-fencing Pakistan’s western border — the Durand Line. It appears that Pakistan is no longer concerned about the already-fenced border with India. It is now worried about an Indian-induced ingress from Afghanistan, as demonstrated by the arrest of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav in Balochistan in 2016.

The “western (border) threat” perception has resulted in the hunting down of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), suspected of being funded by India from across the Durand Line. On January 25, the police arrested Member National Assembly (MNA) Mohsin Dawar and 30 others as they protested against the detention of MNA Manzoor Pashteen, who had been arrested earlier from Peshawar and accused of using threatening and derogatory language against the state during a gathering in Dera Ismail Khan on January 18.

The PTM arrests have disturbed the civil society in Pakistan and brought the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan under pressure from conscientious objectors to “negotiate with PTM” instead of hunting its members down as “Indian agents”. Dawar and Pashteen agitate for the “rights of ethnic Pashtuns affected by Pakistan’s war against the Taliban in the northwest”. The PTM was formed in 2016 by a group of eight university students in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan, all eight originally from South Waziristan, most adversely affected by Pakistan’s “hosting” of the Afghan Taliban movement.

The Pashtun society of North-South Waziristan was destroyed by the “nesting” of such local warlords as Baitullah Mehsud and Afghan warlords like the Haqqani brothers. The PTM wants life in the Tribal Areas restored to normalcy. Pakistan has endured terrorism unleashed by these “guest” warriors. Local warlords joined the socially destructive routine of “guests”, killing normal life. Warlord Hakimullah Mehsud killed ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 in Rawalpindi through terrorists sent from North Waziristan.

As in Balochistan, the PTM also protests the “disappearances” of innocent people protesting their devastated lives under the warlords who ruled over people till the Pakistan army finally decided to get rid of its “guests” in 2014. But the protesters are being seen as “agents of the enemy” and killed, as it happened in the case of one Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi in 2018, while his killer police officer has gone unpunished.

Paliwal notes that India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a “policy shift” in 2016, indicating “interference” inside Pakistan just as Pakistan had “interfered” in Kashmir. On August 15 that year, he said: “I want to express my gratitude to the people of Balochistan, Gilgit, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, for the way they wholeheartedly thanked me, the way they expressed gratitude to me… people of a distant land I haven’t even seen… when they thank the Indian prime minister, it’s an honour for the 125 crore people of the country.”

Paliwal writes: “What for, and how, the people of these regions had thanked Modi was unsaid. The implicit message was that India was capable of, and perhaps already exercising (both via Afghanistan and otherwise), covert intervention in Pakistan’s internal troubles. Whether this was empty rhetoric, as in the 1960s when Indian parliamentarians sought to support the Pashtun and Baloch insurgencies in the wake of the 1965 war, or a true shift in India’s security practices like the early 1970s when Indira Gandhi proactively supported the Baloch insurgency, is yet to be seen. But if one is to go by optics, India was now intent on exploiting Pakistan’s fear of strategic encirclement.”

It is sad that the PTM is being seen as an “enemy agent”. In April 2019, a warning was delivered by the army to the PTM directly, warning the group that its “time is up”, alleging that the human rights organisation was being funded by foreign intelligence agencies. The PTM leaders asked for “evidence” for this accusation, but were ignored.

Pakistan and India might think it is a good strategy to use tribesmen in Afghanistan and Pakistan to get even with each other; but the common man is suffering and is being punished for protesting his uprooted life.

This article first appeared in the print edition on February 29, 2020 under the title “Manufactured enemies”. The writer is Consulting Editor, Newsweek Pakistan)

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