The Director-General of Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Rizwan Akhtar arrived in Washington, D.C. for talks with intelligence and defense officials on a possible “peace settlement” between the elected government in Afghanistan and the Taliban. The Pakistani Urdu daily Jang also reports that Lt. Gen. Akhtar planned to complain to his hosts about India’s alleged support to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its activities in Afghanistan, which the Pakistani military establishment considers inimical to its interests.
In the days and weeks leading up to Lt. Gen. Akhtar’s visit to the U.S., Pakistan’s complaints were reinforced in Pakistan’s English and Urdu dailies. The far-right newspaper Ummat ran an article asserting that Pakistan was planning to present evidence of Indian “terrorism” through diplomatic and global media circles. The newspaper claimed that “evidence” had been unearthed of India’s involvement in terrorism in Balochistan, Karachi, and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Not to be left behind, the conservative daily Nawa-i-waqt, in an editorial, appealed to the Nawaz Sharif government to counter India’s alleged interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs and demanded that Mr. Sharif declare that India is an enemy of Pakistan.
Accusations of India’s “involvement” in Pakistan have been leveled not only by the military establishment and media houses sympathetic to General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, but also by members of the inner coterie of Nawaz Sharif’s government. These include statements by Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s Minister of Defense, who suggested that separatists from the restive province of Balochistan travel on Indian passports and “take trips to India to get directions.”
Minister of the Interior and trusted aid of Nawaz Sharif Chaudhry Nisar Ali effectively blamed India for spreading terrorism in Pakistan upon his return from Washington D.C. last week. Yet another confidant of Sharif, Sartaj Aziz, has spent much of his tenure as Advisor on National Security and Foreign Affairs toeing a particularly hawkish line on India.
The accusations from Pakistan — deemed not credible in Washington, D.C., and refuted outright in New Delhi — are hardly new. Pakistan’s leaders, whether civilian or military, have a history of leveling accusations on India’s alleged involvement in everything from sectarian violence in Pakistan to terrorism perpetrated via proxies from Afghanistan. These accusations are typically accompanied by claims of possessing evidence that incriminates India, although, unsurprisingly, none is ever publicly presented. A combination of factors could potentially explain Pakistan’s aggressive posturing and the somewhat bizarre accusations.
First, Pakistan is concerned with the qualitative transformation of U.S.-India ties since September 2014, particularly with an increased U.S.-India alignment on regional issues that it perceives to be detrimental to its own interests. Pakistan protested a reiteration of the United States’ support for India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and was visibly upset with President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January. Taking stock of the civil nuclear and defense agreements signed during Obama’s visit, Pakistan’s former Chief of Army Staff Gen. Aslam Beg opined that Washington’s goal was to establish “Indian hegemony from Afghanistan to Bangladesh.” There appeared to be a sense in Islamabad of being sidelined and ignored, with complaints of “double-standards” and “discrimination” in a statement issued by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs even as Obama’s visit to India had barely concluded.
Second, signs of an easing of tensions between India and Pakistan appear to be emerging, with Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar’s impending visit to Islamabad on March 3. Bilateral ties have been strained as a result of the lack of progress on 26/11 trial in Pakistan and shelling along the Line of Control and International Border. The ceasefire agreement that stood both countries in good stead for the better part of a decade appears to be as good as dead. If there are to be parlays between India and Pakistan on a range of issues, both countries would prefer that they be on terms of their own choosing.
For India, the fundamental issue is Pakistan’s continued reliance on terrorism as state policy. While Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi appears to be something of a pawn in a larger contest for political space between Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistani military, the infrastructure of India-specific terrorism continues to exist in Pakistan.
Pakistan however has long held the position that discussions on terrorism be decoupled from discussions on Jammu and Kashmir that it prioritizes. Claiming to have “evidence” of Indian terrorism in Pakistan is therefore both an attempt to equate India with Pakistan on the issue of terrorism and a strategy to convince the Indians to agree to talks on terms Pakistan prefers. The Indians walked into a similar trap at Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009 when they agreed to discuss issues including Balochistan, thereby inexplicably giving credence to Pakistan’s accusations of India’s involvement in the insurgency in that province.
Third, Pakistan believes that tide has finally turned in its favor in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, has been particularly differential towards Pakistan, and Pakistan’s military leaders now feel that they are in a position to regain leverage in Afghanistan. However, India’s activities in Afghanistan continue to be a source of paranoia for Pakistan, which sees India’s presence there as an attempt to encircle it. Complaints of India’s activities inside Afghanistan to foreign leaders, while not new, could be aimed at building support to seek to temper India’s role in Afghanistan as U.S. and NATO forces wind down their presence in that country.
Finally, there could potentially also be a domestic component to Pakistan’s apparent theatrics. By most accounts, the counter-insurgency operation Zarb-e-Azb, initiated in June 2014, has disrupted the TTP. However, just how successful the operation has been remains unclear, since the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations directorate has a virtual monopoly over the dissemination of information pertaining to operational progress. The military itself has claimed the operation to be a tremendous success.
But some argue that the slow pace of peace talks between the government and the terrorist group allowed members of the TTP to escape across the Durand Line into Afghanistan. The army will come under increased pressure if there is an escalation of violence by the TTP in Pakistan’s cities. Under the circumstances, blaming India is a useful diversion and always a great rallying cry for the anti-India cottage industry on Pakistani television talk shows.