Pakistan’s security dilemma and the Pashtun belt
A fresh wave of terror attacks by militants on Levies – a tribal police and security force installed in Pakistan’s federally administered frontier regions – in Pashtun-majority districts of Balochistan province is predicting a shift in the war against the Taliban from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to the Pashtun belt in Balochistan.
The presence of Taliban and frenzied jihadis in the southern Pashtun belt is alarming, a vivid threat to national security and the Pashtun community. In these scenarios, Pashtun resistance against insecurity and unlawful detentions led by the PTM (Pashtun Protection Movement), unwisely imagined as a threat to Pakistan’s national security and integrity, will surely redefine the epistemology of Pashtun nationalist politics in Pakistan.
Launching military operations after terrorist attacks and establishing cantonments and security check posts in the affected area are the tenets of Pakistan’s national-security policy. Simply put, Pakistan’s security policy is reactive and reactionary in total. There is no sense of robustness and consistency in security policy in the country.
Confused relations with neighboring states, backing banned jihadist elements in the country, politicizing religion to counter nationalists, total involvement of the military in policy mechanisms, and the military’s hegemonic interests are the drivers that have brought the entire state of Pakistan to the brink of security failure, wreaking mayhem at the national level and fueling vibrant Islamization.
Pakistan’s poorest province according to a United Nations report, Balochistan is on the hit list of terrorist attacks. Recently, “known” terrorists killed eight Levies in Pishin and Killa Saifullah, the two poorest districts of Balochistan. Apparently, the circumstances indicate an intentional shift in the war against the Taliban to the Pashtun belt of Balochistan as per changing national-security scenarios.
On August 24, addressing a public gathering on third day of Eid-ul-Adha, Pashtun nationalist leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai, chairman of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, predicted such a shift. He further said that Pashtuns needed to support one another to secure the motherland from war against militancy that could undermine the peace and stability of the region. Undoubtedly, the recent terrorist incidents endorse Achakzai’s argument on the rise of extremist activities and the start of a new proxy war that will surely impact Pakistan’s national security.
Additionally, the PTM, led by the charismatic young Pashtun nationalist Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen, is in full swing against the military aristocracies in Pashtun belts and campaigning for restoring peace and security of Pashtun land in Pakistan. Security for the Pashtun community is the core demand of the PTM and it is also calling for the top military brass to roll back destructive and war-centric policies that have ruined the entire Pashtun land and the national security of Pakistan.
Revising the same old tactics, the Pakistani military establishment is linking the PTM and its leaders to Afghanistan and India. This is wrong. The existing conflict between the PTM and the military establishment over security policy will draw a line of controversies between Pashtun nationalists and Pakistani military complexes, possibly leading to counter-operations against the PTM. This is alarming, a vivid threat to national integrity.
The initiation of China’s One Belt, One Road project that includes the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is another threat to Pakistan’s national security. The US will never let China enhance its military and naval power in the Indian Ocean Region.
Interestingly, since Imran Khan’s “selection” as prime minister, a remarkable shift in Pakistan’s security paradigms has been seen at both the national and regional levels. The very first speech by Khan clearly indicated that policies concerned with regional security and foreign relations would be dealt with by the military complexes of Pakistan.
The shift in security and foreign policies after Khan’s coming to power will bring lots of changes in Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. The quest for security and economic interests in the region will help the US and China to install proxies in the Pashtun belt of Balochistan to counter each other. Pakistan, too, wants to play its own cards to secure strategic interests in the region.
The CPEC project, the arrival of China and Russia in the Arabian Sea and US interest in Pakistan and Afghanistan will establish the Pashtun belt in both countries as a proxy zone for regional and extra-regional states to counter each other’s interests.
The way forward
Apparently, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government and the military establishment are on the same page, which is in favor of political stability but is ignoring the other influential political parties in opposition and nationalists on domestic and foreign affairs. Khan, backed by the military and judiciary, is focusing on mere military-centric policies. This is wrong. Without consulting the political leadership on important national issues, the situation will lead the entire country to disintegration, controversies and insecurities.
Pakistan is at a crossroads, not in a position to face further insecurity, ethnic and political controversies at the national level, unnecessary involvement of the military in civilian matters and discrimination against Pashtuns; detaining and torturing in the name of security and law and order.
The imprisonment of Hayat Preghal, a prominent PTM activist, is unlawful and contrary to basic human rights and defined judicial standards of Pakistan. The Imran Khan-led government, the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the military establishment should take necessary action to ensure his immediate release, which would be beneficial in terms of both security and national integrity.
The Pashtun community, the second major ethnic group of Pakistan, plays a vital role in national politics, strengthening the economy and guaranteeing national integrity. Sidelining Pashtun nationalists and countering tribal Pashtuns will create menace in the state.
The PTM is demanding an end to discrimination against Pashtuns, which is purely constitutional and advocates the principles and charter of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Smearing Manzoor Pashteen and his team as Afghan-sponsored traitors and registering FIR against PTM activists by Khyber Pashtunkhwa police will further mobilize the Pashtun community in Pakistan.
Negotiation toward a peaceful solution in the light of the constitution of Pakistan is the best option to ensure political stability and security in the country. Unrest and anarchy in the state will provide leverage to terrorist elements to undermine peace and security.
Another problematic issue faced by Pakistani security policymakers is “ending extremism” by launching military operations against terrorist elements. This could be effective but can’t counter the entire terrorist and jihadist structure prevailing in the country.
First, Pakistan needs to take a clear stance on the presence of jihadist elements in all four corners of the country. The activities of banned organizations and pro-government Taliban (in FATA and Balochistan) in the Pashtun belt are the real threats to national security. The civil-military leadership should take it seriously to avoid threats in the future.
The 21st century is an era of ideological wars rather than conventional ones. Pakistani security policymakers should focus on how to socialize and liberalize the youth studying in religious seminaries in Pakistani rural areas. Religious rigidity and strictness in understanding the basic concept of jihad and martyrdom prevail in these areas, which helps the Taliban and other militants recruit suitable numbers of youth for terrorist activities. Extending modern education to religious seminaries is important to counter religious fundamentalism.
Since 1979, the Pashtun belts on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have been facing jihadism, assassination of nationalists, insecurity, social and cultural disturbance and involvement of regional and extra-regional security states. The unending jihad, security interests of Pakistan and regional states and the “war on terror” in the post-9/11 era have made the entire Pashtun belt in Pakistan and Afghanistan dangerous and a hell for Pashtuns.
Enough has already been done in the name of security and national interests. Now, Pakistan must reconsider its policy shift in national security to secure and stabilize the Pashtun belt in the country. A stabilized Pashtun belt will surely stabilize the national security of Pakistan.