Terrorism in South Asia

Christopher Hurtado —  November 19, 2011
Terrorism in South Asia | Christopher Hurtado

How did the events of September 11, 2001 change the situation in South Asia? How did the attitudes of the government of India and Pakistan Change? What opportunities and constraints did they see?

When President George W. Bush declared “war on terror” in response to the 9/11 attacks by members of the “axis of evil” and that our “coalition partner[s] must perform” to prove they are “with us” or else they would be counted as “against us, “ and “be held accountable” for their “inactivity,” India was eager to be counted as “with us.” It had long been fighting its own “war on terror” against Pakistan’s proxies in Kashmir and was eager to form a coalition with the US. But Bush did not consider Pakistan part of the “axis of evil.” In fact, he lauded Pakistan’s President Musharraf for “cracking down on terror” and gave India the cold shoulder. But did Musharraf deserve Bush’s praise and India his disparagement? In order to answer these questions, we must first examine the opportunities and constraints India and Pakistan saw after 9/11. This will elucidate the reason the US allied itself with Pakistan, rather than with India, and the disastrous consequences of this alliance for India, Pakistan, and the US.

Before 9/11, India’s position was to shun international intervention in Kashmir. As for the US, its policy was not to get involved unless both parties wanted it to. After 9/11, India saw the opportunity to bring to bear US and international pressure on Pakistan to cease sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir. Although India’s assistance may have been invaluable to the US, the US could not accept it on India’s terms and still count on Pakistan’s assistance in Afghanistan, where its main interest lied. The US needed Pakistan’s assistance in order to go after bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. India’s historical non-alignment further hampered US-Indian cooperation. Before 9/11, India responded to terrorist attacks with COIN and COIT, earning it a reputation as a soft state. After 9/11, India became more willing to threaten, if not carry out, military retaliation in response to terrorist attacks. Knowing the LeT and the IM were connected to Pakistan, India was wiling to hold it accountable and to prosecute, convict and execute mujahideen.

After 9/11, Pakistan came under pressure from the US to clamp down on terrorists and shut down their training camps. It also had to assist the US in opposition to the Afghan Taliban, a schizophrenic policy considering its own interests in Afghanistan and its need to support the Taliban for legitimacy in the eyes of its religious establishment. Musharraf also promised to shut down terrorist financial networks. In return for assisting the US, Pakistan expected its nuclear program and its interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir to be respected, if not supported, by the US. After losing Bangladesh, losing Kashmir was out of the question for Pakistan. Given the schizophrenic nature of Pakistan’s conflicting commitments, its execution was deeply flawed. It shut down terrorist training camps and financial networks only temporarily and clamped down only on Pakistan-oriented and sectarian terrorist groups while allowing Afghan and India-oriented groups to continue to thrive. The result was a backlash from the former.

As a result of Pakistan’s alliance with the US, LeT has broadened its powerbase and its area of operations threatening Pakistan from within and from the possibility of Indian military retaliation. At the same time, the Pakistani Taliban also threatens Pakistan’s internal security. Unaware of the Pakistani establishment’s strategic objectives, the jihadi foot soldiers only see Pakistan’s alliance with the US as an unholy one, causing them to further radicalize. As for India, it now faces attacks by Pakistani based terrorist organizations far from Kashmir and deep within its heartland as well as homegrown support for the same. As for the US, its wider interests are also affected by the geographic strategic expansion of violence of groups such as the LeT, whose original interests in Kashmir have expanded to include first India in general, and now global jihad. Furthermore, after a temporary victory over the Afghan Taliban, the US is in a quagmire in Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban still backed by Pakistan.

Explain the Musharraf regime’s policy choices on counter-terrorism after 9/11 and its impact on the situation today.

After 9/11, faced with conflicting interests, Musharraf adopted schizophrenic policy choices that have inevitably complicated Pakistan’s situation vis-à-vis terrorist networks operating from and within Pakistan. Before Musharraf’s adoption of said schizophrenic policies, terrorist violence within Pakistan and terrorist violence in India that threatens the interests of the Pakistani establishment was relatively subdued. The violence wrought by these groups has expanded in targeting and intensity as a result of Musharraf’s policy choices. Groups like the LeT, originally fostered by Pakistan in pursuit of its interests in Kashmir, have gained significant independence and significantly expanded their areas of operation to the point of becoming global in focus. Pakistan has also seen increasingly complex connections develop between what it considered distinct terrorist networks with separate and distinct foci. Despite these developments, Musharraf’s policies remain in place threatening Pakistani interests from within and from without.

While Musharraf’s predecessor, Zia ul-Haq, may have seen eye-to-eye with Islamists and conscientiously promoted radicalization, Musharraf sees the Islamists more as strategic assets to be used in protecting Pakistan’s state interests. While Zia’s need for legitimacy pushed him to support religious Kashmir-oriented actors in Pakistan, Musharraf, while certainly also in need of legitimacy, has acted more out of broader political expediency. While Zia’s fight for Kashmir was ideological, Musharraf’s is pragmatic. After losing Bangladesh, Musharraf simply will not let Kashmir go. For Musharraf, keeping India bogged down in Kashmir and the issue in the spotlight serves to prevent Kashmiri integration into India. Furthermore, his policy is payback to India for Bangladesh. As for the other terrorist networks Musharraf supports, despite his promises to the US to the contrary after 9/11, he also supports these for political, rather than ideological reasons. He supports these networks to secure Pakistan’s interests in its nuclear program, in Afghanistan, and in Kashmir.

When Musharraf was forced to cooperate with the US in its search for bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after 9/11, to secure Pakistan’s interests in the face of US pressure, he promised to clamp down on Pakistani terrorist networks and their training camps and financial networks. However, he did not do so permanently or comprehensively, but rather temporarily and selectively. He based the actions he would take on a pragmatic classification of groups based on their orientation and resulting usefulness or lack thereof to the state. There were sectarian groups, such as Sunni groups committing violence against the Shia minority, Pakistan-oriented groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, Afghanistan-oriented groups such as the Afghan Taliban, and a slew of India-oriented groups such as the LeT. Musharraf temporarily clamped down on the Afghan and Indian-oriented groups and temporarily shut down their training camps and financial networks and severely and permanently clamped down on the sectarian Pakistan-oriented groups and theirs.

Musharraf’s counterterrorism policies after 9/11 were disastrous in consequences not only for India and the US, but for Pakistan as well. These policies resulted in greater independence and diversification on the part of India-oriented groups such as LeT whose targeting objectives have expanded from Kashmir to Mumbai and beyond, threatening a military response against Pakistan from India and possibly from Western powers. Another consequence has been expanded violence directed at the Pakistani state by Pakistan-oriented groups such as the Pakistani Taliban who see Pakistan’s alliance with the US as an unholy one. This sentiment leads to increased radicalization within Pakistani society threatening further violence against the establishment. Pakistan also faces the threat of US repudiation due to its continued support of the Afghan Taliban manifested in its lack of willingness to go into North Waziristan to confront it. Musharraf’s schizophrenic policy choices remain in place despite all of this, due to Pakistan’s entrenched interests, despite the grave risks.

Discuss state-sponsorship of terrorism in the South Asian context, especially with respect to Kashmir.

As is usually the case, especially outside of the revolutionary context, state-sponsorship of terrorism in the South Asian context is politically, rather than ideologically, religiously, or ethnically motivated. Although Zia ul-Haqq may have seen more eye to eye with the terrorists he supported than did Musharraf and his successors, even he had political expediency in mind when sponsoring terrorism. Although Pakistan’s battle for Kashmir has been couched in terms of support for the Kashmiri Muslims they claim have been oppressed India, the main reason for Pakistan’s sponsorship of locals and Pakistanis in this battle is political. After losing Bangladesh, Pakistan will stop at nothing to keep Kashmir. Pakistan’s intent in sponsoring insurgency in Kashmir is to keep the Indian army bogged down there and to prevent the full incorporation of Kashmir into India. Pakistan claims it is for Kashmiri self-determination, whether it leads to incorporation into India, Pakistan, or to independence, but in reality truly supports only one outcome: incorporation into Pakistan.

Looking at state sponsorship of terrorism in general and at state sponsorship of terrorism in the wider South Asian context and the narrower Kashmiri context in particular, the aim of state sponsorship of terrorism is, generally speaking, threefold: (1) to increase in power and dominance regionally, (2) to destabilize a competing regional power, or (3) to otherwise exert influence within a neighboring regional power at a local level. India and Pakistan have competed for regional hegemony since the inception of Pakistan, if not before (if the competition is seen as occurring between religion and secularism). Just as India fomented insurgency in East Pakistan, leading to its secession as Bangladesh, Pakistan now foments insurgency in Kashmir in hopes of incorporating it before India does or it becomes independent as well. Pakistan has also exerted influence at the local level within Indian-held Kashmir whether through elections or through local separatist leaders as well as in Afghanistan through its support of the Afghan Taliban.

State sponsorship of terrorism has evolved outside of the Cold War and revolutionary context. While it still holds in the case of Pakistani state sponsorship of terrorism, that, as in past cases, such sponsorship is intended to strengthen insurgencies by providing military training, accoutrements, or both and by assisting insurgencies in recruiting and financing efforts, and that such sponsorship is usually provided by the government of a country neighboring the country of the insurgency, Pakistan’s relationships with terrorist groups are much more intricate than other relationships between insurgencies and their state sponsors have been. In some cases, as has sometimes been the case with Pakistan, state sponsors of terrorist groups may not actually train or outfit said groups, but rather simply look the other way as well as turning a blind eye to the maleficence of such groups while offering them safe haven. State sponsors of terrorist groups may also turn a blind eye to public or private financing activities carried out by or on behalf of their proxies, as Pakistan has.

Broadly speaking, there are six strategic rationales for state sponsorship of terrorism: (1) bleeding the enemy dry, (2) keeping neighboring countries subdued, (3) diplomatic leverage, (4) power projection, (5) local influence, and (6) deterrence. At least four out of six of these strategic rationales apply in the case of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorist groups. Pakistan has been bleeding India dry by keeping its forces tied up in Kashmir, including on the Siachen Glacier. Pakistan has kept its neighbor, Afghanistan, subdued through its proxy, the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has certainly used its proxies to project power beyond its borders, especially in India, whether more actively in Kashmir or more passively in Mumbai. And yet it retains plausible deniability in Kashmir, if not in Mumbai. Pakistan has influenced local elections and separatist leaders by sponsoring insurgents in Kashmir. Arguably, all six strategic rationales for sponsoring terrorism may apply to Pakistan. Pakistan is certainly seeking diplomatic leverage and deterrence as well.

Christopher Hurtado

Posts Twitter Facebook

Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children's book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.