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One Country’s ‘Freedom Movement Is Another Country’s ‘Militancy’

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Pakistan’s history is replete with multiple internal and external crisis and like our present is no different from the past. Having fought four wars with India in the past, the country is now facing a border conflict with India that has been going on for about four years now – a new milestone in the Indo-Pak relation that showed consistency in their resolve to let no peace efforts change their course of direction.

The ongoing border conflicts between Pakistan and India have so far left 325 persons dead in Pakistan and 222 in India while the wounded are twice of those who died in both countries (October 2016 – May 2020).  Two terror attacks in India, one at Pathankot Air Force Base on 2nd January 2016 and the other at Uri army base in on 18 September 2016, were the triggering points for Pakistan and India to run into border conflicts that continue to this date.

Like all wars, the brunt of this conflict is also being borne by the civilians along with the security forces. Of 325 persons who died in Pakistan, 196 (60%) were civilians and 128 were security personnel. As opposed to that, India lost 65 civilians (30%) and 157 security persons. Were the Indian forces making it a point to target civil population more than the security forces of Pakistan with an intent to create social unrest in its enemy country?  On the other hand, the low percentage of civilian fatalities in India may be a result of the precautions that Pakistan forces must have taken to avoid targeting civilians as much as it is possible.

Having lost hundreds of human lives and resources, the question that remains unanswered is: How and when will this conflict end? The dominant opinions in Pakistan and India are quite contradictory as well as inflammatory that leave little chance for any negotiated settlement to succeed though the leaders from both sides of the border are often found talking of peaceful solution to Kashmir dispute.

A major cause of this divided opinion is the militancy that keeps creating fissures in every trust-building effort that are ever initiated. Every act of terrorism in India or Pakistan pushes both countries away from each other and leads them to become prey to hateful sentiments that blur all the prospects of friendly and peaceful co-existence.  A detailed review of all events of terrorism that occurred in India and Pakistan during last four years can shed some light on this aspect of this belligerent Pak-India relationship.

From 2016 to May 2020, India reported 1294 fatalities from militancy and counter-militancy operations in Kashmir. Point to be noted here is that what India calls militancy, Pakistan calls it freedom movement of Kashmiri Muslims. As the purpose of this column is not to justify the claim of any of these two contradictory views, all the events covered in this column are based on the reports as they appeared in both countries. The purpose is to show a picture that can reflect the kind of mindset that has been evolving in these countries because of the information available to the people.

According to the Indian press, nearly 800 militants had lost their lives in IOK during security operations by the Indian forces, the remaining 494 were civilians (151) and security personnel (340) who were reported to have become victims of violence like armed attacks, kidnapping-and-killing, and target killings. Use of lethal explosives like bomb, IED, hand grenade, landmines, and suicide attacks were often reported as well.  

While the Indian press claimed that the persons killed in security operations were militants, the Pakistani media reported them as freedom fighters. The inaccessibility of independent sources to the affected areas in IOK, leave no option other than to rely on whatever information is made available in the Indian press. Among the militants who had lost their lives, the highest number of victims belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba (134), followed by Hizb-ul-Mujahid (105), Jaish-e-Mohammad (86),  Ansar-ul-Gazwatul Hind (16), Al Badr & Al-Qaeda (6 each of them), Islamic State (4), and many others whose identity was not disclosed.  Interestingly, there were 122 militants who were identified as infiltrators from Pakistan and 20 militants affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad were also declared as of Pakistani origin.

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Like how India suspected Pakistani involvement in separatist movement of Indian Kashmiris, the Pakistan government also had similar suspicions on Indian support to the religious militants and Baloch separatists especially after the launch of CPEC projects in the country.  The situation in Balochistan differs in many respects with the situation in IOK.

While the Kashmir issue is linked with a historical dispute between India and Pakistan, a locally generated separatist movement has further aggravated the situation as India suspected Pakistan for using this opportunity to achieve its own goal.

The insurgency in Balochistan, on the other hand, has no link with any historical dispute between two countries. It’s rather a dispute between the state and the locally motivated separatist leadership. Another factor that added more violence in Balochistan is the migration of Afghan Taliban and their Shura into this province when USA attacked Afghanistan in 2001. Consequently, Balochistan became a hotspot for two forms of violence in the country that was motivated by two objectives; a separate Baloch state in line with the expectations of Baloch nationalists and establishment of a Sharia compliant state in Pakistan as the religious militants envision it.

From 2016 to May 2020, Balochistan lost 1984 persons and 2206 were wounded in terror attacks. Of the total fatalities of 1984, more than 50% were civilians (1034), 25% were security personnel (504), and 22% were militants and insurgents (504).  Only 151 were insurgents like BLA, BRA, BLF, UBA and BRP who were eliminated during the security operations while the number of religious militants were more than 300; a large number of them were unknown and some belonged to Islamic State (IS), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jundullah, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

As many as 16 foreign militants, all of them having links with Afghan Taliban, were also killed in Balochistan during security operations.

The religious militant groups have a very strong presence in Balochistan as compared to the Baloch insurgents. It can be verified from the number of fatalities both groups had suffered from security operation in the province.  What further supports this assumption is the number of terror attacks these groups claimed to have carried out in the province. Close to 30 terror attacks that left 104 persons dead in Balochistan during 2016 – May 2020 were claimed by insurgent groups like Balochistan Liberation Army, Baloch Liberation Front, Baloch Liberation Tiger, Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS), Baloch Republican Guard, and Baloch Republican Paty.

As opposed to that the religious militant groups claimed responsibility for about 40 terror attacks in Balochistan that left 585 persons dead. Islamic State carried out more fatalistic attacks than any other religious militant organization and the number of persons died from these attacks were 379. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its splinter groups claimed responsibility for 22 attacks that killed 189 persons. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jundullah had also claimed responsibility for the terror attacks that killed 17 persons in the province.

Interesting point to note is that the militant groups operating in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) also carry identities that are similar to the identities of militant groups functioning in Balochistan.  Islamic State (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda also have their presence in IOK and they do operate in Pakistan as well. Based on the reports appearing in Pakistani and Indian press, the objectives of these militant groups vary in both countries but they are equally suspected in Pakistan and India for their allegedly clandestine links to the intelligence agencies of the enemy country and other global powers.

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The ongoing border skirmishes between India and Pakistan and the media coverage of these events have strengthened the hawkish tendencies in both countries. The frequent reports of Pakistani infiltration into IOK, and suspicions of Indian intelligence agency’s involvements in terror attacks in Pakistan have set a stage of hatred in both countries where no word of sanity or logic avails any support. A year ago, to the great disappointment of Pakistan, India took a unilateral decision of revoking Article 370 usurping whatever little independence the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir had enjoyed. A column by Parshant Jha in Hindustan Times made the following comment on this action:

The decision [revoking of Article 370] was welcomed with applause by the masses — with the hope that this would, finally, resolve the “Kashmir question”, long seen as a problem created by Pakistan…….. In Ladakh, there was jubilation and pride at having finally got the Centre to concede what was a longstanding demand ……….. In Jammu, where the desire for closer integration with the Indian Union is deep, the announcement was noted with relief….”

Talking about the Kashmiri Muslims, the columnist made the following observations:

“This strategy — of integrating Kashmir with the rest of the country on the same terms — to defeat Kashmiri nationalism and the violence and terror that has often accompanied it, however, had one fallout, a democratic deficit. This had two implications. Domestically, Kashmiri separatists got ammunition to suggest that India could never be trusted, its claims of secularism were shallow……..”

This wasn’t a set back to the Kashmiri Muslims only, it was a big blow to the secular forces of India as well. They lost their reasons for pursuing national integrity on secular terms. The extremist lobbies of India found it an opportune time to strike another blow to the Indian Muslims and liberal forces of their country when they decided to construct Ram Temple at the site of Babri Mosque.

“The construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya is not the last mile, but the beginning of a new India, said Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) general secretary, Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi.”

Pakistan, on the other hand, tried to counter these nefarious designs of Indian government by employing its efforts to seek global condemnation of Indian atrocities in IOK highlighting the siege like situation of Kashmiri Muslims.  Only China and Turkey condemned Indian actions in IOK while the other countries either remained neutral or treated it as an internal matter of India. The people are still dying in the conflict areas of both countries, the Kashmiri Muslims are languishing in suffocating condition of clampdown in Jammu and Kashmir, and the end of this conflict doesn’t appear to be soon based on the developments that have been taking place in India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue.

Dialogues for a peaceful settlement have become very difficult and complicated now as not many options are left where mutually agreeable consensus can be achieved. Yet, all other options for a resolution of Kashmir issue are too dangerous to be pursued. Shall we expect miracles to happen or insist on the leadership of both countries to let sanity to prevail instead of pursuing hardline approach?

 

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Naya Daur