Pakistan was born to a regressive, exclusivist and instinctively interfering idea that has pandered to religiosity as a central tenet. This has over time pushed its fate towards the slippery slope of revisionism and medievalism. While the success of the secular “idea of India” and the independence of Bangladesh ought to have conclusively trashed the flawed “two-nation theory,” Pakistan has oddly accelerated its puritanical impulses towards unprecedented levels.
From civilian Governments to military men, all have conceded ground to the mullahs, extremist ideologies and even terror organisations. A so-called liberal like Zulfikar Bhutto was responsible for declaring Ahmadis as “non-Muslims,” a career soldier like General Zia-ul-Haq ushered in Shariaisation, Benazir Bhutto’s Interior Minister Nasrullah Babar was responsible for creating the Taliban and so on.
Each and every leader tried to run with the hare and hunt with the hound, thinking that they could manage and misuse religious passion for their own advantage but like the proverbial genie that once unleashed cannot revert, Pakistan is now combusting from within. Yet, it refuses to acknowledge and renege from the dangerous games of its past and the result is the Frankensteinian monster of religious extremism.
Pakistan’s exposed infamy as the “terror nursery” explains the ongoing tryst with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), where it stands to be black/grey listed for its sovereign stand on money laundering and terror financing. As per FATF findings till now, Pakistan has “strategic deficiencies” that barely mask its indefensible reputation for misadventures in Afghanistan, India, Iran, Middle Eastern swathes to now even in the latest flashpoint, Azerbaijan.
Former Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General John Nicholson, had complained about Pakistan’s incorrigibility by stating, “We have been very direct and very clear with the Pakistanis... we have not seen those changes implemented yet.” He had unambiguously added that the Pakistani establishment was harbouring “agents of chaos.”
"From civilian Governments to military men, all have conceded ground to the mullahs, extremist ideologies and even terror organisations."
Typically, Pakistan denied the accusations and attributed all wrongdoings to what it has patently and conveniently called “non-State actors”. The conceptual formulation of “non-State actors” offers it an implausible opportunity of official deniability as Pakistan’s duplicity on terror has got firmly established; hence the FATF proceedings.
The slamming observation and warning to Pakistan by the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, that the “snakes in your backyard won’t bite only neighbours”, has gone expectedly unheeded as the foundational spirit underlying the nation justifies its routine dalliances in the inappropriate name of religion. It is almost as if the internal problems of other nations are the necessary “bind” that keeps the fractured and restive Pakistan going. And Azerbaijan is its latest expression and foray.
As the bloody war between Azerbaijan and Armenia escalates in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, it collaterally galvanises foreign powers to intervene militarily in order to pursue their own selfish agenda. Unfortunately, this war in the erstwhile region of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) has an unmistakable angularity of religion, where a Christian Armenia is pitted against a predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan.
This opens the window to a neighbouring Turkey to establish its quest as the new “leader” of the Ummah (displacing the Arab Sheikhdoms) and to perpetuate its historical animus with Armenians. Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan fancies itself as the sole power that hasn’t “succumbed” to Israel (towards the rapprochement and normalcy of ties of Tel Aviv with Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and by default, even Riyadh).
This intra-Ummah struggle has seen Turkey tactically championing Kashmir even as Pakistan’s historical allies like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have started showing disinterest in such pitches. The fight for leadership is so intense that Saudi Arabia has called for an embargo on Turkish products and stopped further aid to cash-strapped Pakistan. Beyond China, today it is only Turkey that is supporting Pakistan at multi-lateral forums.
So it is critical for Pakistan to reciprocate and curry favour with Ankara to consolidate its new-found and only ally (beyond Beijing). In siding with Azerbaijan, Pakistan kills three birds with one stone as it remains consistently involved in others’ matters, reciprocates by backing Turkey and can claim religious context for its action.
Officially, Pakistan denies any involvement in Azerbaijan, as it always does. However, the Pakistani Foreign Office leaves no doubt about its position in the conflict when it says, “intensive shelling by Armenian forces on Azerbaijan’s civilian population is reprehensible and most unfortunate” but denies sending Pakistani troops to fight alongside the Turkish and Azeri soldiers. Tellingly, Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, thanked both Turkey and Pakistan for their support in the fight against Armenian forces.
There is a tell-tale Pakistani pattern to external interferences that over time justifies and legitimises its own misadventures to itself. A key component of that strategy is what it ostensibly calls “non-State actors.” As early as 1947-48, it sent tribal lashkar (militia) from Waziristan to capture Kashmir even as it denied any official patronage. Its military doctrine to “bleed India with a thousand cuts” is from the same fount.
"Pakistan is a past master in arranging “mercenaries” or “non-State actors” that partake in operations at the behest of its establishment."
Later in the Kargil war also, it was the infiltration of Pakistani military regulars in the guise of local Kashmiris that had been publicly opposed. The unconvincing cover of Pakistani involvement in foreign war theatres like Afghanistan and Kargil was later blown by self-goals by none less than former Generals like Hamid Gul, Ashraf Rashid and even former President, Pervez Musharraf.
Pakistan is a past master in arranging “mercenaries” or “non-State actors” that partake in operations at the behest of its establishment, and the comment of the Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister, Avet Adonts, that “we can’t exclude the possibility” of Pakistani wherewithal, is so familiar and repetitive. But as usual, Pakistan is playing a dangerously high stakes game of realpolitik where a lot more is loaded against it this time.
Despite earning international notoriety as an unreliable partner in the global “war on terror,” the foundational flaw of the nation is too deep-rooted, existential and regime-sustaining to warrant any course correction. Though in the Azerbaijan-Armenia theatre, it may perhaps bite more than what many of its traditional supporters themselves will tolerate any further, let alone the rest of the world.
(Commissioned in and subsequently commanded 17th Rajput, the author fought in the 1965 & 1971 wars and various counter-insurgency operations in J&K and North East. He was the Military, Naval & Air Attaché for the East & South Africa Region. Later he was the Military Secretary to Presidents, KR Narayanan & APJ Abdul Kalam. He was the ‘Colonel of the Regiment’ of the Rajput Regiment, President’s Bodyguards, and the Army Physical Training Corps. He retired as the Director General of Military Training. He is currently a columnist for leading publications.)
(This article was first published in 'Firstpost' and has been reproduced with due permission from the author in the larger interest of the military fraternity. Views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect the editorial policy of MVI)