There are speculations over the ‘complete’ hold of General Bajwa over the Pakistani Army at the moment. His extended term ends in November. A significant section of the Pakistani Army’s top leadership is reportedly still sympathetic to deposed Prime Minister Imran Khan. Besides, given Pakistan’s economic woes, the Army’s most important priority seems to remain in the good book of both the US and China for military grants and assistance. And then there is the turbulent Durand Line with the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Given these immediate priorities of the Pakistani Army, the Line of Control (LoC) with India is relatively quiet; it is not due to any radical change in the attitude of the Pakistani Army towards India.
But then this is not all. The worst part is that the Pakistani Army is increasingly getting “Islamised”, both directly and indirectly (through connivance with the Islamic fundamentalists). It may be mentioned here that the beheadings of Indian soldiers near the LoC in the past were usually carried out by a joint team of the Pakistani soldiers and fundamentalist terrorists (the so-called Border Action Team or BAT comprised the regular Army and terrorist LeT or Hizbul cadres).
In fact, in all its wars against India, the Pakistani Army has always used the ‘militant Islamists’. In the first Indo-Pakistan War in 1947, it used militant Islamists as a potent weapon – it used Islamist rhetoric to mobilize Pashtun tribesmen from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and urged clerics to issue fatwas ordering their clans into Kashmir.
There has always been a perpetual patron-client relationship between the Pakistan Army and militant Islamists. General Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military head of state always used Islamic rhetoric against even his political opponents, let alone against India in the 1965- war. His successor General Yahya Khan did the same – he unleashed Deobandi mujahideen against his own citizens in the then East Pakistan. And things deteriorated further when General Zia-ul-Haq came to the scene – he changed Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s original army motto from “Unity, Faith, and Discipline” to “Faith, Piety, and Jihad for the sake of Allah”. Zia described himself to be “a soldier of Islam”.
The point is that in all the wars that Pakistan is likely to be involved in the future, its Army will fight ostensibly for the cause of Islam.
And, Prime Minister Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) also happens to be a party whose electoral base consists of fundamentalist extremists in a big way. Of all the political parties in Pakistan, the Sharif brothers’ Muslim League has been at the forefront in advocating for co-opting the jihadists and fundamentalists in the country’s political system.
In fact, after FATA, if any Pakistani territory has seen a massive growth of fundamentalist influence, then it is Punjab (the country’s largest and most significant province), which Shehbaz Sharif ruled as Chief Minister for a very long time. In fact, some political scientists say that it is because of the misgovernance in Punjab that led to the growth of jihadi fundamentalist elements, the children of the poor peasants. With no education for their children in normal schools, they are forced to go to madrassas that produce semi-literates. In fact, these experts do not agree that jihadi culture is accepted by the poor and deprived people. They stress that it is those semi-literates emerging from the lower middle classes and peasants who join the ranks of the jihadis as they are otherwise incapable and ill-trained to find jobs or do business.
And over a period of time, these jihadis and their leaders have emerged powerful, helped considerably by the Al Qaida and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
After all, it was Shehbaz who was the Chief Minister in 2011 when a jihadi bodyguard named Mumtaz Qadri killed the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer just because the latter talked against the country’s stringent blasphemy laws. So much so that Shehbaz did not even dare to attend Taseer’s funeral and the judge who pronounced punishment for the murderer was forced to be banished from the country.
These being the hard lessons from the past, it will be imprudent to expect that Shehbaz Sharif‘s policy towards India will be different, particularly when the fundamentalists, along with their political and military supporters, regard India to be Pakistan’s “eternal enemy”