In the five following decades since 1979 our region has witnessed six insurgencies and the corresponding militarisation that comes with them. These six insurgencies include, in the order of chronology, the Afghan Mujahideen-led insurgency against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Sikh insurgency in Indian Punjab, Kashmir insurgency in the valley of Kashmir, Pakistani Taliban led insurgency in tribal areas, Baloch insurgency that started during Musharraf regime and Afghan Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan against American occupation.
In all these insurgencies, Pakistan and its security apparatus were at the centre-stage. The first three insurgencies — Afghan, Sikh and Kashmir — although indigenous in character at the initial stages, were systematically aided and abetted by Pakistani intelligence services. The fourth and fifth insurgencies—Baloch and Pakistani Taliban insurgency in tribal areas—saw their peak inside Pakistani territory in the first and second decades of 21st century. They are again rearing their heads. The Pakistani security apparatus had to stretch itself thin in order to counter the threat these posed to the territory, integrity and security of the state and society. As far as the sixth and last insurgency is concerned, i.e. Taliban insurgency against American occupation of Afghanistan, the Pakistani security apparatus was again accused of aiding and abetting the regrouping and revival of Afghan Taliban as an insurgent movement. The Afghan Taliban’s central leaders remained lodged in Pakistani border towns and cities and directed the insurgency from here during the last phase of American presence in Afghanistan.
The geographical spread of the space where these six insurgencies happened brings one to a dreadful realisation about Pakistan’s vulnerabilities. All these insurgencies either happened in areas in close geographical proximity to Pakistani territory or inside it. Then there is a problem of ethnic affinity between the population of insurgency-hit areas in neighbouring countries and the geographically proximate population inhabiting Pakistani territory.
The Afghans fought a determined war against Soviet occupation—aided and abetted by Pakistani intelligence—and resultantly thoroughly militarised the Pashtun population in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Pakistani intelligence was again instrumental in providing assistance to Sikh militants in East Punjab during 1980 and the border areas of Pakistani Punjab became a hub of smuggling gangs. That smuggling culture spread into Pakistani Punjab’s cities and towns. In the Kashmir insurgency, the Pakistani ruling elite and middle classes both have emotional investment. So, there was effective political support for aiding this insurgency. The result was the growth of militant groups in Pakistani society, which challenged its state and armed forces militarily. When under American pressure, the military government of General Musharraf attempted to curb the activities of these groups. At least two of these groups brought Pakistan to the brink of war with India—a situation that could be described as the most serious security threat posed by anyone to the survival of the state of Pakistan.
The perceived isolation of Pakistan in the international arena is a legacy of our policies with regards to insurgencies amongst our neighbours
The security repercussions of aid and abetting insurgency in Kashmir and Afghan Mujahideen led insurgency in Afghanistan started becoming clear when the parallel “jihadi network” that spawned in Pakistani society as a result of the policies of General Zia’s military government posed a direct threat to the state after 2007. The period from 2007 till 2014 was hellish for Pakistani society and security apparatus: hundreds of suicide attacks launched by groups in the “jihadi network” that supported the Afghan insurgency during Soviet occupation struck Pakistani society as part of a dreadful terror campaign – causing outsiders to start expressing doubts about the survival and continued integrity of the Pakistani state.
To call the first Afghan insurgency as the mother of all insurgencies in this region would not be a misnomer. Militant groups were formed: a cadre of fighters that has now been converted into a pool for everyone to recruit from. The motivational ideologies for insurgents took birth during this period. The tactical techniques for cross-border infiltration and militancy were developed. These lessons were lifted and an attempt was made to implement them in the Kashmir valley. This generated its own regional and international instabilities. The repercussions for Pakistani society were horrendous: militarisation of state and society took place. The near capture of civilian institutions and policy-making by the military was helped by the emerging scenario that resulted from the new regional security situation, which was the direct result of insecurity generated by the situation in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Today, the situation is not settled in either Afghanistan or Kashmir. In the case of Afghanistan, the insurgent movement, i.e. the Afghan Taliban, have become a state and in the Kashmir valley, stone-pelting protestors have replaced the gun toting insurgents. There are little chances that the Afghan Taliban, who only a little while ago were the insurgents, would be able to provide stability to Afghan society after they have assumed the status of a state. With no dearth of weapons and military manpower in Afghan society and with no lack of enemies of Taliban in that very society, a civil war or another insurgency might be just round the corner. Experts don’t see a revival of armed insurgency in Kashmir valley in the foreseeable future. But insurgency is not the only form of political instability that could have regional repercussions. The presence of a more bloodthirsty Indian Army in the Kashmir valley can itself become a source of regional instability.
The lessons for Pakistani society and state are clear. Pakistani society has suffered social, political and economic instability because of successive insurgencies in the region. Armed insurgencies posed the biggest obstacles in the way of our social and political stability and caused hurdles in our economic development and progress. Moreover, they posed serious foreign policy challenges for the Pakistani state and society. The perceived isolation of Pakistan in the international arena is a legacy of our policies with regards to insurgencies amongst our neighbours. Our insurmountable internal security problems are the direct result of the role our security apparatus played in aiding and abetting these insurgencies. All this necessitates public and parliamentary scrutiny of our security structures and policies. After all, we elect our representative bodies precisely for this role.