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IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON Af-PAK INSTABILITY: IMPACT ON INDIA’S SECURITY MATRIX

Reported by Naireen Khan, Asstha Gupta and Sudesh Yadav, Research Interns at the USI of India

REPORT OF CS3’S WEB DISCUSSION HELD ON MAY 6TH 2020

To discuss the regional security dynamics in South Asia, the Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation (CS3), USI organized a web discussion comprising three inter-related sessions, each focusing on recent developments in the region. The first session highlighted the “Future of U.S-Taliban Peace Talks and its Implications for the Regional Security”; the second session analyzed “Pakistan’s Response to COVID-19 and its Impact on the Country’s Political, Social and Security Domains”; the last session elaborated on the “Impact of the Collusive Threat on India’s Security Matrix, specifically with regards to Jammu and Kashmir”.

Following are the key takeaways from the discussion:

Session 1: “FUTURE OF U.S-TALIBAN PEACE TALKS AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE REGIONAL SECURITY”

Speaker: Lt. General G.S. Katoch, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM (Retd).

US –Taliban Peace Deal

  • US-Taliban deal is not a peace agreement. Rather it is an arrangement for the withdrawal of US troops and try to bring peace through an intra-Afghan dialogue.
  • The agreement aims to release prisoners, however, disagreements over the numbers of the prisoners to be released and the political impasse between Mr. Ashraf Ghani and Mr. Abdullah Abdullah have also impeded the intra-Afghan dialogue. Further, the Afghan government is not a party to the agreement and is referred to as the other side(s).
  • This agreement has not resulted in abetting violent attacks by the Taliban. Since 29th of February, there have been almost 2500 violent events in Afghanistan. The Taliban neither agreed to recognize the current Afghan government, nor to place any limits on their own military capabilities. At its core, the deal is a mechanism allowing American and allied troops to cut their losses or have a face saver in a war that has gone on for too long and offers no prospect for a military victory. A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire is thus not a part of the agreement, and thus enables each side to preserve their rights, especially of self-defense.
  • Covid-19 has resulted in only about 60 fatalities, but the ongoing violence since the signing of the arrangement has already witnessed about 710 fatalities, of which 500 are civilians and the rest are of the government forces and Taliban.

U.S Influence Post Withdrawal

  • In the wake of the Corona virus, the U.S. economy could shrink from16 percent to 24 percent. This may result in a total withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan.
  • Also S. withdrawal will be determined by its relations with Taliban and the regional players.
  • Future course of action in Afghanistan will be influenced by the November elections in America and subsequently what foreign policy choices the new government adopts. Liberal thought might gain traction if Joe Biden comes to power in 2020 elections as the Democrats have been traditionally liberal.

Implications for Regional Powers

  • Russia and Central Asian Republics would want to maintain some sort of buffer and stability in rest of the Afghanistan.
  • It is strategically imperative for India to prevent Pakistan from gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan and prevent a further rise in militancy on Indian borders.
  • If Taliban returns to political office in Kabul, Islamabad could gain a friendly government and it will prevent a pan Pashtun movement from gaining traction.
  • A possibility of a proto state in Afghanistan cannot be ruled out due to Tajik predominance in the northern regions, bordering Tajikistan.

Conclusion

For Afghanistan to survive as an independent state, a power sharing agreement between the two leaders is essential, as also accommodating the other factions in Kabul. Since Taliban is a major power center in Afghanistan, India should remain open to a meaningful engagement with the Taliban as also work towards bridging the divide in the Afghan government.

Session 2: “PAKISTAN’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19 AND ITS IMPACT ON THE COUNTRY’S POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND SECURITY DOMAINS”

Speaker: Maj Gen. Rakesh Bhaduaria, VSM (Retd)

Pakistan’s COVID Strategy

  • In the wake of COVID-19, Pakistan’s pre-existing socio-political, economic and security challenges have been exacerbated. Pakistan has adopted a rather risky policy of not implementing a nationwide lockdown in stark contrast to other states in South Asia such as Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. The government’s reasoning for resisting a lockdown was to prevent starvation deaths in the country. Out of the four provinces in Pakistan, three are governed by PakistanTehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and one by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Therefore, the  responses in these provinces have been varied. The Sindh province denounced the National Government for not declaring the pandemic as a public health emergency. In comparison to other provinces, it also adopted far stricter measures.
  • Punjab province, which has a PTI government at the helm, had a less coordinated response. Fifty percent of their tests were on medical advice, while the  access to testing for the rest of the populace was skewed in favour of the rich.
  • Khyber Pakhtunwa has recorded 3000 cases; in Baluchistan however, the problem is acute. Although only 1400 cases have been detected so far, the rate of testing is abysmal. This apart, Baluchistan being a poor province has only two tertiary care hospitals.
  • The central government has initiated a social security and poverty alleviation program aimed at direct cash disbursements called Almost 30 million people registered under the auspices of this program. So far, the government has distributed 12 million dollars to only 6.5 million families. Lack of infrastructure to facilitate direct money transfer to bank accounts has severely limited the reach of this initiative.
  • Furthermore, due to the holy month of Ramadan and the sway that the religious clerics hold, the government was unable to outlaw congregations at mosques. This highlights the state’s subservience to religious leaders.
  • Pakistan’s army on the other hand has been deployed to assist with testing and establishment of hospitals. However, they have maintained a low profile during this crisis.
  • Terror organizations have also been innocuous due to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), pressure from the U.S and conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan. Yet, it is still ensuring its support to the terror movement in Kashmir, albeit at a lower scale for the present.
  • Notably, these groups have been active through their welfare organizations which also serve as conduits for public outreach which enables them to gain a foothold in the society.

Impact on the population

  • Despite the availability of adequate arable lands, the status of food security in Pakistan is dismal (it only has 2 million tonnes of food grain reserves for a population of about 225 million people). On the hunger index, Pakistan is ranked 106 out 119 countries. One fifth of the population is undernourished. Fifty percent of the children are malnourished.
  • Agriculture adds 19 percent to the GDP with almost 50 percent of the population being dependent on it. The growth rate is 1 percent which may decrease even further this year. In 2020, almost 40 percent of the crop was damaged due to locust. In lieu of loans, Pakistan had given lands to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East for agriculture. These factors together with the Corona pandemic will further accentuate the food security crisis.
  • Agriculture is one of the four priorities of CPEC. A Chinese state owned enterprise has acquired fifty percent shares in ‘Fauji Food Limited’(a part of the Pak Army’s Fauji Foundation) so as to expand their R&D with the aim of increasing harvests and exports to China. China has been motivating Pakistan to grow more paddy and sticky rice variety which the former consumes. Since paddy is a water intensive crop, the increase in its production has negative implications for Pakistan’s already stressed water reserves.

State of the Economy

  • All macroeconomic indicators point towards a much stressed economy-high inflation (11-12%), high fiscal debt (8-9%), low foreign exchange reserves (12.8 billion dollars). As a result of the capital flight caused by the pandemic, Pakistan’s rupee fell by 30 percent.
  • Pakistan’s exports are mainly food items and garments which will further plummet due to low demand, during and post COVID. The country also has a high debt to GDP ratio which reduces its capacity to borrow money. Currently, Pakistan owes 111 million dollars in external debt; the internal debt is still higher.
  • The remittances from the Gulf nations are expected to fall by almost 25 percent, thereby impacting its economy.
  • Out of the 6 billion dollars loans in aid given by the IMF, only 500 million dollars have been credited to Pakistan. The second instalment was stalled due to the pandemic and is contingent on IMF’s review.
  • According to the statements submitted by Pakistan to the IMF, the country will be paying 40 billion dollars to China for an investment of 26 billion dollars over 20 years. Furthermore, Chinese banks have extended loaned to their companies in Pakistan. These loans have both debt (7-8%) and equity (20%) elements to them. Dividends are given on equity; hence Chinese companies have a pre-determined profit of 20 percent irrespective of gains or losses. Also, Chinese companies enjoy tax exemptions on these profits. This translates to a significant capital drain from Pakistan, much of which is the aid received from the IMF.
  • Countries such as Saudi Arabia, U.S. and U.A.E will not be forthcoming with regards to aid due to the strain of their domestic economies. Due to Pakistan’s low creditworthiness, institutions such as the IMF, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank are also unlikely to dole out loans thereby, increasing the country’s dependence on China.
  • The concomitant high debt trap together with China’s debt-based model of imperialistic control will render Pakistan subservient to the Chinese.
  • IMF’s conditionality of low inflation and increased revenues will impact the growth. Hence, the demand would be suppressed due to the high taxes.
  • Expenditure has increased due to debt servicing even as the spending on development has fallen by 18 percent.

Defence and Security

  • Defence Budget has gone up marginally, COVID notwithstanding. In the last 10 years, it has increased by 70 percent (almost 4% of the GDP). Allotments for procurements and the war on terror however remain opaque.
  • S. military assistance which used to be 21 percent has dropped to 11 percent.
  • As part of its anti India propaganda Pakistan will continue to support the Kashmiri cause. This is underscored by the increased instances of firing on the borders.

Conclusion

While the pandemic has severely stressed Pakistan’s economy; it has not yet impacted the political stability in the country. The ruling government has managed to accommodate considerations of the religious leaders as well as the military in formulating its response to COVID.  However ascendancy in radicalization is expected due to the economic downturn and the concomitant social unrest. Together with nationalism, this may lead to a rise in militancy and cross border terrorism.

Session 3: “IMPACT OF THE COLLUSIVE THREAT ON INDIA’S SECURITY MATRIX, SPECIFICALLY WITH REGARDS TO JAMMU AND KASHMIR”

SpeakerBrig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd).

The impact of China-Pak nexus on Jammu and Kashmir

Pakistan’s requirement of China in the Kashmir region is strategic, not tactical. With growing autonomy of the terror groups, Pakistan needs China to deter India in case of a black swan event such as Pulwama and Pathankot attacks. China has stayed away from any direct involvement in the insurgent movements in J&K.

The strategic dependence can be based on:

  • Infrastructure development in Eastern Ladakh region: Starting 2020, an increased activity can be noted in Eastern Ladakh. For example, 700 vehicles have been detected approaching Eastern Ladakh, engaged in 18 hours a day in workmanship, suggesting building of logistic bases and surface communications channels, thus compressing the movement time of troops. Response from these bases in case of an event could be similar to that of India’s Surgical Strikes.
  • Asset Support for Cyber warfare: Almost 2,000 hash tag campaigns of Chinese origins are initiated on daily basis. The campaigns attempt to build a narrative by highlighting Islamophobia in J&K and India, targeting West-Asian countries and Muslims in J&K, and India.
  • China’s attempt for dominance in West Asia: China aims to establish influence in India’s strategic neighbourhood. Its intention is to evict Indians from West Asia and hamper India’s goodwill and foreign currency which comes out to be 60-62 billion.

Construction of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) began in both Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and rest of Pakistan without disruptions and is likely to slowly recommence after a brief lull due to COVID in China. India does not have adequate capacity to contest these developments in the kinetic asymmetric domain and can only resort to diplomacy.

Internal issues in Jammu and Kashmir

Pakistan was stunned tactically and strategically by the Indian government’s  decision of August 5 to revoke Section 370 and other associated steps taken by them. The nexus between Jamaat and ISI was disrupted, as the  financial resources got dried up. However, this tempo has not been maintained.

The current situation and agendas persisting in Kashmir are:

  • Changing perspective: A narrative of Muslims in  Kashmir being deceived has been built. Pakistan has initiated the slogan ‘Khun ka Baadla June mae’ to highlight the inadequate economic, social, and political hardships  encountered by the Kashmiris.
  • Re-establishment of networks: Pakistan’s aim is to re-establish the network it had developed and invested in the last three decades. The Jamat architecture has been re-established in Kashmir. There are attempts to reinstate the channels of funding. Successful restoring of partial funding will enable movement of insurgency in Kashmir.
  • Changing Militancy: Pakistan is attempting to change the trend of Cross Border Terrorism. Earlier, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed engaged in major cross border terrorist attacks, however, currently due to FATF pressure, there has been an attempt to rebrand LeT groups to ‘Resistance Forces’ suggesting Pakistan’s effort to build a narrative distancing itself from the organisation and depicting them as indigenous. The goal was to establish a name that is not synonymous with ISI or Pakistan and portray an Indian origin group emerging within Kashmir. There has been opposition to this move from within, as the JeM chief and Hafiz Saeed prefers the existing names.
  • Infiltration from Pakistan: There is an increased talk about infiltration to retain control over Tanzeem and continue cross border terrorism. In earlier instances, like in the case of Hizbul Mujahideen, when control had been lost then local leaders such as Burhan Wani were said to have worked with intelligence agencies. Therefore, the key leaders continue to infiltrate from Pakistan. Secondly, these leaders take frontline only when the morale is sagging and there needs to be a sensational attack. Otherwise, most of the attackers are Kashmiris.
  • Synergising of Militancy groups: An alignment in Pakistan is being developed between Tablighi Jamaat, Jamaat-e-Islami, Ahl-I Hadith and the Wahhabis to channelize their energies in J&K for establishment of Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir. The agenda is forwarded by spreading force in not only India but also Europe. For example, Tariq Jameel has spread his tentacles in Europe and emerged as an Islamic force.

India’s reaction and the way forward

India’s response to the religious cults operating in the valley has been inadequate. India has not been able to address their agenda at the grassroots level. Post 5th August, the Islamic Institutes that have spread across the state continue to function and act as radicalisation centres. The administration and advisors working in the secretariat have little connect with local conditions and decisions are often arbitrary. Hence, the ground reality is different  as compared to the reality portrayed to Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in Delhi.

At the current rate of mass radicalisation, India might find it difficult to build a pro-India narrative in future. The hatred against India could grow further, putting India’s experiment in J&K to build a new political dispensation, in danger.

So far, India’s response has not been successful. The response needs to diversify into psychological warfare and anti-radicalisation policies. For this to happen, the quality of governance needs to improve.

India needs to plan a long-term response by laying down a timeline and working on two fronts. Firstly, build a psychological narrative to neutralise Pakistan’s propaganda, and secondly, develop deep operational capabilities to negate terrorist groups in Pakistan.

Additionally, India needs to improve the administrative chain and include the grassroots level players in decision making. Further, to understand the sentiments of the people in J&K, the armed forces can be good advisors as they have the reach, spread, and the information from the grass-roots, but they are often not involved in the decision making.

Conclusion

There is a trend change in militancy in J&K. The terror groups that were once synonymous with Pakistan are trying to re-establish themselves as Indian insurgent groups. The battle of perception and narrative has gained more importance now, as Pakistan aims to restore its channels of finance and communication and generate hatred for India in the valley. Pakistan is attempting to highlight the Islamophobia in India to further its agenda in Jammu and Kashmir. However, the implications can go far beyond Kashmir if not addressed timely.

 

Reported by Naireen Khan, Asstha Gupta and Sudesh Yadav, Research Interns at the USI of India

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