Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd) Writes:
On May 21, 2020 Imran Khan said that a false flag operation by India against Pakistan is imminent to divert attention of the global community from Kashmir. Major General Babar Iftikhar, the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), repeated the same rhetoric on June 03, 2020, that India is planning a false flag operation against Pakistan and warned that the results of any misadventure will be “beyond anyone’s control”.
The frustration of Imran Khan and General Bajwa is apparent since nothing is going right for Pakistan at the moment. Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has not yet bailed out Pakistan and it remains in grey list. Thus, these utterances of the politico-military leadership of Pakistan should be seen as a sign of desperation, frustration and inability to deliver basic governance. The emerging threat is from the rising aspirations of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to play larger role in Afghanistan and South Asia. Though India and Kashmir have been LeT’s primary area of operations so far, the group has an unsettling presence internationally. This is one reason that Pakistan is trying to depict terrorism in Kashmir as internal resistance movement. If JeM and LeT spiral out of control of Pakistan, it will become another problem that Pakistan will not be able to cast away so easily. It may be recalled that the former President of Pakistan Gen Parvez Musharraf has said on record that these terror organisations were created, trained, and supported by Pakistan to give impetus to the cross-border terrorism in J&K. In fact, the fear of false flag operation is not from India but from those 40 universally identified terror groups that Pakistan has allowed to nurture in their backyard. At this stage when people are under extreme desperation for government support to avail basic amenities for survival, there is a likelihood of large-scale uprising and terror attacks on critical infrastructure within Pakistan. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s words in the context of Pakistan that, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours; you know, eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard,” seems to be coming home to haunt them.
There is a need to decode what made Pakistan’s politico-military leadership to suddenly start the rhetoric of a false flag operation by India. First important aspect is that this rhetoric by politico-military leadership of Pakistan is choreographed to primarily address the domestic audience, since Pakistan is conscious of the fact that there could be an internal turbulence due to failure of economy, collapse of health services to deal with COVID-19, massive job losses and close to 50 percent population at the verge of starvation. According to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, poverty keeps more than 50 per cent of Pakistani families from having two meals a day. The food security situation has been further aggravated by loss of crops due to locust attack and massive job losses both in farm sector and industrial sector. COVID-19 and power shortages have hit small scale industries that has led to massive job losses in Pakistan. Successive official reports on Pakistan’s power sector indicate that the country suffers from a shortage of power generation, transmission losses, lack of planning and inappropriate policies leading to an escalating energy crisis. Due to economic collapse, Pakistan has failed to even provide any stimulus to the people living under the poverty line; as a result there is a rising turbulence within society and massive anger against the inefficiency of the Imran Khan Government. It is apparent that the false flag operation against Imran Khan Government will be done by disaffected public and it does not require external abetment.
Another objective of Pakistan to raise the bogey of false flag operation is to attract the attention of the international community so that Pakistan creates a façade of victimhood to gain support of Saudi Arabia and Arab world that had snubbed Pakistan against calling OIC summit to discuss Kashmir issue. At the same time Pakistan is also under tremendous pressure to repay short term loans from China, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. The bailout from IMF is conditional and IMF wants an assurance from the Government of Pakistan that the bailout package will not be spent to repay loans to China and other countries. In addition, the IMF has also laid down the condition that bailout package will not be spent for military purpose. The only option for Pakistan at this stage is to play a victimhood card of possible false flag operation by India.
The political situation in Pakistan is fragile and the Imran Khan Government is facing flak on political, economic, social, and the internal security situation. About a quarter of the country’s over 220 million population is living below the national poverty line and over 22 million children remain out of school. The anger of public against Imran Khan Government is rising and Pakistan may be heading towards a serious internal turbulence. At this stage when Pakistan military is engaged in Baluchistan and KPK area, it is unwilling to face any internal turbulence in Sindh or Punjab. With food commodities and energy prices rising, an element of public unrest, which could morph into even an agitation against the PTI government, remains a real possibility.
In fact, the script of false flag by India appears to have been given by the Pakistan Army to Imran Khan so that the Army can justify taking a lion’s share from meagre economic resources. Pakistan Military is not prepared to take a budget cut even at the cost of public economic misery. Therefore, military has been pushing Pakistan to carry forward their agenda if Imran Khan wants to remain in power. It is a compulsion for Imran Khan to keep the bogey of threat from India alive so that he can justify to public why he is diverting funds to Pakistan Army.
Imran Khan is trying to champion the cause of Kashmiri population forgetting that his own government is crushing the legitimate demands of people of Baluchistan. In Baluchistan alone there are more than 0.6 million people who are internally displaced, and the number is rising with each passing day. Mama Oadeer, an activist, told HRCP that around 47,000 Baloch and around 35,000 Pashtuns are ‘missing’, and many family members have explained how their loved ones have been abducted and not heard from since.Some experts feel that actual figures could be even much higher. The condition in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is even worse, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) – “a total of 5.3 million people in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were displaced as a consequence of counter-terrorism operations since 2008. Of these, 4.8 million as per official records have returned, and the rest are yet to go back to their homes”.
On the other side Pakistan’s big worry is rising discontentment of people of Pakistan occupied Jammu & Kashmir (Including Gilgit Baltistan). Kunwar Khuldune Shahid says that Gilgit-Baltistan is Pakistan’s geopolitical loophole that is becoming unstable due to arbitrary takeover of land of minority Shia community. Agitation against Pakistan Government is now a routine and with heavy investment in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is even under pressure from China to resolve issues with the local population.
The main issue is – who is buying the rhetoric and fake agenda of Pakistan of possibility of a false flag operation by India? Pakistan has found no takers; even the Pakistan elites and opposition party have not bought this rhetoric. The cause for this paranoia is that Imran Khan and his handlers in the army are in a disarray. And the reason is not some concerted domestic political opposition or foreign pressure; it is the sheer incompetence of the army’s political protégés and the outfit’s ignominious tradition of biting off more than it can chew. Under such circumstances Imran Khan and Pakistan Army can only divert attention through a concocted narrative.
What is important at this stage for Pakistan is to look inward and address public grievances and control hounds of terror that is threatening Pakistan from within. Unless Pakistan sets its house in order, it will only keep sinking in economic and political morass. It will be appropriate to suggest that Pakistan’s false flag operation is a ghost of its own shadow.
 ‘Let’s not play with fire’, Pakistan Army tells India, The Express Tribune, June03, 2020.
 Ashley J Tellis, “The Menace That Is Lashkar-e-Taiba”, Carnegie Endowment for Peace, March 2012.
 Can’t keep snakes in your backyard: Clinton to Pakistan, The Economic Times, October 22, 2011.
 Survey: Over 50% families in Pakistan cannot have two meals a day, Report Published in India Today, July 27, 2019.
 Vaishali Basu Sharma, As Pakistan’s Energy Crisis Worsens, Have Chinese Investments Failed Islamabad? The Wire, June 02, 2020.
 Mohammad Taqi, Pakistan Army’s Imran Khan Project Is Going Belly Up, The Wire may 12, 2019.
 Taqi Ibid.
 JS Von Dacre, Pakistan Confirms Human Rights Abuses in Baluchistan, Inside Over, October 19, 2020.
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Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd) is a Distinguished Fellow with the USI of India. He has extensive experience in counter insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. His areas of interest are Internal Security, Transnational Terrorism, Indian Ocean Region and Military Reforms. He has authored more than 200 research papers/ Chapters for books/ articles for various journals and web portals.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.