Zone of Chaos
By J Mohan Malik, March 2000

(The writer is Director of the Defence Studies Programme, Deakin University, Australia)

President Bill Clinton reportedly read a number of books on South Asia to brush up his knowledge of the Indian subcontinent.

One book that would do him good is a futuristic study, Anticipating the Future, by Barry Buzan and Gerald Segal. In this book, the two prominent Asian security experts had visualised the area west of India comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia emerging as a zone of chaos by 2030. The signs are already visible. The Pakistan-Afghanistan area is now the main centre of Islamic fundamentalism, drug trafficking, illicit trade in small arms and international terrorism.

The last decade has seen the growth of religious and fundamentalist organisations and terrorist outfits masqueraded as jihadis (holy warriors) and freedom fighters in this zone of chaos causing terror, death and destruction. Fanatic Islamist elements, led by Osama bin-Laden and linked to drug trafficking networks, have long enjoyed the military support of Pakistan s armed forces and Afghanistan s Taliban and undertake cross-border operations which have increasingly blurred the distinction between regulars and irregulars . The roots of Islamic terrorism from Algiers to Xinjiang and Chechnya to Kashmir are traced to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Mujahideen force, which the US had supported against the former Soviet Union, has now transformed itself into a multinational hydra-headed monster.

What is happening in Pakistan today is a reflection of the failing state , a phenomenon experienced first in Afghanistan. Far from being a solution to Pakistan s current woes, General Musharraf is part of the problem. A veteran of the Afghan conflict, he is to a great deal responsible not only for the establishment of close links between the Taliban militia and Pakistani army but also for the Afghanisation of the Kashmir dispute and the Talibanisation of Pakistan.

Islamabad also feels indebted to the Taliban for giving sanctuary to the Pakistan-backed Kashmiri militants who have been fighting the Indian Army. One senior Pakistani bureaucrat told Far Eastern Economic Review (25 November 1999): Unfortunately, our policy towards Afghanistan has become intimately linked to our policy to Kashmir. It is difficult to see how we can disengage from one without harming the other. Despite repeated assurances to the Clinton Administration, Gen. Musharraf has signalled no change in Islamabad s Afghanistan policy. Without military, diplomatic and economic support from Pakistan, the Taliban s days in power would be numbered.

Kashmir has always been a symbol, not the root cause, of the India-Pakistan conflicts. Kashmir is the cause that keeps the military in a powerful, privileged position which in turn acts as the glue that binds the Pakistani state together. Any permanent peace with India, which could turn the present Line of Control in Kashmir into the regular border, is not looked kindly on by the Pakistan military as it would lead to a relegation of its status and power and a reduction of its budget. It could even lead to the withering away of the Pakistani state altogether.

Deluding themselves as the direct descendants of Ghauris, Ghaznavis and Babbars, Pakistanis (including Dhillons, Khokars, Ranas, Shahs, Sethis, among others) want to wage a no-holds-barred holy war against qafirs (infidels) in the East. While the stated objective is to settle the core issue of Jammu & Kashmir on Islamabad s terms, their ultimate goal is to dismember India. To this end, pro-jihadi cells armed with weapons and explosives are being established throughout India, ready to unleash terror and communal bloodbath on ISI orders at an appropriate time in the future when this country is faced with a series of domestic crises and external aggression and is headed by a weak leader (in the mould of Indonesia s BJ Habibie) unable to resist international pressure.

Meanwhile, attempts are being made to undermine India s economy by flooding the country with counterfeit currency printed and smuggled across by the ISI and to scare away foreign investors by issuing periodic threats to wipe out major industrial and population centres such as Mumbai and Bangalore.

Pakistan is extremely dissatisfied with the territorial status quo and frustrated for lacking the means to overturn it. Pakistan s destabilise India policy is destroying and hurting itself. The growing power imbalance between an economically booming, secular, democratic and increasingly confident India and a politically dysfunctional, economically bankrupt, insecure and a failing Pakistan, further adds to this resentment. For New Delhi, overt nuclearisation means that map making exercise in the subcontinent has come to an end. But for Islamabad, it means that it could now detach Kashmir from India.

South, South-West and Central Asia thus face the prospect for the first time of a failing state in possession of weapons of mass destruction. A failing state may not behave like a responsible, rational nuclear weapon state an essential prerequisite for successful nuclear deterrence. One can imagine a scenario in which the so-called Kashmiri mujahideens armed with a couple of nuclear weapons, provided by disgruntled Pakistani army officers, threaten to nuke New Delhi if Indian security forces are not withdrawn within 48 hours and set off a nuclear device in the Himalayas for demonstration effect. The nightmare scenario that we must consider is a collapsing Pakistani state with its finger on the nuclear trigger and a fanatical desire to destroy India.

There is a limit to what outsiders can do for Pakistan. Even President Clinton s visit to Islamabad is unlikely to induce the regime to undertake significant, radical policy changes which would mark a complete break with the past: For example, delinking Afghanistan from Pakistan s India policy, an end to military s sponsorship of militant factions in Afghanistan and Kashmir, a quick return to the barracks, a peaceful negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute and an expansion of economic and trade links in South and Central Asia. Such changes are likely to fuel opposition from the jihadi parties and destabilise the regime.

If the West has not succeeded in restoring democracy in poor and weak Burma, it is even less likely to do so in nuclearised and Talibanised Pakistan. In the final analysis, the military s ability to save Pakistan from itself is doomed to fail. President Bill Clinton must realise that Pakistan is no Turkey. The ethnic, geographic, religious (Shia-Sunni) and linguistic faultlines in Pakistan are numerous and deep. As long as real power in Pakistan is exercised by the army, the mullahs, and the feudal lords in the name of jihad, Islam and Kashmir, there will be no peace in the region. As in the past, Pakistani military will keep multiplying provocations and a weak, unpopular and unstable regime is likely to stumble into war with India.

One thing is now clear: If Pakistan continues its self-destructive policies, it will either implode or explode. This will have dangerous consequences for the whole region, not just for India. Pakistan is no longer just India s problem; it has become an international security problem. The threat that the Pakistan-Afghanistan nexus poses to international security calls for a joint, coordinated response by the international community. President Clinton s response to the 1999 Kargil War and his forthcoming visit to Islamabad suggest that his administration is well aware of the dangers posed by reckless policies being pursued by the Pakistan-Afghan rulers.