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Daily Times Editorials – 23rd May 2016

Pakistan, India and nukes

New Delhi’s obsession with expanding its nuclear arsenal does not seem to abate. The recent missile tests it carried out near the Bay of Bengal are alarming in the sense that there is a strong threat of the Indian Ocean becoming a nuclearised region. Indian armed forces and scientists have also designed schemes to expand the umbrella of nuclear arsenal in the form of submarines that can fire Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) in the future. Although the country hasn’t achieved ICBM status yet, there are multiple reports that such missiles are currently being worked on. Furthermore, India is also in the process of achieving ‘second-strike capability’ to potentially counter Pakistani nuclear attacks. The recent test launch of Advanced Air Defence (AAD) interceptor missile on Wheeler Island is a serious cause of concern for regional balance of power. The AAD missile has been in development for several years and its prototypes were also tested. However, the new version of this missile signifies the fact that India is indeed preparing for a second-strike capability, which will potentially create a new arms race in the region. Nevertheless, Russian experts in Moscow have pointed out a key flaw in India’s goals that include a failure to have enough response time to counter a nuclear strike given how close its enemies are in the region.

Pakistan has already shown serious concerns over India’s ambitions to nuclearise the Indian Ocean. There are some 32 littoral states along the ocean and India could potentially influence all of them in creating a nuclear umbrella. Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs, has rightly stated that Pakistan will take necessary measures to augment its defence capabilities in addition to highlighting dangerous implications of New Delhi’s plans at international forums. He further highlighted the notion that Pakistan shall counter India’s hegemonic designs without entering a new arms race by diplomatically approaching the 32 littoral states. This is a positive statement by Aziz, as India’s approach to regional defence has largely remained hegemonic ever since it launched the ‘Smiling Buddha’ project in 1974.

Despite major security challenges since 9/11, Pakistan has taken many steps to ensure nuclear security within the state’s domain. A robust mechanism of deterrence capabilities and top-notch security features for Pakistani nuclear arsenal has been lauded globally. In contrast, India’s mechanism for nuclear security has remained questionable due to radioactive materials being stolen or misplaced around the country for a number of times.

Nevertheless, India had a civil nuclear deal approved from the US, in 2006 and is also vying for full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The discrimination shown on part of the international community is unsurprising given how Pakistan was repeatedly shunned in the past. Hence, Pakistan’s stance on both the nuclear deal and NSG membership is largely correct.

Diplomatic measures are essential to counter India’s nuclear ambitions on a global scale. However, the arms race must not enter a new phase and steps must be ensured for a balance of power in South Asia with peace being a top priority for both Pakistan and India for short and long-term social and economic prosperity of the region.

The long-neglected FATA

After cleansing FATA of militant sanctuaries that were responsible for major terrorist attacks across Pakistan, Pakistan army has started the gradual process of rebuilding the affected areas, especially North and South Waziristan, the most severely-hit regions owing to militant activities and US drone strikes. Local tribes faced huge unemployment because of lack of socio-economic opportunities, while some locals were forced to join guerrilla groups and banned organisations such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which used religious fundamentalism as a weapon to brainwash them. This brainwashing caused large scale uprising against the state especially the armed forces for a number of years. Moreover, the issue of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) also became a major problem for the state. Since local markets and residential areas were evacuated or destroyed due to militancy and counter-insurgent operations, tribal groups largely remained in fear.

In 2004 and 2005, former president General Pervez Musharraf launched military operations at the behest of the United States, but some of those missions heavily backfired and partially failed. Although the Operation Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan during 2009 was successful in containing militancy to a certain extent, it was only when the Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched in June 2014 that militancy and terrorism was effectively targeted, following a hard but decisive battle. Resultantly, army was able to regain most of the regions in FATA from the TTP and its affiliates. This led to the rise of socio-economic opportunities in Waziristan, paving way for rebuilding local areas with markets in business once again. It is to be noted that army organisations like the National Logistic Cell (NLC) and Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) are carrying out all major development works in the region. Roads and infrastructural development has become a top priority for the military with the locals paying rent for army-run infrastructure. Moreover, army is also developing 41 forts in the region for consolidating its long-term presence, most likely being done for protection of the volatile region.

Grievances of the people belonging to Waziristan and the wider area of FATA were not fully addressed in the last several decades. This is the core reason why militancy and terrorism became rampant there when young, impressionable people were paid to become suicide bombers by fanatic groups. Political Agents appointed under the President of Pakistan’s directive run FATA to a large extent. This has remained a long tradition, as FATA was never designated as a province of the federation due to the colonial era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).

Civilian rule must be established in the region, and perhaps it should be merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for long-term stability. In addition, FCR must be replaced with new laws enacted for the region, providing them status according to the constitution of Pakistan. Army’s socio-economic goals are positive, but if the above-suggested steps are considered only then some effects of decades old resentment can be gradually removed for a brighter future of FATA. It is about time government of Pakistan paid proper attention to this long-neglected area, and helped mitigate the sense of deprivation and isolation the people of FATA have had to live with since the existence of Pakistan. Unless the people of FATA are made fulltime participants in the process of citizenship of the country they are inhabitants of, not much will change for FATA.

The fate of Gilgit-Baltistan

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) central leadership has demanded that Gilgit-Baltistan be given the constitutional status of a full province. In a country in which the concerns of this ‘autonomous’ region seldom reach the public conscience, it is good that PTI has finally taken up this issue. Not only would this serve to silence those who blame the party of having singular focus on Punjab, but it would also help in bringing a marginalised issue onto the national stage. Few people are cognisant of the current status of Gilgit-Baltistan, and even fewer realise the historic injustice being done to the people of that region. Unfortunately, the state has considered strategic concerns more important than providing citizens their due rights. And the state needs to revise its policies if it wishes to make Pakistan a more inclusionary state.

Gilgit-Baltistan received its official name in 2008 by the government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) with the supposed logic being that it’s former name ‘northern areas’ led to people confusing it with the ‘militant-infested’ Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which in turn was damaging its tourist industry. Unfortunately, however, political concerns remained largely ignored, and this change in nomenclature did not include making the region a constitutional province. This reluctance on the part of government in providing due rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan can only be understood by going further into the history of the region when before independence it was part of the princely state of Kashmir. Following the prince of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India, Gilgit Scouts revolted and managed to secede from the princely state and joined Pakistan. While the Pakistani state did take control of the region, it maintained that the region was territorially disputed and its fate was closely tied with the larger Kashmir dispute. The ‘strategic vision’ behind this policy was that in case of a plebiscite on Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan would be included in it ,and the support of the people of the region would result in a larger vote in favour of Pakistan.

The strategic calculations of Pakistan now need to take into account the changing imperatives of current time. The Kashmir dispute, though extremely important for Pakistan, must not be mishandled to the extent that it would alienate people of the regions that Pakistan does control. This could only lead to further marginalisation and engender feelings of being wronged by the centre. In addition, the success of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor depends on giving Gilgit-Baltistan constitutional status as a province. China has already expressed its concerns over the current status of Gilgit-Baltistan, and these concerns are reasonable since the project’s fate seems tenuous if its only entry point to China is from a region that is disputed territory. Nevertheless, more importantly, refusal to give the people of Gilgit-Baltistan their due rights is injustice, and the state should principally trump justice over supposed ideas of strategic calculations. The only way Pakistan can hold together the diverse population of its republic is by becoming an inclusionary state. And this cannot be achieved if the state continues to deprive the people of Gilgit-Baltistan of their rights. Pakistan adopted a federal form of government long ago, but sadly it remained a unitary government in substance. Hence, only a qualitative change that gives people their due rights and effectively devolves power can steer Pakistan in the right direction. And this change needs to be started by giving the people of Gilgit-Baltistan the rights that they have been deprived of for a long time.

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