Pakistan: firing reported on Indian and Afghan borders

September 22, 2008

Just two days after a suicide bomb attack on the Marriott killed 53 people in the heart of Islamabad, there were reports of trouble both on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and on the Line of Control with India.  

File photo of Indian bunkerOn the Afghan border, Pakistani troops fired on two U.S. helicopters that intruded into Pakistani airspace on Sunday night, forcing them to turn back to Afghanistan, according to a senior Pakistani security official.  On the Indian side, Pakistani and Indian troops exchanged fire across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, in the latest breach of a ceasefire agreed in 2003. And as if that was not enough, Afghanistan’s top diplomat was kidnapped in Peshawar.

None of this is new in the sense that we have known about the tension on Pakistan’s borders, and its fragile internal security situation, for a long time. What is new is the scale of it. And how everything seems to be happening at once. And also the number of players involved — not only the United States (in mid presidential election), Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, but also the Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s new civilian government, along with the other powers on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia, China, and U.S. allies in NATO.

So which of these many players do you track most closely to assess what is happening in Pakistan? My hunch is to watch the Pakistan Army, and Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

File photo of Indian soldiers on Siachen/Pawel KopczynskiiIn a posting on the Pakistan Policy Blog, Arif Rafiq wrote about how army chief General Ashfaq Kayani had gone twice to the frontlines with India, each time after the civilian government had talked of making peace over Kashmir (small quibble – the photo in his blog looks like it was taken at the brigade headquarters at Yuching, rather than on the Siachen glacier, which is in Indian hands).

The Pakistan Army, and by extension the ISI, rightly or wrongly, sees itself as the ultimate defender of Pakistan. It would seem obvious that the Pakistan Army would not tolerate its authority being challenged on both fronts – by U.S. raids over the border with Afghanistan on one side, and by peace moves with India on the other. I realise too that there are many who argue that only democracy can save Pakistan.

The point of this posting is not to say who to judge. Simply who to watch. And who do you watch when a country’s borders are fragile and its capital city attacked?


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