Should Musharraf's prediction of a proxy war be taken seriously?
Given the history of mistrust and hostility between the two countries, Musharraf’s statement may carry weight.
William Dalrymple, a British Historian, addressed the complexities of Indo-Pak proxy conflict quite effectively in his essay, A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. He discussed how their armies are caught up in an inevitable local and regional war shaped by both pre-existing and overlapping conflicts. And both regional powers, India and Pakistan, armed with nuclear weapons, pose an increased threat to regional peace and security of South Asia.
Several US diplomats, the likes of Tom Pickering, James Dobbins and Bruce Riedel, have adverted upon hidden proxy games that Pakistan and India have been playing for a long time. Security analysts and army generals from both countries have also portended over the looming proxy war in Afghanistan.
Recently, Pervez Musharraf, a 71-year-old retired army general, stranded politician and former president of Pakistan, warned officials about the possibility of a regional proxy war that had the potential to flourish once again in the wake of NATO’s 34,000 troops leaving Afghanistan at the end of next month. Many stories in the topical past have referred to increased presence of India in Balochistan. According to Musharraf, India will try to gain traction in Afghanistan with its Tajik allies, which dominate northern Afghanistan; while Pakistan will campaign their Pukhtuns, whose presence is strong in south and east Afghanistan.
However, the meeting between newly appointed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s has shown some promising signs of moving on from the antagonism and bitterness of the Hamid-Karzai years. Karzai’s statement in retort to Musharraf’s omen has also denied any possibilities of a proxy war on Afghan soil, but history has witnessed that politicians with their prevarications surely resemble pure folly. Hence, they can’t be solely trusted.
Given the history of mistrust, hostility and surreptitious cross-border operations between Islamabad and New Delhi, I think Musharraf’s statement may carry some weight given the current scenarios, especially Indo-Pak relations with respect to LoC violations. Another consideration is that although Musharraf, or Bugti’s regime in Balochistan, was able to curb India in that province, as of late it has been suggested that Indian interference in Balochistan has increased tenfold; jeopardising an already delicate situation for our country. On the other hand, it can also be mere semi-political vitriol being used to besmirch the current Pakistani government.
However, we meet all of Dr Amarjit Singh’s criteria for proxy wars. Firstly, numerical size of the rebel army in Afghanistan against Pakistan is in multitude. Secondly, the volume of external aid and military assistance can easily be provided from India to the Tajiks. Thirdly, Afghanistan’s own government and military is not in a very fine shape to resist rebellion. Finally, physical presence of external military in Afghanistan is not a big deal. And above all, we cannot afford to take Narendra Modi’s comments very lightly, who is a fine strategic thinker and is taken seriously globally.
Hence on one side, all the precursors, such as meeting all the benchmarks of proxy war, Musharraf’s verdict, Modi’s challenge to our prime minister, and increasing Indian interference in Balochistan, point towards the possibility of an impending proxy war in Afghanistan. Because Musharraf has previously miscalculated Indian threat, this may just be paranoia kicking in once again. But considering the current Pakistani government rather bland comments in face of the Indian PM’s accusations of Pakistan supporting militants in India, and his comments over Pakistan’s lost strength to fight this conventional war, it may have given the false impression that our government lacks the ability to handle any potential threat, which Musharraf may have thought he needed to defend.
Whatever the case may be, looking at the history between both the neighbours, it would be best for both countries to act prudently and stay away from any form of war that could further deteriorate Afghanistan’s condition or our own condition, especially with Zarb-e-Azb underway.