Under a new military doctrine, Pakistan has now officially recognized that “homegrown militancy” is the top threat that the country faces, replacing neighboring India for the first time.
For decades, it has been an unofficial policy of Pakistan to cultivate ties with militant groups for use as proxies in battles against external enemies. These groups could be used in either direction across Pakistan’s border, to the west towards Afghanistan or to the east towards India. Among these, the Haqqani Network remains the perpetrator of some of the most deadliest attacks within Afghanistan, with Pakistan viewing the organization as a hedge towards retaining influence in the state as the United States prepares for a drawdown and eventual exit.
Likewise, the deadly coordinated Mumbai attacks of 2008, in which gunmen killed over 164 in a single day in India’s largest city, was conducted by terrorists on the order of and with assistance from Pakistan. In recent years, however, Pakistan has found itself plagued by similar terrorist organizations, including the Pakistani Taliban, which is recently responsible for shooting a young girl named Malala Yousafzai. For the Pakistani Army — which often exercises control of the state either through periodic coups or the so-called “deep state” — to label militants as the primary threat that the state faces is a momentous shift.
Despite this, the army attempted to play down the importance of the change in policy:
“Army prepares for all forms of threats. Sub-conventional threat is a reality and is a part of a threat matrix faced by our country. But it doesn’t mean that the conventional threat has receded,” Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) told The Express Tribune.
According to the BBC, the new Army Doctrine talks about unidentified militant groups and their role to create unrest in the country. It also mentions that Pakistani militants have found refuge across the Durand Line in Afghanistan.
Since the partition of 1947, Pakistani leaders have believed that India posed the country’s greatest existential threat. The perceived threat was exacerbated by tensions over control of territory in the state of Kashmir, which was the cause of three of the four wars that the states have fought. While the new doctrine does not negate the premise that India is a threat, its downgrading could be the key to a lasting upgrade in relations between the two.
In the same way, tensions between the United States and Pakistan have often been the result of the latter’s ties to groups operating in Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan. The radio silence between the two during the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden was due to the belief within the United States that someone within Pakistan’s military with ties to militants would leak details of the attack. As a result, the raid caused a deep chill in U.S.-Pakistani relations.