Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel has reportedly complained that firing on the Line of Control is negatively affecting Zarb-e-Azb operations. No doubt this is true. Frequency of cross-border attacks has increased significantly in recent months which will obviously drain critical resources and distract from operations against militants on the Western border. The problem is, the escalated tensions in Kashmir did not materialise out of thin air. Actually, they were very openly discussed for months…in Lahore and Islamabad.
At the beginning of the year, I noted that Nawaz Sharif was being set up for disaster in Kashmir as jihadi militants were being reactivated and had begun planning fresh operations. Both Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin said in 2013 they would be escalating militancy this year, and Jaish-e-Muhammad and Harakat-ul-Mujahideen were also reactivated.
At the time, this seemed like a clever plan. The Americans were preparing to leave Afghanistan, and some believed that this presented a perfect opportunity to resume Kashmir jihad. As usual, it was too clever by half. What was not planned for was that Pakistan Army would have its hands full fighting the Taliban in Zarb-e-Azb.
Unfortunately, putting genies back in bottles is much more difficult than letting them out. It has been 15 years since Kargil, but this time the situation could be much worse. Hizbul Mujahideen commander Syed Salahuddin gave a severe warning to anyone who might start to have second thoughts:
“No government in Pakistan, whether it is Nawaz Sharif or anybody else, will remain in the chair if it abandons the Kashmir cause,” Syed Salahuddin, head of the United Jihad Council and leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen.
Pakistan Army now finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place of its own making. Army cannot afford for Zarb-e-Azb to be a failure, but it cannot succeed as long as jihadis are given license in Kashmir. Whether the powers that be are willing…or even able…to turn things around at this point remains to be seen.