Recently, an article in the Editorial page of The Pioneer enquired whether jihad had found its lebensraum in Pakistan. Based on the revelations from the ongoing Headley trial in Chicago on the involvement of state and non-state actors within Pakistan in terrorist activities, and the killing of Osama bin Laden not far from the national capital, many consider Pakistan to be the ‘living space’ of global jihad. How far is this true?
Dictionaries will define lebensraum as “additional territory deemed necessary to a nation, for its continued existence or economic well-being,” or simply an “adequate space in which to live, develop, or function.” From an Indian perspective, the following questions are important, especially with regard to national security, rather than a narrow sadistic satisfaction derived from a neighbour’s suicidal course or a belief that it deserves the blow back.
Are the jihadis using Pakistan a hideout and safe haven? Or as a lebensraum - a nation deemed necessary for their continued existence, essential for them to live, develop and function? The question of jihadis using Pakistan purely as a hideout is simpler than that of them using Pakistan an essential space for their existence and continuance of terrorist activities. If the latter holds true, the rest of international community will be required to act, including India, China, Iran and Afghanistan. The second issue that needs to be addressed against this backdrop is, what are the demands of the State (Read: the military) in Pakistan?
First, from the jihadi perspective, if at all there is a search for a lebensraum; Pakistan will suit their purposes better than any other country either in West Asia or North Africa. Unlike other countries in these two regions, Pakistan is a nuclear weapons country. More than their objective to take over nuclear weapons, their presence will act as deterrent to any open international intervention, as it happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither the US nor the NATO, whether under the auspices of the UN or outside, can start a military campaign against Pakistan.
Besides the presence of nuclear weapons, what makes Pakistan a likely opportunity for the jihadis is the willingness of state actors to use them as a foreign policy and strategic tool. As a result, both the State in Pakistan and the jihadi groups find it convenient to use the other for their own objectives. Despite the attacks being carried out by the TTP within Pakistan, including the latest attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi, it is unlikely that the above linkage will be broken. The TTP’s attack on Pakistan’s security forces and vice-versa are tactical responses to force the other to toe their strategic roadmap. While the TTP and the Taliban want the Pakistan military to support their goals in Afghanistan, the latter wants the former to remain a tool in Islamabad’s larger regional calculations. The current engagement between these two actors is tactical; once the US leaves Afghanistan, their interests will converge again.
Besides nuclear weapons and the involvement of state actors, the omnipresent anti-American sentiment and lack of governance within Pakistan presents an ideal opportunity for the jihadis. The situation within Pakistan is ripe for the jihadis to recruit a small number of foot soldiers, with a large number of sympathizers from every walk of life in Pakistan - from a petty shop owner in the streets to high-ranking officials in the security establishment.
With nuclear weapons acting as a deterrent against any external intervention, and with the security establishment willing to use the jihadis for their own purpose, Pakistan should become an ideal lebensraum for global jihad. What will this mean for Pakistan’s security and existence? And what will this mean for Indian security?
Much will depend on how Pakistan’s security forces perceive jihadi objectives. One is not sure whether the military and its ISI have made a break with the jihadis that is final and irreversible. It appears there is a tactical break up between the ISI and the TTP, the homegrown jihadis with a Pashtun and Punjabi content led by former members of different sectarian outfits, the Harkat ul-Ansar (or Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) and the followers of Masood Azhar.
However, there is no reason to believe that there is any breakup of ties between the ISI and jihadis led by the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. It seems that the establishment in Pakistan believes that external jihadis with an agenda outside Pakistan can be manipulated once the Americans leave Afghanistan. But the real question that Pakistan is likely to face is: Will the jihadis leave Pakistan once the Americans leave the Af-Pak region? Will they be able to find a better place than Pakistan for their own strategic reasons?
For India, the most important question will be: What will happen to the local jihadis of the Lashkar and the Jaish variety? For them, is Pakistan not a lebensraum already?