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Posted at: Sep 20, 2018, 12:03 AM; last updated: Sep 20, 2018, 2:19 AM (IST)

Is the Pak Army attitude to India changing?

Excerpts from a recently revealed study by former US Colonel David Smith, based on 37 years of interacting with Pak army officers (students) at Quetta Staff & Command College claims that several students of recent batches believe that Pak-focused militants are the most significant military threat, exceeding that posed by India.

Two minor generational differences have emerged in the Pakistan army in the past five years, one on threat salience and another on dealing with India. 

Nevertheless, a growing number, estimated by some students (officers) to be as many as 60 per cent, have begun to view Pakistan-focused militant groups as a more significant threat than India that must be addressed as a priority in short term. 

The single bright spot in a dismal litany of conspiratorial conjecture was thought by some students to be a subtle change in recent thinking about the centrality of the military threat posed by India compared to growing internal security threats from the plethora of extremist groups in Pakistan. The 2009-10 student perceived a “generational divide” on this issue, with the senior officers and DS having a clear anti-India bias and younger officers being “the complete opposite.” This attitude was even more prevalent among the small numbers of Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Navy students at the Staff College. Junior and mid-grade Army officers, particularly those who had served in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), tended to view terrorism as a much more immediate threat to Pakistan than India.

The student thought the senior officers were clinging to India as a major threat to Pakistan because an admission to the contrary would render their entire career irrelevant. “I don’t know why we hate them so much. We like their music, their movies and our two languages are nearly the same.” He said others in the class also thought it was time to “move on.” 

The 2013-14 student thought a majority of his classmates arrived at the Staff College desiring a better bilateral relationship with India, but that the Staff College narrative “was all against it.” The most likely explanation for the divergent views is that the younger officers have typically served longer and more frequent tours of duty in the FATA and Swat Valley than the senior officers. Pakistani students in the more recent courses can truly be said to have spent their entire military career directly confronting these groups. The traditional view that India is inexorably destined to be Pakistan’s implacable enemy also appears to be moderating, a viewpoint that was occasionally echoed privately by officers who have served with Indian officers in international peacekeeping operations. 

Several students perceived the attitude expressed by most of the Pakistani students about India as “manifested in paranoia.” The 1995 student observed that whenever his classmates talked about India, it sounded like “memorized propaganda…perhaps as a way to reinforce long-held attitudes. There was just no questioning of it,” although none of them had any direct knowledge of India.

One student commented that his classmates seemed to have “a chip on their shoulder” about their neighbour, as if they had been “born and bred believing India was their enemy.” This visceral and reflexive hatred seemed like “a part of their identity as a Pakistani, and a ready excuse to rationalise their national failures.” 

Attitudes about India became even more antagonistic after 9/11. Many Pakistani students interpreted Indian activities on the LoC and international border as preparation for another major war. On December 13, a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament was attributed by India to Lashkar–e-Taiba, with Pakistan’s support. 

The 2008-09 student said nearly every student at the Staff College subscribed to the notion that India had never accepted Pakistan as an independent state. The 2011-12 student viewed India establishing consulates or other facilities in Afghanistan as a measure to destabilise Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

In the last decade of the study, a new wrinkle appeared in the Pakistani perception. This involved a perceived Indian challenge to the agreed distribution of the waters of the Indus River tributaries, an issue long considered settled in perpetuity by the 1960 Indus River Treaty.  One commandant, openly predicted that the next war with India would be over water. Because all major rivers in Pakistan have their origin in India, and as water becomes scarce in the future due to climate change, India will attempt to exploit its geographical advantage by denying Pakistan its rights under the 1960 treaty. 


The Pak Army Staff & Command College experience 

While the study is now several years old, its author points out that its findings and conclusions remain relevant and timely. The Pakistan Army’s “attitudes and values have changed very little in the 37 years of this study,” he writes, “and there is no reason to expect they will change appreciably in the future, and certainly not in the next decade.” Although it contained no classified information, it was based primarily on interviews with the US Army Foreign Area Officers (FAOs) that attended the Pakistan Army Command and Staff College in Quetta between 1977 and 2014. The study examines the experience of the US Army Foreign Area Officers (FAOs) who have attended the Pakistan Army Command and Staff College in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. These are the only US personnel ever to have had sustained interactions over an extended period of time with three distinct groups of Pakistan Army officers: senior officers (brigadier and major general), senior mid-level (lieutenant colonel and colonel), and junior mid-level (captain and major). The study’s purpose was to examine the attitude and values of the Pakistan Army officer corps over a 37-year period, from 1977 to 2014, determine if they had changed over time, and identify the drivers of that change. Col Smith retired from government service in May 2012. 

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