Author: Jonathan Fox
Date: 3 July 2012
Location: Balochistan, Pakistan
Category: Political, Military
Actors: Lashkar e-Jhangvi, Pakistani military and police
Sectarian violence in Pakistan is connected to the larger insurgency facing the country. In 1996 members of the sectarian group Sipah e-Sahaba founded Lashkar e-Jhangvi, which now carries out religiously-motivated violence in Pakistan. LeJ mainly targets the minority Shia Hazara community in the Balochistan province. In the past, Pakistani military and intelligence officers have also been targeted. LeJ is allied with al-Qaeda as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Lashkar e-Jhangvi shares the Pakistani Taliban’s goal of installing an Islamic government in Pakistan and practices the same Deobandi Islam as the Afghan Taliban. Because LeJ’s and its allies’ end goals are not contradictory, they are able to work together using similar logistical networks. Policy makers should understand the linkage between these groups, and not attempt to treat sectarian groups separately from the insurgent groups.
Despite LeJ’s attacks on state targets, Pakistani journalists allege that LeJ has ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Perhaps due to those ties, little punitive action has been taken against LeJ. The Afghan government claims that Pakistani intelligence planned the 2011 bombing against Shiites in Afghanistan and carried out by LeJ. Pakistan’s history of using non-state groups in Kashmir as tools of foreign policy reinforces this claim.
Policy analysts must recognize the ramifications of sectarian violence. Sectarian attacks are a component of violence that is destabilizing the border region between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. This instability allows terrorist, insurgent, and criminal groups to operate with impunity. Drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Iran through Pakistan along the border is prevalent. Trafficking encourages criminal enterprise, driving conflict. The Pakistani state is also affected by blowback: LeJ has attacked state targets and it works to overthrow the central government. Analysts should consider LeJ in the same milieu as the Pakistani Taliban, as enemies of the Pakistani state.
The U.S. has complicated interests in Pakistan. First, stability in Pakistan is a priority for the United States. Second, the U.S. is interested in making sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure. Several nuclear sites are situated where insurgent and terrorist groups operate and have been attacked in the past. Lastly, the U.S. has a vested interest in ensuring the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is not used as a hub for terrorist and insurgent groups planning to attack U.S. assets in the region and the American mainland. The U.S. has limited response options in dealing with violence indigenous to Pakistan. U.S. military officials and policy makers could work with the Pakistani government to combat sectarian violence. However, Pakistani political actors are hesitant to work with the U.S. for fear of losing domestic credibility, making any cooperation difficult.
Pakistani policy makers should take several steps to stop sectarian groups. First, the decision makers must understand that the most important threat to the country is the unchecked internal violence, not India. Second, Pakistani intelligence services should cease connections to non-state actors. Sectarian and insurgent groups share the same radical worldviews and logistical networks, thus cannot be selectively targeted. Combating one extremist group involves combating them all. Third, Pakistani decision makers must take action along the Afghan border to root out sectarian groups. The governments of India and Pakistan normalizing relations would allow Pakistan’s military to focus on internal violence. Resolving the Kashmir issue is the most prominent impediment to normalizing relations. Without a solution to the Kashmir dispute Pakistan will not divert military resources away from India to combat domestic actors. Young officers rising through the ranks in Pakistan’s military who see internal, rather than external sources of violence as the country’s prime threat could help shift the focus from India to domestic groups. Until Pakistan understands the issues it faces and undertakes policy shifts, sectarian violence will destabilize its border and contribute to the larger insurgent movement within the country.