Indo-Pak Hit New Low
By Poonam I Kaushish
You reap what you sow. Last week Pakistan learnt this the hard way when India struck at terror camps in Balakot, Muzzafarabad and Chakoti (first aerial bombing inside Pak territory since the 1971 Indo-Pak war) and avenged Pulwama. Pakistan retaliated, shot down a MIG and captured a pilot. In turn India brought down an F16 fighter jet. Predictably, an unnerved Islamabad talked peace, New Delhi made plain: first walk your talk on cross border terror. Till then, there would be no boli, only goli!
In a ritual which is predictable, India and Pakistan are once again on the brink of war. The danger of escalation is obvious, even as low-level warfare continues on the border. As Prime Minister Modi said, “Recently a pilot project happened. Now the real one has to be done.” He was referring to last week’s air strikes in Balakot leaving the future hanging. Either which way, it does not hold out much hope for optimism or breakthrough in Indo-Pak ties.
Undoubtedly, the recent conflagrations underscores once again that Pakistan uses terror as the instrumentality of anti-India aggression with the Generals calling the shots. However, despite Pulwama and earlier Uri what is worrisome for Islamabad is that militancy and terrorist strikes are not providing any tangible results as India gives it back in double measure.
New Delhi is adamant about a categorical assurance from Islamabad on taking action against terror outfits specially Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e Mohammed (JeM) and Hafiz Sayeed’s Lakshar-e-Toiba (LeT). Against the backdrop of JeM claiming responsibility for the Pulwama attack Pakistan’s position is becoming increasingly untenable as it can no longer escape accountability of providing a safe haven for jihadis to operate. Pakistan Foreign Minister admitted that “Azhar is here and is unwell.”
More. As matters stand, there is nothing concrete to suggest that Islamabad is ready to address New Delhi’s ‘core’ concerns on terrorism when it is busy infiltrating and attacking Indian border posts. Nor is there any indication that Pakistan has changed its antagonistic approach to India and refuses to give up its confrontational mindset of waging a “thousand wars and bleeding India with a thousand cuts.”
On the contrary, it has not only restarted the jihad factory across the border, but the Pakistan Army Chief, like his predecessors, has innumerable times declared that he considers India, and not Taliban, to be the enemy and existential threat to Pakistan. The recent violence in Kashmir bears this out.
Moreover, insecure Pakistan faces twin dilemmas of international marginalization due its economic distress and terror factories and India’s political stability and growing economy. Perhaps Wing Commander Abhinandan’s release by Islamabad was due to international pressure specially US, but if one hopes it will de-escalate the strained relations, it is a tall order.
For Pakistani fed on the belief, that ‘accepting the status quo with India is defeat’, has resulted in a perceived ideological perspective that it has to be at war to stand up and be counted. This is forcing the Pakistani army to take calculated military risks against the backdrop of its nuclear capability as a manifestation of its continued struggle which it must continue to provoke India.
Besides, due to it being a failed State a fundamentally dissatisfied Establishment seeks to increase its prestige through spread of its ideology and religion in pursuit of its revisionist policies. Furthermore, India’s suspension of the dialogue process has reduced Pakistan’s incentive to keep the peace.
For the Pak Generals acquiescing to initiating a peace process with India would tantamount to not only defeating the purpose of the Army, but also, fundamentally eroding the legitimacy of the Pakistani State. For the ruling troika seeped in armed tradition along-with its jihadist proxies, the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir is an article of faith.
Think. Peace with Pakistan has been given a shot by every single Prime Minister But all attempts have failed. Primarily, not because they lacked conviction but because the Indo-Pak issue is far too complex. Most Indians are indifferent about peace (there is no groundswell within India in favour of peace). Ask anyone and they will tell you yes, peace is desirable with Pakistan but at what cost? The sad reality is that while Indians and Pakistanis can be friends, India and Pakistan can never be friends.
Remember, Pakistan has a history of living in denial and following a two-track policy – clandestine operations to weaken India while simultaneously appearing to seek a durable peace. Each time India is attacked and it is established beyond doubt that the perpetrators were either directly or indirectly linked to Pakistan, Islamabad exercises the clause of plausible deniability saying these are non-state actors and the Pakistani State does not “support” such acts.
Primarily, our neighbor suffers a big problem. Its army can start a war but cannot win it as 1965 and 1971 show. Hence it nurtures, supports, calibrates and deploys Islamic jihadist to perpetuate terror in Kashmir and elsewhere depending on its aim and uses its nuclear status to deter India’s response along-with catalyzing the US to pressure India to de-escalate.
On its part, India’s decision not to hold talks till it delivers on terror underlines its conviction that the military cost will soon become too high for Pakistan. Islamabad needs to understand that New Delhi’s patience is wearing thin. It should realize its jihadi tactics will not take it far in its bid to be on a par with India. It also underestimates, as it has always done, India’s ability to withstand such pressures and, if necessary, retaliate with greater force.
Modi has made plain: Cross the red line and pay for it. If Pakistan wants friendly relations with India, it should abandon its adventurism on the borders, come to senses and engage diplomatically with India. Blanket denials and offers to probe terror camps without taking tangible action will no longer do as the world is aware of Islamabad’s diabolical agenda. Time for it to contain or, preferably, eliminate JeM.
There are no short cuts. India wants durable peace though alone it cannot guarantee non-escalation. So long as the hawkish Pakistan army continues to call the shots, peace with India would be a mirage. Modi realizes only too well that in today’s geo-strategic political reality pragmatism dictate real politic. New Delhi needs an all-encompassing and multi-pronged strategy to deal with Islamabad. Happily, NaMo is implementing a ‘zero tolerance to provocations’ policy.
The Government should not be fooled that Pakistan could attempt another escalation or provoke a conflagration between the two nuclear powers. New Delhi needs to be reassured on its terror concerns for the relationship to move to the next level. Islamabad must unravel the full conspiracy behind the Pulwama attack, deny sanctuary to all terrorist groups that operate from its soil and handover Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed to India. The taste of the pudding is in the eating.
In sum, a deep chill has set in. Deep mistrust and lack of confidence is apparent. Islamabad has to match its words with deeds. The way forward rests on Islamabad’s ability to take concrete steps on the issue of terrorism emitting from its soil as tolerance to terror is past its expiry date. Action on the Pulwama perpetrators is the litmus test. Else, Imran Khan will just generate artificial peace illusions which tragically for Pakistan none will buy. —— INFA