FRUSTRATED by Pakistan’s refusal to bow to Indian diktat, encouraged by its strategic partnership with the US, alarmed by the renewed revolt in India-held Jammu and Kashmir and humiliated by the killing of 18 Indian soldiers in Uri, Narendra Modi is on the path of war against Pakistan. He has vowed to “isolate” Pakistan, support Baloch separatists, dam Pakistan’s rivers and conduct “surgical strikes” against Pakistan. Pakistan must assess these threats objectively. Its response should be characterised by resolve, responsibility and reciprocity.
New Delhi’s confrontational course reflects the ideological nostrums of the BJP-RSS cohort and the presumption that America will endorse Indian intimidation of Pakistan. The US no doubt would welcome a degree of Indian pressure on Pakistan to promote its own objectives, especially Pakistani action against the Haqqani ‘network’ operating in Afghanistan. To please India, it is also asking Pakistan to suppress pro-Kashmiri groups (LeT and JeM).
But Washington is not likely, at this time, to declare Pakistan a “state sponsor of terrorism”. The resolution moved in the Congress by two legislators is unlikely to be adopted much less endorsed by the current US administration. Declaring Pakistan a terrorism sponsor would hurt Pakistan, but would also lead to termination of all Pak-US cooperation, with dire consequences for peace in Afghanistan and South Asia. In any case, America is not the world. Isolating Pakistan will be a challenging, ultimately fruitless endeavour for India.
There’s a real danger that Modi may be tempted to take further reckless action.
China is a neighbour of both Pakistan and India and Pakistan’s strategic partner. In a conflict, China’s posture would be more relevant than America’s. Beijing has advised both Pakistan and India to open dialogue and exercise restraint. But it’s obvious which one needs to be restrained at present. Indian aggression against Pakistan will evoke a strong Chinese response.
The third major power, Russia, which has considerable regional influence, is no longer India’s all-weather ally, given Modi’s rush to jump into America’s strategic lap. Significantly, even as India’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric has been ramped up after Uri, the first joint Pakistan-Russian military exercises have gone ahead — that too in Gilgit-Baltistan, to which India lays claim.
Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have bowed to Indian pressure and joined its decision not to attend the Saarc summit (which Pakistan should have itself cancelled in response to Modi’s threats). Their powerlessness illustrates how Pakistan’s national independence would be compromised were it to succumb to Indian hegemony. It validates the wisdom of our founding fathers in creating Pakistan and of our leaders in securing an effective conventional and nuclear capability to neutralise India’s ability to coerce Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s current alignment with India is strategically more significant. Partly, it is the result of Pakistan’s over-promise and under-delivery of a dialogue with the Afghan Taliban; partly, it is a reflection of the US attempt to use India to displace the influence of Pakistan and China in Afghanistan. But India’s presence in Afghanistan, like that of the US, is vulnerable to the hostility of Afghan insurgents. And, if Afghan territory continues to be utilised, especially by India, for terrorism and subversion against Pakistan, the latter has options for direct action to counter this. Pakistan has considerable space, now and in future, to reverse Kabul’s hostility through incentives and disincentives.
Modi’s threat to support Baloch separatists is ‘real’. Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies are already active in sponsoring subversion and terrorism by the BLA and other insurgents in Balochistan. This is likely to be intensified. Pakistan should be ready to inflict pain on the perpetrators of such hostile intervention. It should adopt more robust and imaginative measures, combining counterterrorism and accommodation of legitimate Baloch grievances to defeat the insurgency.
Modi’s desire to choke off Pakistan’s rivers is a more distant, yet more existential, threat. Pakistan should apprise the World Bank and the Indus Waters Treaty’s arbitration mechanism of the grave consequences of such action. Under international law, arbitrary blockage of rivers amounts to ‘aggression’ — justifying a military response from Pakistan.
In the immediate context, war is most likely if India conducts ‘surgical strikes’ or other military operations against Pakistan. Modi’s men have had to reconsider their post-Uri threats to launch such strikes. No doubt they’ve been cautioned against doing so by most countries. The Indians have tried, disingenuously, to portray their artillery attacks along the LoC as ‘surgical strikes’ to appease whipped-up public fervour in India to ‘punish’ Pakistan. The open Indian claim to have crossed the LoC provides Pakistan with justification to retaliate against India across the LoC at a time of its choosing. Hopefully, Pakistan’s restraint in refraining will not encourage India to try ‘bolder’ action which could lead to a general conflict.
There’s a real danger that as frustration at the failure of threats and bluster mounts in India, and Kashmiri protests continue, Modi may be tempted to take further reckless action. There are signs that India has been planning over the past few months for the possibility of a conflict with Pakistan. It would be wise for Pakistan to warn the world, including the Security Council, of the dangers of such adventurism. Islamabad should demonstrate, in part through its deployments, its readiness to respond to such Indian aggression.
Nor should Pakistan be diverted by the Modi-manufactured crisis from pressing for a just, durable solution to the Kashmir dispute. Unless this is resolved in accordance with the Kashmiri people’s wishes, they will persist in revolting against Indian rule. India will continue to respond brutally, evoking militant retaliation, for which India will always blame Pakistan. Unless Kashmir is resolved, war between Pakistan and India will remain an ever-present possibility.
To this end, Pakistan should open consultations with Security Council members mentioned by Nawaz Sharif in his recent address to the UN General Assembly. In such consultations, Pakistan’s aim should be to secure support for ending India’s human rights violations in occupied Kashmir, progressive demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir and elaboration of modalities for a free and fair plebiscite there.
Even if war is avoided, normalisation of Pak-India ties is unlikely until the departure of the Hindu fundamentalist cohort from office. Pakistanis, including those who entertained illusions of friendship with Modi’s India, must unite to defend our nation from the menace we wisely escaped 69 years ago.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2016