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India’s sound and fury

Updated October 16, 2016


IN the current crisis, it is tempting to dismiss India’s dire threats, outlandish propaganda, childish antics and illusory ‘surgical strikes’, in Shakespeare’s words, as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. The clamour from India is certainly replete with idiocy and delusional nonsense. Yet, India’s aggressive posture and propaganda may signify a more ominous portent.

It is clear that India has been encouraged by its new alliance with the US to conclude that it can suppress the latest revolt in India-held Jammu and Kashmir with brutal impunity. America and other Western powers are not prepared to speak out against India’s massive violations of human rights in Kashmir.

The fictional ‘surgical strikes’ across the LoC have led some Indian analysts to assert that New Delhi has established a new threshold for military action against Pakistan without evoking retaliation. Do the Modi government and Indian military leaders actually endorse this thesis? Was India prevented from carrying out cross-LoC strikes because of its own assessment that Pakistan would retaliate, or because of the cautionary advice of the US and other powers? If this is not clear, Pakistan will need to evaluate what it needs to do to re-establish the mutual deterrence inducted after the 1998 nuclear tests.

Pakistan’s policymakers must restore focus on the real challenge posed by India’s hostility.

The high-level meeting convened in Islamabad to review the current crisis with India should have focused on such strategic issues and the challenge of defending the hapless Kashmiris. Instead, if the report in this newspaper is correct, it appears that the meeting focused on India’s thesis that Pakistan will be ‘isolated’ because of its incomplete action against ‘terrorist’ groups. Apart from the legal and political complexity of the issue, action on this issue at this time would be interpreted as capitulation to Indian military pressure and threats and, that too, while India openly supports insurrection in Balochistan and sponsors the TTP from Afghan territory. To confound confusion, the sensitive internal deliberations were ‘leaked’ to the press.

Pakistan’s policymakers must restore focus on the real challenge posed by India’s hostility and its oppression in occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The prime minister made a bold speech at the UN General Assembly, proposing an investigation of India’s human rights violations in occupied Kashmir; Pakistan-India arms control and military restraint; and consultations with the Security Council to demilitarise Kashmir and implement the Security Council resolutions.

These proposals must be actively promoted by Pakistan’s diplomacy in the Security Council, the Human Rights Council and other relevant forums. The major powers should be apprised of the ground realities. The 20 political envoys dispatched by the prime minister, with some exceptions, are unlikely to be equal to this task. There are at least a dozen experienced and respected diplomats available in Islamabad who could be used for this purpose.

There are three essential messages that need to be conveyed to the international community.

One: Kashmir remains a nuclear flashpoint. India has been unable to extinguish the Kashmiri demand for self-determination in 70 years; it will be unable to do so in the foreseeable future. Every generation of Kashmiris will keep rising against Indian rule. Indian violence will be met by Kashmiri retaliation. India will always blame Pakistan for this. A Pakistan-India war will remain an ever-present threat.

Two: India is obviously being encouraged in its brutality and belligerence by its new-found alliance with the US. New Delhi may convince itself that it is in a position to engage in a limited or punitive war against Pakistan. This would be a catastrophic mistake. Pakistan and India need to adopt measures for mutual restraint to avoid any conflict, now or in the future.

Three: since bilateral efforts have failed for 70 years, it is essential that the international community intercedes forcefully to promote a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute and prevent a war between Pakistan and India, by design or accident.

Our leaders and people should be clear: Pakistan is not isolated, nor likely to be. In fact, there are several current opportunities for Pakistan’s diplomacy to shift the strategic balance in its favour.

First, Pakistan should open an early dialogue with the incoming US administration to underline the need for a balanced US policy to prevent an Indian threat to Pakistan’s security and to sustain Pakistan-US cooperation on Afghanistan, counterterrorism, non-proliferation as well as trade and investment.

Second, while US support for India’s military build-up is aimed against China, it is Pakistan which faces the primary threat from this build-up. As Pakistan’s strategic partner, China must be asked at the highest level to intensify its strategic cooperation with Pakistan and enable it to effectively counter the advanced military capabilities India is deploying against Pakistan.

Third, Islamabad needs to take full advantage of Russia’s new openness to a strategic relationship with Pakistan and build a relationship covering defence, technology, energy, Afghanistan and countering terrorism.

Fourth, Pakistan and Iran have a common interest in stabilising their Baloch provinces. This can be the foundation for a restored strategic relationship encompassing trade, energy, defence and Afghanistan.

Fifth, Saudi Arabia is strategically adrift due to the erosion of its alliance with the US. Pakistan can extend support to the House of Saud without becoming involved in the competition between Riyadh and Tehran.

Sixth, Turkey’s ties with the US and Nato are also frayed. Pakistan’s already close relationship with Ankara can be expanded across the board.

Last, while the threat from India is existential, it is potential. The hostile intervention from Afghanistan by the TTP and BLA is operational. In the absence of Kabul’s cooperation, ‘surgical strikes’ against TTP safe havens and BLA safe houses should be an active option for Pakistan. Moreover, if Ghani’s government continues to refuse a negotiated peace, Pakistan is well placed to promote an alternative peace process involving those Afghans who are ready to reach a peace settlement based on power-sharing and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn October 16th, 2016