Pak-India tensions

November 21, 2016


Is it brinkmanship or something more? With the decade-old ceasefire along the LoC already in tatters, India appears determined to find new avenues of provocation against Pakistan.

Over the weekend, first an Indian submarine attempted to intrude into Pakistani waters, according to official accounts, and then a small Indian surveillance drone was knocked down after it strayed across the LoC, again according to official statements.

While each incident may individually seem small and both sides will likely dispute what really occurred, it is alarming that incidents, especially one involving a submarine, are taking place at the moment.

Pakistan-India ties are not merely in a deep freeze, but appear to be further unravelling. Seemingly that is the intention of the Indian leadership. Do both sides truly understand the risks they appear so willing to stoke?

While it is difficult to definitively ascribe motives to the actions of an external rival, it does seem that the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejected the idea of engaging Pakistan in dialogue and is determined to go down a path of increasing military tensions.

Perhaps this is because the Indian state wants to deflect attention from its troubles in India-held Kashmir or because a strong, militaristic nationalism is the campaign platform of choice for the BJP, which faces crucial state elections once again in the year ahead.

With the election of a hawkish Donald Trump in the US, Mr Modi may even now be gambling that the year ahead will see closer cooperation between India and the US and more pressure on Pakistan from the new American administration to address US and Indian concerns about specific militant groups allegedly operating on Pakistani soil.

So the combination of pre-existing preferences and the introduction of a new, unpredictable factor in the election of Mr Trump may be the cause of a fresh spike in Pakistan-India tensions.

Perhaps all sides, including the incoming US administration, should pay heed to the words of the outgoing team in Washington.

Commenting on the efforts by some anti-Pakistan elements in the US Congress to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, the US State Department spokesperson suggested that it is better to engage with Pakistan on counterterrorism issues than to seek punitive measures. In the words of John Kirby, the spokesperson, there should be a “focus on the importance of regional, collaborative, and effective counterterrorism operations”.

While the current US administration’s policies in the region have hardly been ideal and certainly more than a little lopsided, it is worth paying heed to sensible advice at this uncertain juncture in regional dynamics. Pakistan too must promote sensible and peaceful policy outcomes.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2016