Dangerous escalation

Published February 27, 2019
The writer is an author and journalist.
The writer is an author and journalist.

THE Indian incursion has raised the stakes for Pakistan. It is reportedly the first time since the 1971 war that Indian jets intruded into Pakistan territory. It was a brazen military offensive though the Narendra Modi government claims it was a pre-emptive strike against alleged militant camps and not military action. It is not the first time that the Modi government has made exaggerated claims of conducting preventive strikes across the LoC.

It is a risky gamble by the Indian prime minister. Such reckless action could easily spiral out of control and turn into a full-blown military conflagration. The underlying calculation of Modi’s escalation is that India can afford this brinkmanship given the country’s growing diplomatic clout. But it is hard to believe that this blatant act of aggression will go unnoticed. A major challenge for Pakistan is how to respond to the Indian bellicosity.

Some kind of Indian military action was foretold after the Pulwama suicide bomb attack on a paramilitary convoy that killed over 40 Indian personnel in India-held Kashmir earlier this month. Yet few had expected Indian warplanes to strike inside Pakistan. According to several media reports, the attack took place in Balakot, KP and not along the Line of Control. It is not just a violation of the LoC ceasefire; it is also — very clearly — an act of aggression.

India’s claim of destroying terrorist camps and killing hundreds of militants in the strike may be preposterous, but the incursion itself has huge symbolic significance and is of propaganda value for the Modi government. There may not be any evidence substantiating the Indian boast of taking out militants; however the intrusion raises questions about our own vulnerability. Meanwhile, the Indian claim has fed into the jingoistic frenzy being whipped up by the Modi government.

Such reckless action could easily spiral out of control and turn into a full-blown military conflagration.

Surely, the Indian claim has far too many holes for anyone to believe it. There has not been any clear answer by the Indian officials about where exactly the targeted camps were located. But the pictures of the crater caused by the weaponry jettisoned by fleeing Indian warplanes do not give any comfort. More importantly, it was the message Modi wanted to convey through the intrusion.

It is an attempt by the Modi government to redefine its nuclear threshold. He is pursuing a strategy of what is described as ‘vertical and horizontal’ escalation. He is testing Pakistan’s capability to respond without crossing the threshold. Modi believes his government can manage the diplomatic fallout of an escalation because India is today much better placed in the world. Surely, as one of fastest-growing economies India’s standing has significantly improved. But there is a question whether that would help it maintain its position in the event of a confrontation with Pakistan.

Domestic political factors too have had a role in Modi’s calculus while upping the ante. With crucial general elections in India just months away, ‘punitive’ action against Pakistan could boost his prospects of winning the votes in the Hindu belt where his party’s hold had been eroding. But what happens in the next few weeks could change the situation. A full-scale military confrontation could alter the political balance.

Yet another reason behind Modi’s escalation is to divert the world’s attention from the popular uprising against the Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir. Even the brutal use of force by the Indian military and the gross human right violations have failed to crush the Kashmiris’ struggle for their right to self-determination. The situation in the disputed territory is worse than at any time in the past.

Read: Fear engulfs Muslims living in occupied Kashmir after Pulwama attack

Unlike in the past, when Pakistani groups were also fighting in Kashmir, these are home-grown fighters who are now leading the freedom struggle. Blaming Pakistan will not help New Delhi deal with the Kashmiri struggle. What the Indian government refuses to accept is that it is India’s problem rather than an external challenge — and one that it needs to deal with. Confrontation with Pakistan will only aggravate the situation.

Pakistan has shown prudence and restraint in the face of the Indian threat. The prime minister’s offer for dialogue has been rejected by the Modi government that believes that the threat of force could bring Pakistan to its knees. It is highly dangerous brinkmanship that can spin out of control. Pakistan reserves the right to respond, but one hopes that sanity will prevail and India will refrain from another military adventure.

More important for Pakistan is to use diplomatic means to mobilise international opinion against the Indian aggression. Surely, Pakistan has suffered from the absence of coherent foreign and security policies, causing it huge diplomatic setbacks in the past few years. But it is now time to set our own our house in order. Even though India has failed in its effort to internationally isolate Pakistan, we certainly need to do more to get our case heard.

The decision by the National Security Council to show zero tolerance to militant groups and religious extremists still operating in the country is right. But it is not enough to issue statements under international pressure. It is imperative to show resolve and implement our pledge. One major factor that has weakened our case is that the international community is not convinced about our sincerity to fight militancy and extremism — and India has fully exploited this situation.

Last week, the government reportedly launched a crackdown on madressahs run by Jaish-e-Mohammed. How come the group that was outlawed in 2002 and was allegedly involved in high-profile attempted terrorist attacks in Pakistan was not reined in as tightly as it should have been? There is no room now for any expediency. It is perhaps the most serious security situation the country has faced. The only way we can deal with this external challenge is to unite the nation.

Putting aside political differences, the opposition has offered full support to the government, and it is now the responsibility of the government, and particularly the prime minister, to show statesmanship in leading the country as the national security challenge is dealt with.

The writer is an author and journalist.


Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2019


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