Now, the diplomatic battle

March 03, 2019

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The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi’s gambit to ensure his re-election by hostility and military action against Pakistan has badly backfired. Contrary to Indian calculations, Pakistan was not cowed by the BJP’s bullying. It gave a matching response to the bombs India hastily dropped across the Line of Control, but yet took precautions to avoid Indian casualties in its matching response. And, when Indian aircraft intruded again, it promptly downed two of them without any loss and took an Indian pilot prisoner.

From the outset of the exchanges, India’s authorities lied about the nature and impact of their first strike, claiming this destroyed a fictitious ‘terrorist camp’, and next day, after the loss of its own aircraft, falsely claimed to have shot down a Pakistani F-16.

In contrast, Pakistan did exactly what it said it would do; and said what it did, plainly and truthfully.

Most significant was the contrast between the belligerent and boastful threats of Prime Minister Modi, and Indian military and civilian leaders, and the sober appeal for restraint, the military caution and the magnanimity demonstrated by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistan civil and military leadership.

The aftermath of the crisis offers an opportunity to advance the objective of peace in South Asia.

India has evidently decided against further military action. No doubt, it is now convinced that Pakistan would respond again. The inherent danger of escalation to a full-blown war between nuclear-armed adversaries has perhaps dawned on New Delhi. Deterrence has been operationally demonstrated; strategic stability has been restored.

Now, India’s bloodied BJP leadership will seek to retrieve through diplomacy what it could not achieve militarily. To refrain from further military action, India will demand decisions by the UN Security Council, and declarations from the major powers, which endorse its positions. It will ask the Council, and other forums, to denounce the Pulwama ‘terrorist’ attack; place Masood Azhar on the terrorist ‘list’ and punish Jaish-e-Mohammad; ask Pakistan not to allow its territory to be used for external ‘terrorist’ attacks; eliminate all militant organisations in Pakistan, incarcerate their leaders, and so on.

Pakistan must gird itself for the coming diplomatic battle with India. Apart from rejecting the presumptuous allegations of Pakistan sponsoring or supporting terrorism, Islamabad must seek reflection in any decision or declaration of the ground realities: the unresolved Jammu and Kashmir dispute; the unfulfilled right of its people to self-determination as prescribed in UNSC resolutions; the ongoing popular and indigenous revolt under way in India-occupied Kashmir; the massive violations of human rights, including rape, killing of unarmed demonstrators, blinding of children with pellet guns, perpetrated by India’s 700,000 troops in occupied Kashmir (and documented in the UN High Commissioner’s recent report); India’s daily ceasefire violations along the LoC; the ominous effort to eliminate occupied Kashmir’s autonomy and change its demography; the imposition of direct rule from New Delhi in occupied Kashmir; the arbitrary arrest of Kashmiri leaders.

Although its positions are tendentious, India is likely to secure selective support for its demands because of its size and the general desire of major powers to placate it after its self-inflicted military and political debacle. The US in particular can be expected to press for several of India’s demands. In fact, National Security Adviser John Bolton’s reference to India’s “right of self-defence” after Pulwama virtually endorsed India’s ensuing military aggression.

Pakistan will have to work hard to persuade Washington to adopt a more balanced posture. No doubt the US is now aligned with India in the context of its rivalry with China. But, the US is also reliant on Pakistan’s facilitation to secure an honourable agreement with the Afghan Taliban. Its recent signals of friendship towards Pakistan were missing in the Pulwama crisis. Islamabad needs to establish a stronger reciprocal linkage between its facilitation of US-Taliban talks and the US posture on Pakistan-India issues.

Most importantly, Pakistan must set forth its stance clearly and boldly in the Security Council and other international bodies. Its position on the legitimacy of the struggle of the Kashmiri people for self-determination and freedom is morally and legally defensible. This freedom struggle cannot be equated with terrorism.

Pakistan will also have to rely on the active support of its key friends, first and foremost, China, which wields the veto in the Security Council. No doubt, China will come under pressure from the US, India and their friends to accept their demands or not to defend Pakistan’s positions. Yet, at this critical juncture, and in the context of existential threats to Pakistan’s security, Islamabad has every right to expect that China will protect Pakistan’s core interests and positions.

Indeed, the aftermath of this Modi-instigated crisis offers an opportunity to advance the objective of peace and stability in South Asia. Modi’s miscalculation brought the region to the brink of a war which could have ended in Armageddon. Rather than attempt to appease India, the international community should utilise this crisis as a spur to build the foundations for peace and security in South Asia.

To this end, Pakistan could work with the UN secretary general and a group of impartial states to propose a plan for peace and security in South Asia and prevent another dangerous Pakistan-India confrontation.

The possible elements of such a plan can be readily identified:

India’s commitment to halt any military action or use of force against the civilian population in Kashmir; activation of a Pakistan-India Working Group to consider all aspects of terrorism in the region; adoption of additional CBMs to foreclose the possibility of a Pakistan-India conflict; resumption of the Pakistan-India “ comprehensive” dialogue; the initiation of bilateral negotiations for conventional and nuclear arms control; early resolution of the subsidiary outstanding issues (Sir Creek, Siachen); discussions on trade expansion and transnational and connectivity projects (with the participation of other interested states).

The prospects of such a peace plan may not be very bright while Modi and the BJP rule in India. But, hopefully, the recent debacle with Pakistan, visible even to a befooled Indian population, together with Modi’s failure to deliver on his tall economic promises, may produce another positive outcome: the ouster of Modi and the BJP in India’s forthcoming elections.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2019