DEFT handling of the recent crisis by the Pakistani leadership may have helped de-escalate tensions with India. But it is not all over yet. The stakes for Pakistan are still high even though it has made India pull back. With artillery guns blazing along the Line of Control, the situation remains volatile and even a minor incident could cause it to spiral out of control again.
Pakistan has countered Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to successfully use India’s overwhelming superiority in conventional force, keeping hostilities below the nuclear threshold. It has responded to the Indian airstrike on Balakot by shooting down two Indian Air Force jets and targeting Indian military installations across the LoC thus challenging that country’s conventional military prowess.
The realisation of the dangers of the conflict spinning out of control and crossing the nuclear threshold appears to have forced the two sides to step back from the brink. While retaliating to the Indian incursion, Pakistan demonstrated prudence and restraint by not escalating the conflict beyond the LoC. Modi’s bluff was called by Pakistan in a more measured way. But there is hardly any sign of India lowering its war rhetoric yet. The war clouds may have receded but they have not gone away completely.
Meanwhile, the military stand-off has highlighted the underlying causes of conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbours — Kashmir and militancy. These two issues are intertwined and cannot be separated. The Pulwama attack on an Indian army convoy, claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad, gave the Modi government an excuse to launch what was described as a preventive strike against what it alleged was a JeM training camp on the Pakistani mainland.
This time the civil and military leadership have shown much resolve to deal with the problem.
It is not too surprising that there has not been any international condemnation of the blatant military incursion that India successfully managed to present as a counterterrorism strike and not military action against Pakistan. The fact that the attack was claimed by an organisation that allegedly operates from its territory has put Pakistan in an awkward position.
But Modi’s reckless military adventure has also drawn the world’s attention to the plight of the Kashmiri people in the occupied territory. In the words of Arundhati Roy, one of India’s most outspoken writers, “By goading Pakistan into a counter-strike, and so making India and Pakistan the only two nuclear powers in history to have bombed each other, Modi has internationalised the Kashmir dispute.” She added, “He has demonstrated to the world that Kashmir is potentially the most dangerous place on earth, the flashpoint for nuclear war,” she added.
Unsurprisingly, the growing human rights violations and India’s brutal use of force to crush the Kashmiris’ struggle for the right to self-determination has drawn a much larger Western media coverage now than at any time in the past one decade since the latest surge in the popular uprising.
The situation in the disputed territory is worse than at any other time in the past. They are mostly home-grown fighters who are now leading the uprising in India-held Kashmir. The suicide bomber who rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into the Indian military convoy in the occupied territory was a teenaged Kashmiri who had taken up arms after he was shot in the leg and humiliated by the Indian forces.
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. The Kashmir issue must not be seen as a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, but as a struggle for a people’s right to self-determination.
Imran Khan has earned plaudits internationally and at home for his statesman-like act that has prevented a full-blown conflagration between Pakistan and India. But now, he faces, perhaps, a more serious challenge of winding up the legacy of jihadi politics that has put Pakistan’s own security at greater risk and that threatens to isolate the country internationally. It is now time to put our own house in order.
There is renewed international pressure on Pakistan following the latest stand-off with India to completely dismantle the jihadi infrastructure in the country. The government has pledged to comply with the UN Security Council order that requires Pakistan to take action against individuals and organisations that have been blacklisted as terrorists.
There have also been reports of a renewed crackdown on the proscribed organisations working under different banners and their so-called charity wings. Among those detained are said to be the brother and son of JeM leader Masood Azhar who has been blamed for masterminding attacks inside India and across the LoC.
It is true that it is too early to confirm or deny the Indian allegation of JeM being involved in the Pulwama attack, but Pakistan has once again been put in the dock. For the sake of our own national security, prudence required a full clampdown on any militant group accused of using Pakistani soil for cross-border attacks. The latest action has come at a time when Pakistan is on FATF’s grey list and is reportedly taking steps to avoid being blacklisted. The government says that it is now pursuing a policy of zero-tolerance towards militancy and religious extremism.
That sounds good. But haven’t we seen this approach before, following such incidents that have brought Pakistan under international pressure? Our solemn pledge to not allow our soil to be used against any country must be adhered to otherwise we risk losing international credibility.
Meanwhile, there have been questions regarding the extent of control the state exercises in its own domain vis-à-vis such groups, and it is often asked how effective the authorities have been in eliminating all non-state actors that have become a pervasive challenge to the state’s writ. In the Pulwama attack, it is now the government’s responsibility to take the investigation to its conclusion.
Meanwhile, unlike in the past, this time the civil and military leadership have not gone into a state of denial and have shown much resolve to deal with the problem.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2019