EVEN if it would be overly optimistic to say the crisis triggered by the suicide bombing of a paramilitary forces convoy which killed some 50 soldiers in India-held Kashmir and brought the two countries to a tense military face-off is over, it is safe to assume that de-escalation has indeed taken place.
The intense shelling and firing across the Line of Control has now subsided to a large degree in the disputed Kashmir region. The Indian side intensified LoC attacks in the aftermath of their air strike near Balakot, Pakistan’s retaliation the following day and the downing of an Indian fighter jet and the capture of its pilot.
However, with both sides in a high state of military preparedness and the governing Narendra Modi-led BJP still a few weeks away from the phased elections to the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, more adventurism such as the Balakot strike can’t be ruled out if the party trails in the polls.
This is particularly true when viewed against the rising tide of criticism by the opposition and sections of the Indian media. Both have questioned claims by leading lights of the governing party about the success, including the grossly inflated, imaginary ‘kill’ numbers, of the Balakot strike.
Even as it maintains its preparedness in the face of mobilisation across its eastern border, the Pakistani military has said it is throwing its weight behind the government crackdown on organisations such as the Hafiz Saeed led-Jamaatud Dawa and the Masood Azhar-inspired Jaish-i-Mohammad (JeM) and their ilk.
Pakistan seems to have every incentive to clamp down on groups that are subverting diplomatic moves to keep Kashmir on the global agenda.
This stated resolve has met with some international scepticism and commentators have pointed out the number of times these very organisations have been banned in the past but reappeared under a different name while being operational all along.
However, Pakistan’s long and bloody war against religiously motivated militants in the erstwhile tribal areas may have brought about a change in thinking in the establishment as conversations with, admittedly, a handful of young officers have suggested.
These officers appeared quite certain that their institution now understands well the perils of viewing such fanatical elements as possible allies as they can pose a major threat and exact a heavy price in the long-run.
“We have no doubt in our minds that all these militants now have to be disarmed and contained if we don’t want more trouble on our hands in the future,” said one. This view, especially if representative, seems a million miles away from, for example, the stance of former intelligence chief Shuja Pasha in 2008, following the spiralling India-Pakistan tension in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack.
Another rationale for action, running alongside the potential threat these organisations might pose in the future, is the action that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is mandating against such entities for Pakistan to avoid being blacklisted.
Blacklisted countries can survive but the cost of their financial transactions are very high because the countries have been named among those who are ‘non-cooperative’ in terms of stopping money laundering and terror financing. Moreover, they face sanctions, and Pakistan can ill afford the latter given its resource constraints.
FATF will need to be satisfied through transparent measures including rules, regulations and infrastructure changes if Pakistan is to see off this major threat to its economic well-being that will obviously have an impact on its national security as well.
Therefore, Pakistan seems to have every incentive to clamp down on organisations that have now taken to pre-empting, even subverting, official diplomatic moves to keep Kashmir on the global agenda.
In this particular case that happened via a dubious responsibility claim for Pulwama and in the process, the indigenous self-rule movement in the valley may have been discredited due to allegations of ‘foreign involvement’.
I, for one, am convinced that the intensity of resistance to Indian oppression in the Kashmir valley will ultimately lead to a resolution of the Kashmir question which will have to satisfy the will of its valiant people.
Look at the profile of the Pulawama bomber, who was born and bred in India-held Kashmir, and how he was treated by the security forces, and the rest will be self-evident. Ironically, given the JeM claim, the former Indian military commander in the area retired Lt-Gen D.S. Hooda’s views did not get much traction in the media.
LTG Hooda said that because of the security forces presence along the LoC, it was impossible to smuggle across such a huge amount of explosives used in the Pulwama bombing, 350kg by some accounts. In his view, the explosives came from one of the camps of the Srinagar-Jammu road-widening project not far from the blast site.
One of the greatest advantages of a demonstrable clampdown on militant organisations in Pakistan will be that once it has happened India will have been stripped of one major defence of its indefensible oppression in Kashmir.
It will be left with no one but itself to blame for the actions of Kashmiris fighters struggling for liberty in the valley. And steps such as the conclusion of the trial of those charged with planning and directing the mindless terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008 will be a major landmark in this journey.
Of course, Pakistan will need to polish its act too as it is damaging for the foreign minister and the military’s chief spokesman to say different things. This government and the military are often said to be on the same page in all matters of national security.
Let them then do a bit of homework and draw up co-owned and shared briefing papers, a prerequisite for anyone charged with explaining key elements of national policy to the media, so the next time their representatives are interviewed by foreign media they speak with the same voice, are found to be on the same script.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2019