‘The fear of escalation between India and Pakistan is very real’

October 19, 2019

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Dr Rabia Akhtar speaks at the PIIA on Friday.—Shakil Adil / White Star
Dr Rabia Akhtar speaks at the PIIA on Friday.—Shakil Adil / White Star

KARACHI: “Today is the 75th day of the brutal curfew in India-held Kashmir invoking a nuclear threat,” said Dr Rabia Akhtar, director of a policy research centre and a member of the prime minister’s advisory council on foreign affairs.

She was speaking at a programme titled ‘Kashmir: a Nuclear Flashpoint’ at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on Friday.

“Since February, when India attacked Pakistan in Balakot, people have been worried. But during the Balakot strikes, Prime Minister Imran Khan refrained from the ‘N’ word. Neither did the DG ISPR mention it,” she continued.

A member of the PM’s advisory council on foreign affairs says going to war over Kashmir will not go well with a broken economy

“When the prime minister visited the United States earlier in July and met President Trump there, he told him about the Kashmir crisis. Then he comes back and faces the August 5 development there with India revoking the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier, it was Syria, Iran, the Turks and the Kurds whom the world watched and spoke about but India has internationalised Kashmir,” she said.

Dr Akhtar, who is the director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Policy Research (CSSPR), said that in a January 2002 interview, former adviser to Pakistan’s National Command Authority and pioneer director general of the Strategic Plans Division retired Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai had mentioned four thresholds for Pakistan in case India attacked Islamabad such as the special threshold, the military, economic and socio-political threshold. “At the time, our forces were on a 10-month stand-off,” she explained.

She said that literature written by Western scholars on the issue showed Pakistan as the weaker power that must maintain escalation dominance.

“They say that Pakistan will be first to use nuclear weapons,” she said, adding: “But, there always used to be a third-party intervention in crisis termination until the Pulwama incident when Pakistan unconditionally released India’s pilot. It was unprecedented behaviour from Pakistan.”

“Still, the Indian media said that it was Pakistan’s weakness which made us do that. Not much credit has been given to Pakistan in crisis termination in the Pulwama and Balakot crisis but not only did we release their pilot we also kept our strikes way over the Line of Control [LoC]. So literature needs to be re-written as Pakistan is not really predictable,” Dr Akhtar pointed out.

“India believes that Pakistan should accept what India did on Aug 5 as fait accompli and any firing from this side will be seen by them as an act of war. Therefore, Pakistan needs to wait till the curfew in India-held Kashmir is lifted. Going to war over Kashmir will not go well with a country with a broken economy,” she added.

“In any crisis situation between Pakistan and India, Kashmir as India says is the only point of dispute with Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan ‘saffronises’ India. But we don’t know this India. We have never dealt with Hindu [nationalism]. Modi is here for the next five years and after him there are going to be more like him. We are not developing strategies looking at this,” she said.

“The fear of escalation is very real. There is currently no third party interested in intervening too. The US has its hands full with other things, China doesn’t want to interfere, the Arab nations’ attitude is also quite clear. So no one wants to take India head on. Besides, they see Kashmir as an internal matter and not bilateral. India is talking of Jammu & Kashmir as its jurisdiction and we here want to go back to before Aug 5. We want peace,” she said.

“Pakistan going to war and Pakistan posing for war are different things. We have been saying ‘Kashmir banayga Pakistan’ [Kashmir will be Pakistan] for over 72 years now but there has been lack of action from us since Aug 5,” she said, adding that the situation was tense as the people here did not want to hear about economic matters in case of war. They only care of the plight of the people of India-held Kashmir.

“If the people take it on themselves to cross the Line of Control, we have a problem,” she concluded.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2019