Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting that reviewed the internal and external security situation on Friday.—PPI
Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting that reviewed the internal and external security situation on Friday.—PPI

ISLAMABAD: As Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday consulted his top military and intelligence aides, the possibility of an imminent conflict with India appeared to loom over Pakistan’s security agenda.

PM Khan, the prime minister’s office said, “chaired a high-level meeting to review the internal and external security situation”. The meeting was attended by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Nadeem Raza, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Director General Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Faiz Hamid and Director General Military Operations Nauman Zikriya.

From the list of the participants of the meeting, it looked very much like a National Security Committee session except that it did not include Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who has quarantined himself after contracting Covid-19 infection, Adviser on Finance Hafeez Sheikh, and Special Assistant on National Security — all of whom would have been part of a routine NSC meeting.

Pakistan exercising restraint despite Indian provocations, FM Qureshi tells his Chinese counterpart

The meeting took place in the backdrop of what FM Qureshi, in a telephone conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during the day, described as fast “deteriorating” regional security environment. The foreign minister blamed “India’s belligerent posture and expansionist policies” for jeopardising region’s peace.

The India focused language of the media statement issued after the meeting clearly pointed towards the aggravating situation at the Line of Control (LoC) being the main agenda point of the session.

“The meeting … resolved that sovereignty of Pakistan will be protected at all costs. It was also resolved that Pakistan believes in peaceful co-existence with its neighbours but we have both the will and the capacity to defend our people and territorial integrity,” it said.

“The meeting expressed serious concern over the continued human rights violation by Indian forces in the IOJ&K and urged the international community to take notice,” the statement added.

Pakistani strategists fear that India, which has failed to restore normalcy in Occupied Kashmir since its illegal annexation in August 2019, is being pushed towards a conflict with Pakistan by a confluence of military, health and economic crises, which have badly dented Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s standing at home.

Indian troops were recently involved in a fatal clash with Chinese troops, the first in 45 years, in which at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed.

The flaring up of India-Nepal border conflict, and deteriorating economic conditions because of Covid-19 could have infused frustration in Indian leaders, who may act in desperation, it is feared.

Taking on Pakistan, analysts believe, is an apparent choice for India in the current circumstances as its government knows well that anti-Pakistan sentiment sells well among its constituents. The Indian government had last year exited from the military stand-off with a bloody nose after losing two fighter jets and one of the pilots getting captured, yet the Bharatiya Janata Party presented it as a success to its public and gone on to win elections.

They again used the same Pakistan ploy after the loss of 20 soldiers to China last month by asking Islamabad to halve its diplomatic presence in Delhi and simultaneously cutting its high commission’s strength in Islamabad after accusing officials of Pakistani mission in Delhi of espionage.

India has, meanwhile, been building an environment for a conflict with Pakistan for several months. It has regularly been accusing Pakistan of infiltration across the LoC and publicising virtually daily clashes with Kashmiri freedom fighters to mislead the world that it is faced with a terrorism problem.

There has also been a dangerous arms build-up by India, security officials say as they point to heightened threat of a conflict. India has lately also ordered major defence acquisitions despite the Covid-19 situation in its country.

Mr Qureshi told Mr Yi during conversation that Pakistan was exercising restraint despite Indian provocations.

A statement by Foreign Office said both foreign ministers “resolved to implement consensus reached by the leadership of the two countries to deepen strategic consultation and coordination at all levels so as to collectively promote shared goals of peace and stability”.

The two decided to have face-to-face meeting for discussing challenges confronted by the region, it added.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2020