Dangers of brinkmanship

Shahid M Amin

India-Pakistan relations have reached a new low. There have been clashes on the LoC, war threats, claims of surgical strikes, hostile diplomacy, media war, cutting of cultural ties, boycott of SAARC Summit and threats to undo the Indus Waters Treaty. This situation is more dangerous than the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation in 2002. At that time, wisdom had finally prevailed and brinkmanship abandoned. This time also, the worse will not and must not happen. War between nuclear-armed states will be mutual suicide. Millions will die, cities will be wiped out and land will become uncultivable for centuries. Surely, no sane person will want that to happen. But is this logic clear to those spewing hatred day in and day out?
Mainly, it is India which has whipped up the war hysteria after the Uri terrorist attack on September 18, 2016, in which 18 Indian soldiers perished. India alleged that the terrorists were Pakistanis, belonging to Jaish Muhammad. How that was determined, within a few hours after the incident, is mind-boggling as terrorists are unlikely to carry ID cards with them or weapons marked “Made in Pakistan”. The LoC is heavily guarded with electronic fences. The Uri base had its own security. How then did four terrorists manage to cross from Pakistan, enter the base and wreak havoc? This raises serious questions about credibility of Indian allegations. The timing of the attack was curious. For over two months, anti-India protests have paralyzed life in Indian-occupied Kashmir. India’s brutal repression of protestors had raised international concern and the Kashmir issue was again receiving world attention. The Uri incident diverted such attention, as terrorism and Indo-Pakistan tensions changed the focus. This did not suit Pakistan and it is one more reason why Pakistan government could not have been involved in Uri incident.
Even if Pakistani militants had carried out the terrorist attack, the Pakistan government cannot be held responsible. Pakistan has a population of 180 million and the government cannot be held responsible for misdeeds of each of its citizens. Terrorist incidents have taken place in Europe involving North Africans, but France and Belgium have not blamed Morocco or Tunisia. Uzbeks have been involved in terrorism in Pakistan but Pakistan has not accused Uzbekistan. Pakistan itself is greatest victim of terrorists and is engaged in a major war against them. Instead of appreciating that, India’s whole case rests on the false assumption that Jaish Muhammad or other terrorists take orders from Pakistan govt .
Having itself raised the war fever after Uri incident, the Modi government came under heavy pressure from Indian media and other circles to take retaliatory action against Pakistan; otherwise, Modi would have lost face. On September 29, the Indian DGMO disclosed that India had conducted surgical strikes by crossing LoC into Azad Kashmir and destroyed some ‘terrorist camps’. He had informed his Pakistani counterpart about surgical strikes, which had ended and would not be continued. PTI reported that the operation was a combination of helicopter and ground troops: seven militant camps were targeted and more than 30 militants were killed.
But the Indian claims of surgical strikes have been strongly rejected by Pakistan. Its military spokesmen have stressed that, on the given date, there had been exchange of fire between the two sides on several points along the LoC, on a pattern seen repeatedly over the years. There had been many Indian casualties and one Indian soldier taken prisoner. Pakistani spokesmen are categoric that the claim about ‘surgical strikes’ was a concoction to deceive Indian public opinion that had been baying for revenge and was becoming critical of the Modi government for not doing so.
The claims and counter-claims of the two sides about surgical strikes are bewildering. India has not so far produced any photographic evidence to back its claims. Indian circles have contradicted themselves by claiming first that helicopters were used and later saying that only ground troops were involved. There is strong presence of news media on the Pakistani side of LoC and the death of over 30 militants could not have remained concealed. There would have been funerals and mourning. On October 1, the Pakistani military arranged a tour of local and foreign journalists to the various LoC posts. They saw no evidence of any damage done by the purported surgical strikes.
Paradoxically, the stances taken by the two sides can be seen as something positive. By claiming surgical strikes, Modi has placated Indian public opinion. India also immediately announced that no further action was planned, suggesting it did not want any escalation. On the other side, since Pakistan insists there were no surgical strikes, there is no pressure on Islamabad either for retaliation or escalation. The threat of larger hostilities have now receded.
Following the Uri incident, India has partially succeeded in isolating Pakistan. Firstly, the SAARC Summit in Islamabad was postponed. India was joined in the boycott by Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Secondly, many countries including China, Saudi Arabia and UAE sent messages of sympathy to India over the Uri incident, but did not express concern over India’s brutal suppression of Kashmiris who have been protesting in the streets for nearly three months. Thirdly, though India declared it had carried out surgical strikes, no country criticized it for a dangerous escalation and violation of International Law.
The foregoing scenario is disquieting and requires introspection by Pakistan. There is global revulsion against terrorism and India is fully exploiting this in the propaganda war against Pakistan. Our relations with other countries are being hurt by the fact that, for many years, terrrorists have operated from sanctuaries in Pakistan. Instead of facing the problem head-on, many amongst us have kept living in a state of denial. Only belatedly, Operation Zarb-i-Azb was launched in 2014. It has made notable headway but must be taken to its logical conclusion. Eradication of terrorism will benefit us enormously, both internally as well as externally.
But neither Indian bellicosity nor propaganda can change one great transformation in the situation. The people of Kashmir have launched a decisive resistance against Indian rule. The lesson of the last century is that national liberation struggles have succeeded everywhere, even against Super Powers. This is the writing on the wall from which India cannot escape.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.

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