Who will cross the red line?

Kuldip Nayar

I was against surgical strikes because I thought it would escalate things and probably go to a point of no return. But now that the strikes have been made I back the government. I am reminded of George Bernard Shah, eminent literary personality, who said that he was a worst critic of the British government but since it was in the midst of war he supported it. Probably, India had no option. Terrorists, who were taking shelter on Pakistan soil and operated from there, had to be punished.
As India’s Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Arup Raha, has said that the reply to what happened at Uri when Indian’s 19 soldiers were killed by the terrorists is being given and the Uri operation is not yet complete. He said “it is still live,” without commenting on the surgical strikes. I don’t think that both India and Pakistan, the nuclear powers, will cross the red line. Escalation on the border can be controlled up to point but when events take over it will be difficult to say what will happen on the war theatre. National Security Advisors of the two countries, Ajit Doval and Gen Nasir Janjua (Retd), have met and agreed to bring down tension. Why couldn’t they have done it before the surgical strikes took place? Nasir must have gauged the depth of anger in India with all political parties backing Prime Minister Narendra Modi government. Nawaz Sharif, too, has got sanctions from the political parties in Pakistan. He had convened a special meeting to appraise the opposition of the situation. Public opinion in both the countries has become hawkish. It’s unfortunate that Pakistan is prepared even for a nuclear war if it comes to that. The people on both sides want the end of daily tension and desire the government of their country to ensure that they don’t have to live with such constant fears.
The SAARC summit would have been an occasion when things could have been discussed across the table. But some countries have pulled out from the meeting at Islamabad. They say that the climate is not conducive for the SAARC to meet. Still there is no other venue where all the countries in the region could have met and talked on the situation threadbare. Pakistan should realize that its behaviour is such that other countries in the region are not willing to accept its doings. But people like Hafiz Saeed are openly operating from the Pakistani soil. India took the case to the UN but China, Pakistan’s ally, used the veto power and did not allow the UN to formally declare Hafiz Sayed as a terrorist. It was an unfortunate use of veto power but China goes to any limits to standby its ally.
As a result, the deadlock continues to the detriment of India. The situation can escalate to dangerous proportions at any time. The problem that Pakistan has to reckon with is attack from Afghanistan. No doubt, the Americans have withdrawn their troops from Afghanistan but a small contingent has stayed there at the specific request of Kabul.
New Delhi is now openly supporting Baloch leader Brahumdagh Bugti, who has been offered asylum in India. Following his example, many Balochis who are at the moment residing in Europe and elsewhere will seek to come to India. This will open another front against Pakistan which India can utilize to tell the world that the uprising in Balochistan was like the one in East Pakistan, which liberated itself to become Bangladesh in 1971. The rebellion is a warning to Islamabad that Balochistan could secede. In fact, it has Shias as a majority like Iran and does not fit into Pushto region which is all around. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, is from the region. When I met him years ago his complaint was that Jawaharlal Nehru had not kept his promise to establish an independent country for the Pushto-speaking people.
Nehru was helpless because Balochistan was part of Pakistan and he had accepted the establishment of Pakistan at the time of partition. Badshah Khan, as Frontier Gandhi was called, was now a citizen of Pakistan. Any step from Nehru would have amounted to a war and he naturally was not prepared for it. PM Modi is a different kettle of fish. Yet, his policy so far has been give-and-take. He was one who invited to his swearing-in ceremony all leaders of SAARC countries. Modi also stopped at Islamabad while returning from Afghanistan to extend a friendly hand despite furore at home. But today situation on ground is different and may force Modi to look at things from another perspective.
The surgical strikes are one such option which he has exercised. Nawaz Sharif’s threat of further retaliation could lead to a worst situation. Even Modi may not be able to control when events take over. They have their own ways of expressing themselves and can mean anything. It’s time that Pakistan pulls itself back from abyss because it can fall from the cliff. That will be too dangerous for the country. After all, Pakistan should know by now that after having fought three wars—in 1948, 1965 and 1971—its loss was far greater than it could inflict on India.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.

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