Navigating a dangerous relationship | Talat Masood

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Tensions between India and Pakistan have taken a turn for the worse after the attack on the army base in Uri in India-held Kashmir. The Indians without any solid evidence have branded Pakistan military and the ISI as accomplices. And military experts and certain elements among the Indian media have been calling for retaliatory strikes against militant camps. Modi has vowed to isolate and shame Pakistan. Why is India in this highly aggressive mood, what are its motives and how far and how much can it damage Pakistan’s interests? Can the situation deteriorate to the point that a war between two nuclear neighbours becomes a real possibility? To what extent are the world powers and especially the US willing to play a role in restraining India and Pakistan? And how should Pakistan respond to India’s belligerence and certain valid grievances? These are some of the very serious questions that are on the minds of everyone.

This act of violence in which 18 Indian soldiers lost their lives has been perpetrated in the backdrop of the resistance movement that has engulfed the Indian-held Kashmir for the last several months. Indian security forces to quell the peaceful resistance have been employing the most brutal techniques that have been well chronicled globally. It is a different matter that due to political expediency the international community has remained a silent spectator. To deflect world attention from the internal uprising Modi finds it convenient to use the current episode and shift the entire onus on Pakistan. The Indian establishment is also very upset that Pakistan is raising the profile of the Kashmir freedom struggle at the international level. Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the UN and our lobbying at different world capitals for the plight of Kashmiris has been a source of great unease for India. To deflect world attention from the happenings in Kashmir it talks of Balochistan, Fata and other troubled areas of Pakistan. Yes, these are troubled areas and perhaps Pakistan has to do a lot more to satisfy the needs of the people of these deprived sections of society, but the problem of Kashmir has no relevance to it. Besides, two wrongs do not make a right.

Modi is going allout to exploit Pakistan’s soiled international image as a breeding ground of terrorism. His speech at the UN and recently in South India was full of venom and is holding no bars in openly admitting that he is willing to subvert Pakistan and feels confident that the international community will overlook it. Pakistan will have to undertake a serious reappraisal of its external and internal policies to correct its image and win back international support. Moreover, when Hafiz Saeed of the LeT or its incarnation Jamaatud Dawa is seen making fiery speeches in major cities of Pakistan the rest of the world feels that Pakistan is not serious about curbing terrorism, in fact, is abutting terrorists. Memories of the Mumbai attack keep coming back. What many fail to comprehend that it undermines the peaceful resistance movement and gives India cover to hide its atrocities and refuse to talk to Pakistan except on terrorism. And provides Modi an additional excuse to shift blame on Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan loses high moral ground and international support when it is perceived to back militant groups like LeT and the Haqqani network and Kashmir cause is seriously compromised.

Our nuclear capability and battle hardened armed forces may deter India from taking any action against us but that should not translate into the militant groups taking advantage of it and undermining our international standing and compromising our larger national interest. Experience has shown when tensions between India and Pakistan rise, the world gets more worried about the consequences of a confrontation between two nuclear powers and the cause of Kashmiri people is not served any better either. The threat of war would also have a serious impact on Pakistan’s economy, which already is anaemic and would take a deep dive if tensions were to mount. As it is foreign investment has been very meagre it will probably dry up. Expenditure on defence will increase putting greater pressure on the economy.

Prime Minister Modi very shrewdly has conveyed to the Indian audience and the world at large that India is winning the economic war and technology race, leaving Pakistan far behind. The question arises as to who has been hurt more by the Uri attack, Pakistan or India, and has it in any way served the cause of Kashmir. By taking a more nuanced approach toward Pakistan, Modi has protected India’s interests and raised his international profile even if it meant disappointing the domestic hawks that have been calling for revenge.

Modi’s threat of isolating Pakistan should be countered. Whereas Pakistan can bank on its solid ties with China and several Muslim countries for continued support but it is the West and especially the United States where its campaign against Pakistan has to be countered. Pakistan should also seek close ties with Russia and expand its cooperation with Iran to counter India’s designs. Despite the deep strategic convergence between the US and India, it is in Pakistan’s interest to maintain good relations with Washington. Pakistan should look at this relationship independent of Afghanistan.

Ultimately it is Pakistan’s internal strength and stability that will counter India’s hostile designs. Modi has been cleverly trying to create a wedge between the people of Pakistan and its armed forces. His recent speech in South India wherein he belittles the civilian leadership role in policy formulation is a classic example of it. Even if it is a reality that our politicians have failed to lead it does not contradict the fact that the country is united in supporting the Kashmiri movement. Irrespective of the prevailing power structure in Pakistan, India sooner or later will have to come to the negotiating table. Until then India’s intransigence will continue to strengthen the hands of those very forces in both the countries that have been obstructing peace.