Time for some surgical sanity | Shahzad Chaudhry

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This has been a fulsome two weeks for Pakistan and South Asia. We have had Uri, the UNGA harangues, the ‘surgical strikes’, threats of cancelling the Indus Waters Treaty, cancellation of Saarc, a patently multilateral forum that may have produced little but has the potential to do good for the masses – a dampener for Pakistan on the diplomatic front, thanks to India. In all this if there was some solace it was that Pakistan’s future looked good.

Want to know why? There are bigger crazies across the border. Those who can let Pathankot and Uri, and then Baramula, build into a strategic collapse of order, and then search desperately for signs to prove to the world that they indeed did aggress across the Line of Control and destroyed infrastructure, of the terrorists, are sure to have taken leave of their senses. This can only happen in South Asia – that you aggress, violate, de-sanctify, and then go to town to announce your stupidity. As I said earlier, the blind sentiment that enjoins the twins-at-birth is so outrageous that it beats reason. In South Asia, what you proclaim, loudly and repeatedly, is sure to betray the opposite in reality.

There are two binds which have taken hold of India: Ajit Doval’s self-proclaimed expertise at defeating Pakistan at its games and Modi’s ‘56-inch chest’, a sign of manly virility, and thus exemplary bravado. Now as long as these two reign over India, South Asia will remain an interesting place.

The ‘surgical strikes’ that India claimed have in fact given me heart, reassuring that things are still the same everywhere and India has not yet reached the moon despite the trillion-dollar economy and the fantastic rates of growth that should on their own intimidate us all. What we face across on the other side is but a reflection of what I see here. Just as a comparison, the Pakistan Stock Exchange broke all records as the heat surged between the two countries.

And the nation, those who had been fighting each other from Fata to Balochistan to Karachi, all came together in unison to contend with the Indian challenge of belligerence. As I said, as long as India is there, and may it last long, it has only the most salubrious effect on Pakistan. If you were to read the press in Pakistan in recent weeks you would have thought that there was a major political war in the offing, and the days ahead were of great uncertainty. Yet, thanks to India, and the duo in Delhi, suitably backed by the RSS and the Shiv Sena, they all congregated in unity on Kashmir, on Wani and on facing off Indian shenanigans. Instead of dwindling under pressure, Pakistan got stronger. True to the heavenly clay from which emerges the South Asian human, even this claim has a limited life (IK’s U-turn on the parliamentary huddle).

But not all can be taken as lightly. There are two poignant developments from shores far away that must take our notice. When John Kerry, the US secretary of state, met with Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UNGA, he apparently responded to Sharif’s complaint of the Indian highhandedness in Kashmir and against Pakistan by asking Sharif to cut down on Pakistan’s allegedly fast-paced nuclear programme.

The US may also qualify, as they have indeed repeatedly so done, as to the danger of these weapons falling in the hands of ‘the terrorists’. And someone of reasonable note from the US very recently amplified further by adding that a fractious Pakistan could soon be taken over by non-political forces, read the army, and that just might enable these weapons falling in the hands of the terrorists. Note the deviousness here. The army and the terrorists are in league; and their proximity to nuclear weapons is the ultimate threat. You call this the grand strategic objective. So then what is India up to?

Dreamt up or real, the ‘surgical strikes’ were meant to establish at least two objectives: that terrorists existed on the Pakistani side of Kashmir whom India stealthily attacked – though it is having trouble proving it to the world. And that terror and Pakistan coexist. Next, in its own strategic vision India has declared in clear terms that India will isolate Pakistan at all levels. In this they want to play on the Western fears of a Pakistan knit with terror, in cohorts with the likes of the Haqqani Network and of course the LeJ and JeM.

On the Haqqani Network, the world had better find an alternate narrative now. Long since pushed into Afghanistan, prominent members of the group only foray back to Pakistani borderlands to catch up with family that still reside here, like for a lot of other Afghans who have moved to and fro in the last four decades. Answer: the earlier the Afghans can repatriate their approximately three million refugees, the sooner the visits of the likes of the Haqqanis to Pakistan cease.

On the LeJ and the JeM, though, there is work needed all around. If India perceives them to be in the ISI’s corner then it must also accept that now was not the time for them to be activated given the returns that were likely to accrue from Pakistan taking Kashmir to the world. This was and is the Kashmir moment that could not have been lost as an opportunity. If not, India’s strategy to demonise Pakistan in these groups’ name is misplaced. Will that mean that Pakistan must still drain its swamps? Surely. That will disable the manipulative aggregation by others of its vulnerabilities.

So then, how does it all add up? Well, a war at this moment would surely enervate an already stretched and besieged Pakistan. Were this to also mean further political fragmentation, with a Balochistan that could be externally activated through the likes of Brahamdagh Bugti, and a thoroughly devastated Fata at the mercy of the nastier TTP affiliates from across the Afghan border under external influence again, it just might give meaning to a broken Pakistan making its nukes insecure. Will the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) then cause the world to intervene to take over control?

War is serious business, but in the hands of such characters the threat ameliorates. They know not how to begin one, much less fight one or make a nice story of it. As a consequence, South Asia trundles along, warts and all, safe in its ineptitude.