The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.
Understand the situation. The Indian Line of Control attack is not meant to achieve any goal in the physical sense of the manoeuvre. Nor is the Modi government’s insane promotion of the move as a surgical strike for a mere domestic political purpose. Nor yet indeed is it a ploy to make Occupied Kashmir’s bloody events fall out of global and media focus.
The whole episode, and the braggadocio that has accompanied, is a mere distraction. The actual aim is to zero in international attention on Pakistan regarding the issue of terrorism. So when Modi says he would isolate Pakistan he is articulating a long-term goal that is far more sinister than any notional or promotional strike he has ordered across Kashmir’s dividing line that has seen much worse than an ingress here and there.
Delhi, backed and encouraged fully by Washington, wants Pakistan to be ‘Defined’ as a state nurturing terrorism. It wants to ‘Dilute’ its credentials as a reliable international actor. And it wants to set the stage for a case for ‘Delegitimising’ its defence capability, which includes the nuclear arsenal, by framing it as an international threat. These are the three dangerous Ds. This is the actual aim.
We only need to read statements made by Washington on the yet-to-be deciphered Uri attack and the regional countries’ justification for pulling out from the Saarc summit (all spoke of terrorism) to know what the game really is. To see events of the past week – coordinated attacks in various sectors of the Line of Control – purely from the keyhole of a military incident is to miss the elephant in the room. India has larger strategic aims vis-à-vis Pakistan, and these need to be tackled for what they are.
While ‘diplomatic efforts’ – to use a cliché – are the usual way to react to Delhi’s attempt to enforce the three Ds against Pakistan, a more nuanced and significant response has to be given from within. And this starts from an exercise that has never been carried out in all earnest, but has now become imperative. The Uri attack provides us another opportunity to get down to furnishing fact-based answers to allegations of cross-border activity taking place and then craft a policy stance on the basis of these findings. A few things need to be done immediately.
Establish the factual on Uri by gathering verifiable information from all concerned departments to develop an accurate picture of the event.
Compare and contrast this picture with what is coming out of Washington and other world capitals and fine-tune the factual.
There are only a few possibilities. We did it (as the Indians and the Americans allege); militants from our soil did it; militants did it with lower-level wheels within wheels; the Indians orchestrated it; Indian-sponsored militants did it; the Kashmiris did it. We need to test and reject these various possibilities and settle for the one that comes out as the most authentic.
We need to study the possibility that is endorsed by our findings and then peg our policy around or onto this factual.
Put differently, we cannot contest reality but first we need to find reality. We then need to align our public, diplomatic and backdoor diplomacy with the factual.
It goes without saying that the factual must have the DG ISI, COAS and the prime minister on the same page. The establishment must be deployed to create absolute clarity on this event. Their meetings and their briefings to the PM must be documented and top-policy notes prepared.
If we are involved at any level (or even if our soil has been used) the policy brief must be prepared accordingly. The justification for this act or its explanation must be established. If this is our covert policy, then the justification for this should also be clearly established. In other words, a strategic purpose of cross-LoC actions must be established and then connected with the aims and objectives of the country’s long-term stability. We cannot be in a default mode in pursuing this policy.
The domestic probe must be done clinically: almost like a surgeon operates on his own limb. This means care must be taken that this does not degenerate into a power tussle and that it remains a mainstream effort to find a solid basis for dealing with the aftermath of Uri. Every state actor must have the confidence that this exercise is meant to fight off and break up the slow encirclement of Pakistan by India and its friends using the rope of terrorism.
The best forum for this is not one-on-one meetings. It is the National Security Committee, whose session is called on Tuesday but which, ideally, should be in a daily session mode. This is important. The forum and its related activities must become the biggest priority for every member. Every day a long session. Every day a related item on the agenda in establishing the factual. Every day a decision or an agreement to move forward.
And if the truth is established that Delhi’s allegations are patently bogus and it is creating a fiction because it is sure that this will sell globally, then that factual must guide us with additional surety and confidence.
The government has to make a long-term policy related to the public activities of all groups, regardless of the nobility of their cause, and decide a consensus-based way to end these. The sense must end that Pakistan has ‘out-sourced’ sources with claims to running India policy. This must be addressed. Let every institution carry the responsibility of enforcing the agreed policy framework. Progress charts can be discussed in the meetings of the NSC.
Ask the toughest questions in the in-house follow-up meetings on every problematic dimension of this push to settle festering issues of non-state actors on our soil. Each dimension must be argued against or argued over to get clarity. This debate cannot be a set of simple conversations where ambiguity reigns. This must be thorough, argument filled, result oriented.
At the same time a few other steps need to be taken. In public and on the diplomatic front, Pakistan must detach cross-border issues from its stance on Indian Occupied Kashmir. The present stance of the government on Occupied Kashmir horrors is fine. It needs to be sustained even when the situation inside the Occupied Territory improves (the likelihood of which is very slim). Focus on IOK will help the government gain more space to ask tough forensic quality questions about the reality of repeated allegations of groups operating from our soil.
The government also needs to create bi-partisan consensus on grounding its response to Indian moves in hard reality. Its best bet is the PPP. It can make a serious effort to bring Bilawal Bhutto on board as far as the India policy is concerned. The PPP must feel it is part of a national endeavour to secure the country’s interest in increasingly tough times.
Extended sessions of the National Assembly and the Senate must also contribute to this debate. The government ought to get these sessions attended by every member of the party. Parliamentary debate will further create the environment to find long-term answers to questions that need not just answers but clear answers.
Of course, the government’s weakest link in focusing all energies on creating credible policy options in the face of Indian moves is Imran Khan’s prime ministerial ambitions. Sensing that his electoral fortunes may not be favourably placed in 2018, he has taken his agitation to the next level. Now a lockdown of Islamabad is in the offing. This will cause political upheaval.
Imran Khan is looking for a fight. So far the government has denied him that. Now it looks inevitable. Not for the first time the country is being dragged in a direction exactly opposite to where it ought to go. The only difference is that this time the cost of internal upheaval will not be borne by one government or one party but by the state.
An internally troubled Pakistan that has no capacity to plan counter-measures will only quicken the Modi government’s attempts to enforce its 3-Ds. In that sense the real strategic strike on Pakistan’s interest is not what happened on the LoC. It is the possibility of self-immolation that oafish politics of hate look set to generate.