By Amitabh Mathur
Tension between India and Pakistan, following the Pulwama terror attack on February 14 and its aftermath, seems to be subsiding. Pakistan has begun some sort of crackdown on terrorist organisations; banning some and arresting a few elements related to the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) leader Masood Azhar.
Time will tell whether
what is being done is cosmetic and tactical, as on earlier occasions, or is it
because of international pressure and Pakistan’s precarious economic situation
has led to more lasting action.
Some basic questions
surrounding the turn of events that triggered the face-off between the two
neighbours have however got lost in the political squabble over electoral gain.
To recap, Adil Ahmad Dar, an unemployed indoctrinated Kashmiri youth, posted a
video of communal rant and deadly intent. On February 14 he carried out his
threat by ramming his explosive-laden vehicle into a convoy of the CRPF Jawans
near Pulwama- killing over 40.
The JeM, a proscribed
terrorist organisation that operates with impunity, if not also immunity from
Pakistan, claims responsibility for the carnage. Given the well-known ties
between Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and JeM, the understandable assumption
is that Rawalpindi has been complicit in the dastardly attack and Islamabad
answerable for what has been conceived, planned and executed by Pakistan-based
handlers of Dar.
That India would
retaliate to this grave provocation, so close to the Lok Sabha polls, was
inevitable. Having suffered Mumbai in 2008 without anything more than appeals
to the international community no government now could merely beat its chest
and wring its hands in helplessness- certainly not the one led by Prime
Minister Narendra Modi and advised by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
In a muscular message
on February 26, Indian Air Force went deep into Pakistan, successfully bombed a
JeM training camp in Balakot and returned safely.
Pakistan Army and
Prime Minister Imran Khan too could not take the Indian action lying down. They
simply could not afford a repeat of the Operation Geronimo, which took out
Osama bin Laden from Abbottabad in Pakistan.
albeit feebly, on February 27 when its Air Force crept into Indian airspace and
when challenged by air defence and interceptors, hurriedly dropped bombs in
stray isolated areas before trying to return to safety.
In the ensuing dog
fight, though a Pakistan aircraft was downed, dynamics of unfolding events
changed as India lost a MIG 27 and its pilot was captured by Pakistan. Imperatives
for New Delhi altered to bring the pilot back as the narrative of a successful
muscular message to Pakistan would not have washed with images of the brave
young Wing Commander in enemy hands.
This provided the
international community with an opportunity to put pressure on Pakistan and
defuse the rising tensions. Realising his limited options, Imran Khan quickly
made the best of a difficult situation. Appearing magnanimous and conciliatory,
he ordered unconditional release of the pilot, returning him on March 1 in
civilian clothes quickly stitched by some Pindi tailor.
Pakistan has pleaded,
with some support from China, that it has been implicated in the suicide
bombing prematurely. Its apologists point to the country’s impoverished state which
has led Khan to go around with a begging bowl to potential benefactors.
They argue such a
provocation risking war would be most untimely and so Indian accusations are
implausible. This has found no takers. The entire operation of spotting a
disgruntled Kashmiri, targeting, cultivating, motivating, training him and
arranging the explosives and vehicle is beyond the capability of indigenous
It has the imprint of
Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. Pressured by Indian security
forces, especially in south Kashmir, sagging morale of the militants needed boosting.
Confident of China’s support and smug over Washington’s desperation for
Pakistan’s help to exit Afghanistan with its face intact, Rawalpindi thought it
could get away with cheekiness once again. So when frequent convoys presented
opportunity, the green signal would have been given.
Fall out of this
episode has not been to Pakistan’s advantage. Its nuclear bluff has been
called. It did not receive the kind of support it expected from China which
asked it to cool things down.
The US accepted India’s
right to defence implying Pakistan was the aggressor. It realised prolonging
the standoff was not to its advantage. Yet, by retaliating to the Indian strike
on Balakot, downing and taking an Indian pilot prisoner, Pakistan has been able
to claim it stood up to India. It has once again brought the world’s focus on
Kashmir. How much it will succumb to international pressure to crack down on
Islamic terror groups that target India remains to be seen.
For India too it has
been a mixed bag. Measures announced to punish Pakistan such as cancellation of
the MFN status and withholding water in excess of the Indus Treaty are
meaningless. Export of a mere $400 million is not about to cripple the security
apparatus in Pakistan. It will only hurt businessmen who have a vested interest
in trade with India. Nor does India have the infrastructure to store excess
water or divert it to its arid areas.
All claims of
isolating Pakistan too should be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt. While
there was no condemnation of India’s foray into Pakistan and bombing the JEM
camp, also some acknowledgement of its right to self-defence and pressure on
Islamabad to cool down, no country is about to disturb normal relations with
Pakistan- certainly not China, US or Saudi Arabia, who all have a vested
interest in stable Pakistan. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation may have
overruled Pakistan’s objections in inviting Sushma Swaraj but that did not
prevent it from crediting Imran for diffusing the faceoff and condemning “Indian
terrorism” in Kashmir!
The important point is
India has discarded its policy hitherto of appealing to the world and seeking
the high moral ground whenever provoked by Pakistan. It has announced that it
will take care of its own security and deal with its recalcitrant neighbour in
the manner it chooses.
This will make some
tanzeems fear reprisal the next time they indulge in trans-border terror. Yet,
one strike across the border may placate domestic public opinion but it is
unlikely to deter Pakistan and Islamic terror outfits operating from there.
Brokers of the world order will have to be convinced India will not hesitate to
raise the ante. Only that will impel them to pressure Pakistan into rolling the
terror network down.
Lastly, there needs to
be an acknowledgement that Pakistan is only taking advantage of our own
cleavages in the Valley and such incidents will recur. Adil Dar, the
perpetrator of the dastardly suicide bombing, was a Kashmiri youth who was
indoctrinated by radical Islam.
The Youtube video he
posted is disturbingly communal and reference to Ghazwa-e-Hind is particularly
frightening. As noted by the keen observer Arshad Alam, with rampant
unemployment in the valley, the alienated youth is caught between a coercive
security apparatus on one hand and a very conservative interpretation of Islam
on the other.
This leaves him very
little space to indulge in any creative pursuit of his choice. There is
disaster looming if he is not engaged. Hopefully, Pakistan, chastened if only
temporarily, will provide the opportunity to do so which policymakers will not