Friday, 16 August 2019
How Pakistan reacts to the change wrought by the reductionof Jammu and Kashmir from its special status to a Union Territory is dependent on how India manages the storm after the ongoing lull in Kashmir.
Pakistan has taken the diplomatic route to reaffirm the disputed status of Kashmir and has upped the rhetoric for domestic consumption purposes. The last corps commanders’ conference at Rawalpindiconcluded that the constitutional re-engineering in India was of no significance as Article 370 was a ‘sham’ anyway.
Pakistan cannot for now be accused of over-reaction. Indian army chief, General Bipin Rawat, confirms that the movement India’s sensors have picked up appeared to be precautionary in nature.
For its part, India appears to have prepared well. The additional paramilitary troops pumped in help keep the Valley from turmoil, while relieving the army to look outwards. Such preparedness deters.
India’s heightened readiness explains Pakistan’s projection of nonchalance. It can at best use the interim as the diplomatic moves play out for covert preparations of its own. Reports are of its readying to give ‘good terrorists’ a loose rope.
Pakistan shot off a pre-emptive salvo on August 1 hoping to drag the UN secretary general in. In his press statement on India’s move, the secretary general urged the two sides to stick with the status quo.
Currently, petitioned by Pakistan, the chair of the UN Security Council — held by Poland this month — is considering a closed door meeting of the council. China, meeting with Pakistan’s foreign minister during his lightening visit to Beijing, has indicated that it would back Pakistan’s case.
However, at a subsequent pre-planned visit of India’s foreign minister, China has been reassured that the move has no significance for either the Line of Actual Control or Line of Control. In any case, with Russianvoicing of its support, India will not be without friends at the UNSC.
Since India has kept the situation under control so far, the UNSC will be hard put to step in, using a threat to international security as excuse — even if it hypothetically wished to.
Thus, the scene will shift from the council to the General Assembly late next month. The assembly is to be addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after a long gap. The usual India-Pakistan joust in its chambers can be expected, fire and fury signifying little.
Diplomatically, Pakistan hopes for a UN endorsement and reiteration of the disputed nature of Kashmir in order to keep its foot in the door into the future. India, for its part, not having rescinded either the Simla Agreement or the Lahore Declaration, will project that bilateral solution is held up by Pakistan sticking to proxy war.
Will this bit of a diplomatic offensive be enough to keep Pakistan from harsher steps?
Pakistan’s next steps will depend on how India manages its loosening up of its ongoing strict restrictions in Kashmir. Should India manage to keep the lid in Kashmir wherein the angst against the Centre’s decision is exhausted in wisely-handled agitations, India would be over the hump.
In such a case, Pakistan will have an alibi to stand down. Its ‘good terrorists’ too would not have much to impel them. Even so, to divert them, Pakistan may seek to pump in enough cannon fodder and material to extend the life of the insurgency considerably whittled by India’s Operation All Out over the past three years.
Self-restraint has dividend for Pakistan. Having delivered Taliban to the negotiation table, Pakistan is back at supping with the Americans. After stabilising its western front over the winter, Pakistan could revert in good time to proxy war towards its east. The spotlight of the financial action task force on it till October over terrorism would also have shifted by then.
However, in case of India’s reaction to impending agitations in Kashmir going awry, pressures on Pakistan’s army from its terror proxies would be considerable.
Pakistan PM Imran Khan has provided the political framing for an ensuing conflict, comparing India’s regime with Nazism. This foregrounds preventive war over appeasement as appropriate strategy. Besides, he has drawn attention to war by inadvertent escalation from a Pulwama 2.0.
Pakistan could seek diplomatic gains by focusing on Kashmir as a (nuclear) flash point, looking to US President Donald Trump to intervene. Though Trump’s offer of mediation during his late July meeting with Khan was dismissed by India as fantasy, he will prioritise his Afghanistan-exit strategy.
The ball is therefore in India’s court. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s camping in Kashmir has helped ride out the lull before the storm. India has done well to prepare also for the ‘worst case’ by creating the post of a chief of defence staff timely.
Nevertheless, the final word on the constitutional initiative awaits creation of conditions for the promised governance and development. It has had a relatively stable start. However, the jury remains out and its verdict could yet be jerry-rigged by Pakistan.