After the Pulwama Terror Attack, India and Pakistan diplomatic ties have been severely ruptured even as India’s rhetoric to fight terrorism and Pakistan blame game continues
By Seema Guha
Dark clouds are looming over South Asia as tension escalates between nuclear armed neighbours India and Pakistan. The two countries are on edge and something has to give, sooner than later as India mulls over retaliation for the deadly suicide attack which killed 40 security men in Pulawama in Jammu & Kashmir. The timing of the attack, months away from national elections is bound to weave into the election rhetoric of the ruling BJP. People in India are baying for revenge. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan PM Imran Khan have whipped up the rhetoric.
“To the people who have gathered here, I would like to say the fire that is raging in your bosoms is in my heart too,’’ Modi said at a rally on Sunday.
“All this ‘attack Pakistan’ talk is all keeping elections in mind. But if at all these are serious, please make note of one thing clearly — Pakistan will not think of retaliating, it will retaliate,” Imran Khan warned India. He denied a Pakistan hand in the terror attack and asked for proof, as Pakistan always does.
But first to the mess in Kashmir. Pulwama was waiting to happen. It is a district in South Kashmir where militancy has taken deep roots. The security forces had knocked off a large number of militants in various operations in the last six months. In
mid-December, seven civilians including a school student died and scores of others in Pulwama got injured after an encounter between militants and the forces, where three terrorists were killed. Protests after the gun battle in Sirnoo village led to firing and the death of civilians.
Considering the level of anger in the valley and escalating tension since last year the terror attack was to be expected. The security lapse was obvious considering there were intelligence reports of a major attack. A car carrying the suicide bomber with over 40 kgs of explosives was allowed to slip through the convoy, resulting in the most deadly attack in the valley in over two decades. However the Modi government’s disastrous alliance with PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, its reliance on strong arm tactics has led to a situation where alienation is complete. The attack on Kashmiri students in the country triggered by the hyper nationalism of the ruling alliance will help to feed the anti-Kashmiri Muslim narrative rife in the valley.
The Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the anti-India terror group headed by Maulana Masood Azhar claimed responsibility for Pulwana. The young man who carried out the suicide bombing was a local youth from the area and had joined militancy just last year. Recruitment from the valley which had gone down to a trickle over the past decade is now in full flow. India needs to consider why this has happened. The state after all is under Governor’s rule and blaming the regional parties either the PDP or National Conference is no longer valid. Pakistan is being named and shamed. But that is not enough. Television anchors are baying for revenge. India has vowed to give a befitting answer in a time and place of its choosing. Imran Khan has denied India’s allegations and warned that the army was ready to retaliate immediately if India turned adventurous.
And now what? What can India do? In the ultra nationalistic environment that has spawned in the last five years, the mood in the country is anger and a befitting reply to Pakistan so that it does not dare to carry out another such attack. After the heavy chest thumping that followed the surgical strike after the Uri and Pathankot terror strikes in 2016, public expectations have soared. People want action. And in an election year, where the BJP unlike in 2014, is facing a major challenge the temptation to exploit the current situation is apparent. Action by India would play into the narrative of a strong and decisive leadership, which could give BJP a decisive advantage in the polls.
The government has already announced a few measures. It has revoked the Most favoured Status (MFN) which was given to Pakistan in 1996. Islamabad had not returned the favour. Finance minister Arun Jaitley also slapped 200 percent duties on imports from Pakistan. But considering the low level of trade between India and Pakistan, none of this will hurt the Pakistan government. Pakistan’s trade with India in 2018 was a mere $489 million. India’s exports for the same period to Pakistan was $1.9 billion. This is essentially a symbolic measure.
India will lobby with the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to place Pakistan in its black list. The FATF was established in 1989, to ensure the stability of the world financial system. It combats terror financing and money laundering. India’s argument would be that Pakistan needs to be punished for sponsoring terrorism in India. FATF is scheduled to hold a meeting later this month and Delhi is going all out with the French as well as the European Commission to nail Pakistan. That would be a major blow if Delhi succeeds and will hurt Pakistan’s economic interests.
Isolating Pakistan is easier said than done. Pakistan is not a small country, it has a population of 204.60 million, and is the sixth most populous nation in the world. It is also a nuclear power. What the government means by isolating Pakistan is to keep all major powers including the five UNSC members: US, UK, Russia, China and France in the loop. All nations that are important will be briefed by India about the JeM and the terror tactics that are deployed from Masood Azhar’s headquarters in Pakistan. The fact that the JeM continues to move freely in Pakistan and spread his hate campaign against India will be given out in detail. Having the major powers backing India against terror emanating from Pakistan will not be as difficult as it was in the early years. Since 2001, when American and NATO troops were positioned in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s army has been thoroughly exposed. Much of the damage to Pakistan’s reputation has already been done so getting the world to condemn Pakistan for nurturing terror outfits to strike India and Afghanistan is easy. Delhi’s aim is to prepare world opinion for any future action, military or otherwise that it may take against Pakistan is justified on the face of continuous provocation from POK.
Pakistan which had literally been in the dog house is now in a much better position vis-a-vis the international community. As President Donald Trump, prepares to wind down US troops from Afghanistan, he is impatient for a quick fire peace settlement with the Taliban. Here the US needs Pakistan’s co-operation.
Donald Trump raged against Pakistan in a speech in August 2017. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he declared. “But that will have to change, and that will change immediately.” After Pulwama, this was his reaction when questioned by reporters: Trump said it was a “horrible situation’’ and that it would be “wonderful’’ of India and Pakistan would get along. His officials of course had condemned the terror attack and asked Islamabad to act.
The Taliban, as is well known was nurtured and created by Pakistan’s spy agency and its army. Rawalpindi still enormous clout over the Taliban, and has with talks so far progressing well with the American’s, Pakistan is being wooed. Talks would be near impossible without Pakistan’s backing of the peace process. Russia too wants to be in the picture. Its overtures to Pakistan about three or four years ago were primarily with Afghanistan in mind. China, has always been a friend and strategic allay of Pakistan. Now President’s Xi Jinping’s belt and road initiative has brought in an important economic element to the relationship. In fact, though US military and civilian aid to Pakistan has been drastically slashed in the last couple of years, Pakistan can rely on China. Cash crunched Pakistan is not looking to funds at US and Europe. Both China and Saudi Arabia as well as UAE are ready to step in. Saudi Arabia has already extended an emergency loan of six billion to Prime Minister Imran Khan government. So has China and the UAE. During Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman visit on Sunday, agreements worth 20 billion were signed. In the joint communiqué released after the two-day visit of the Crown Prince, there was a telling reference to avoid “politicization of the UN listing regime.’’ This was a clear salvo against India’s unsuccessful efforts over the last few years of slapping UN sanctions on Maulana Masood Azhar. His outfit the JeM is already in the UN sanctions list. In short the circumstances at the moment are favourable to Pakistan. France and UK will take another shot at declaring Masood Azar an international terrorist in the UNSC.
The Saudi Crown Prince’s visit to India, immediately after his high profile trip to Pakistan was a damp squib in the context of Pulwama. Though there were references to terror and to end support for terror outfits, it is telling that during the joint read outs in Hyderabad House on Wednesday, the Crown Prince did not mention Pulwana or offer condolences. Bottomline is, the government should not expect Saudi Arabia to act against Pakistan. Pakistan has a long tradition of guarding the Saudi Royal family. Its former army chief Raheel Sharif is the head of the Islamic army, sponsored by Saudi Arabia to fight in Yemen.
India is unlikely to get flak from the international community if it goes ahead with a dramatic strike against the JeM or LeT. However Pakistan itself is ready for such an eventuality. Can India ensure that this does not escalate into a full scale war which neither country can afford?