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A return to belligerence

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. ended on a high note, despite Pakistan introducing a sour note towards the end. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, addressing the UN General Assembly at about the same time as the Prime Minister was in New York, used the opportunity to make > an all-out attack on India over the Kashmir issue. Not since 1971 has Pakistan launched such a frontal attack, and on this scale, in the UN. In recent years, references to Kashmir by Pakistani interlocutors have tended to be more ritualistic in character — intended mainly to ensure that the world did not forget the existence of the dispute. This time, however, there was no mistaking the viciousness of the attack.

The charge was led by the Prime Minister himself, and later followed up by Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the UN, Maleeha Lodhi. This cannot be treated as routine, and the attacks can hardly be ignored.

M. K. Narayanan

Ufa thaw freezes

At their > meeting in Ufa , Russia, in July, the two Prime Ministers had agreed to hold talks on a broad spectrum of issues. The about-turn within two months, hence, appears all the more surprising and inexplicable. There is reason enough, therefore, to ponder over what might have brought the two countries to this situation, and what it portends. While Pakistani leaders — both civilian and military — are not always guided by cognitive reasoning, the present onslaught should not be viewed as merely an act of defiance, but needs to be seen in the nature of a threat.

In the past, Pakistan has been quite willing to risk a conflict with India — even on specious grounds — ignoring its costs. Kargil 1999 was one example. Pakistan resorted to aggression in the Kargil sector notwithstanding the fact that both countries had, by then, become acknowledged nuclear powers. There was every likelihood of the Kargil adventure escalating into a much bigger conflict. India’s restraint alone prevented it from turning into a full-scale war. Nawaz Sharif — in his second stint as Prime Minister at that time — faced humiliation. However, in his subsequent stint, he has not demonstrated any greater sagacity or reason.

Mr. Sharif carries the image of a person who tends to ‘sail close to the wind’, living, no doubt, in the hope that this would add to his popularity, ignoring the costs involved. Kashmir has always been a ready issue for the Pakistani elite — and specially its military — to indulge in jingoism of the worst kind. A reference to Kashmir by Nawaz Sharif on the global stage was possibly aimed at whipping up patriotic frenzy at one level, but there could also be other reasons behind Pakistan’s current posture. It may, hence, be useful to decipher what lies beneath and what Islamabad may be planning.

This is important, for Pakistan has been needlessly provocative at the UN, with Mr. Sharif charging India with “keeping Kashmir under foreign occupation” and Pakistani Representative Lodhi accusing India of “human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir” and of “supporting and sponsoring Terrorism in Pakistan”. Evidently, the speeches at the UN were aimed at provoking India, and getting it to react in a manner that would afford an opportunity to Pakistan to try and internationalise the Kashmir issue, thus reverting to the situation that existed during the 1950s and the 1960s. India must not be provoked into any kind of knee-jerk response; on the other hand, it should try and see whether there is some method behind Pakistan’s madness.

The circumstances that currently prevail in Pakistan and in the region, add another important dimension. Pakistan already faces a host of problems, including violence in the regions of Sindh, Balochistan, Southern Punjab and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK); increasing sectarian violence; rise of religious extremism, including formation of newer bodies such as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat — which have subsumed organisations such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi; and continuing depredations by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. It should normally have been on the defensive, more intent on sorting out its domestic problems than on opening a new front against India. The opposite seems to be the case. It would be facile, indeed, to solely attribute this to Pakistan’s unpredictability.

All modern states have an army. However, Pakistan’s Army has a state. The Army is the real arbiter of Pakistan’s destiny. The Pakistani ‘Deep State’ comprises the Army, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the nuclear establishment, who call all the shots. Most influential in Pakistan is the Chief of the Army Staff, who far eclipses the Prime Minister in power and influence.

The Pakistani Army, which had been under a cloud during 2011-2013 — ever since it was discovered that Osama Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, and following his eventual elimination by the U.S. Special Forces — has recovered its former élan. This follows the success of >Operation Zarb-e-Azb in north Waziristan and that other steps aimed at dealing with terrorism inside the country. The rising profile of the Army perhaps explains Pakistan’s recent sabre-rattling and its accusations that India was “acting as a superpower” and that Pakistan “as a nuclear power, knew how to defend itself”.

Ties with Beijing These are signs that Pakistan is possibly becoming overconfident. One reason for such overconfidence could be the deepening of Pakistan’s economic and military relations with China. The ‘lips and teeth relationship’ that Islamabad claims to have with Beijing has already made the former’s armed forces more assertive. >Promises by China of new additions to its Air Force; the range of battlefield weapons that Pakistan currently possesses, and hopes of securing more consequent to additional U.S. assistance; and an availability of short-range, medium-range and long-range missiles, have all induced greater confidence in Pakistan when it comes to its ability to take on India. Even more threatening in this context is that only very recently Pakistan announced an upgrading of its declared nuclear position. It has reiterated its resolve to maintain full spectrum deterrence capability to respond to any perceived threat from India, and seems to be of the view that it has overtaken India on several nuclear weapon-related metrics.

Such overconfidence spells danger for India. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s provocative speech in the UN General Assembly is possibly an outcome of this kind of overconfidence and should thus be a wake-up call for India. India must not also ignore in this backdrop, two other important developments: one, heading the Pakistan Army today is a highly ambitious individual — Army Chief General Raheel Sharif — who has possibly accumulated more powers than any of his recent predecessors. He holds an undisputed sway because of the Army’s success in dealing with terrorism in Waziristan and Sindh. Countries having large armies led by ambitious generals are only looking for a cause.

Two, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed — identified as an international terrorist — has had his cult status further enlarged. His following in Pakistan is growing, and his battle cry for “capturing Kashmir” is gaining wider resonance. The Lashkar’s terrorist infrastructure is simultaneously expanding at an alarming rate.

The rest of the world may also not mind a diversion of attention to Kashmir, to take the pressure off the current migrants’ crisis’ that threatens to undermine the fragile unity that underpins the European Union (EU). A Kashmir crisis at this juncture – which has the potential to spark a nuclear conflict — is just the kind of remedy that many European strategists could be looking for, to divert attention from a collapse of the Schengen system and dreams of a borderless Europe.

All these aspects need to be carefully weighed by India while deciding on the right kind of strategy. It must not afford an opportunity to warmongers in Pakistan to call the shots, and create a fresh set of problems for India. India must never forget that the peculiar combination of state weakness and propensity for perilous risk-taking, makes Pakistan inherently dangerous.

( M.K. Narayanan is a former National Security Advisor and former Governor of West Bengal .)


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Printable version | Aug 16, 2022 10:26:07 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-return-to-belligerence/article7743762.ece