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Pulwama and after

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India lost the battle of perceptions, but it won the war of interests

Something curious happened during the recent India-Pakistan crisis: India may have lost the battle of perceptions, but it still won the war of interests. Consider New Delhi’s performance. Its rhetoric was bombastic and at times sarcastic. It struggled to bring clarity to the conflicting details surrounding its retaliatory strike on Pakistan. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi never addressed the nation during India’s worst security crisis in years.

Now consider Islamabad’s performance. After India’s strike on Balakot (in picture), Pakistan responded swiftly with its own strike that generated little confusion. Soon thereafter, Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was front and centre during the entire crisis, called on Mr. Modi to “give peace a chance” and announced the release of the Indian pilot captured by Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, international media coverage described Mr. Khan as “deft and steely” and spoke of “clumsy Indian information management”.

Yet, for India, its interests have been ably served. The strike on Balakot was widely supported by the international community. Few countries expressed public opposition. Many governments are now calling on Pakistan to act more robustly against terrorist groups, and Islamabad has pledged to do so. While this promise, made many times before, will understandably be treated with scepticism in New Delhi, fresh global pressure may give India some new hope.

Meanwhile, except for a strongly worded statement from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, few countries, as Pakistan would have liked them to do, have pushed for a greater focus on Kashmir and how India’s brutal tactics there stir unrest, spark bilateral tensions, and help produce extremists. One possible factor behind this broad international support is the strong resonance of the Islamist terror threat around the world. In recent years, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and their affiliates have wreaked havoc globally. While both groups are now weakened, they remain potent — and the world doesn’t want to let down its guard, particularly with entities like the Jaish-e-Mohammad enjoying a resurgence. A second factor is Pakistan’s image problem. Though Islamabad has sought for years to get Kashmir on the agendas of nation states and international fora, it has had limited success, particularly in the West, outside of discussions at the UN and EU. India, meanwhile, has had no trouble getting countries and global groupings to amplify the problem of Pakistan-based terrorism.

In effect, Pakistan isn’t isolated, and it has powerful friends, but India has been more successful in getting the international community to support its interests. This, in part, can be attributed to India’s reputation overseas as a more responsible and credible global player than Pakistan.

The writer is Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia with the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Washington, DC

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 10:56:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/pulwama-and-after/article26515469.ece

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