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Pak escalates tensions

Ties between India and Pakistan are at a new low. On Monday, reports came in that the Indian government has reportedly “downgraded” Pakistan to a “no school-going mission”. As per the order, officials of the Indian High Commission will be required to take their children out of schools in Pakistan and send them out of the country. Sources in the government claim that the decision had been made more than a year ago, after a terror attack on a Peshawar school killed 144 children. Prior to this order, several countries had already made Pakistan a “no school-going mission”. But is it any surprise that New Delhi’s decision has been made public now? Tensions between both countries have escalated ever since Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by Indian security forces in Kashmir. His death was followed by a wave of unrest. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thought it wise to open old wounds again and expressed shock at Wani’s death. He raised “concerns” about the human rights violations by Indian security personnel and further sought to instigate the Indian government, by claiming that he was “waiting for the day when Kashmir becomes Pakistan”. 

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj responded to this provocation by saying that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir belonged to India and that the neighbouring country can never “make this heaven on earth a haven for terrorists”. During a speech in the Lok Sabha last week, MJ Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs, had described the current dispute over Kashmir as an “existential fight”, where the strength of the secular “one nation principle” would be tested. Finally, attacking Pakistan for its role in fomenting trouble in Kashmir, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said: “Its role has not been paak (pure) on Kashmir. Pakistan should change its attitude and approach towards Kashmir.” Asking people to give their “constructive suggestions” to bring peace in the state, he said, “there is no need of any third force to improve the situation in Kashmir”. It is true that Pakistan seeks to foment trouble in the region. But it is also true that the neighbouring country has only exploited the discontentment that exists in the Valley.

Suffice it to say, both Islamabad and New Delhi have allowed tensions to escalate alarmingly fast. The posturing on display by both sides cannot and will not yield any solutions to the current impasse. The noise coming out of both sides needs to be turned down. It is entirely plausible that New Delhi’s “no school-going mission” order for its staff members could be a genuine security measure. But the manner in which both sides have upped the ante, New Delhi’s latest decision seems like an act of antagonism. Yesterday’s column spoke of the steps the Government of India could take in restoring peace and winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people. But today, it is imperative to examine the role the Pakistani government and its military intelligence agency have played in fomenting trouble in Kashmir. Successive Pakistani governments, in collusion with the armed forces and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), have tolerated these extreme elements in the past and used them to pursue strategic aims in Kashmir, Afghanistan, and parts of Central Asia. Most geostrategy experts are of the opinion that Pakistan has constantly indulged in these double games to pursue their strategic objectives. Unfortunately, and predictably, such troubled elements came back home and caused one of the worst terrorist backlashes in the entire region. Despite reports of a crackdown against these terror outfits, many are still unsure whether this double game will subside.

Terrorists and their backers in the Pakistani state establishment use the recent unrest in Kashmir and attacks like the one on the Pathankot air base in January to maintain the hostility between and India and Pakistan. In the event of permanent peace arrangement with India, the general understanding among observers on both sides of the national divide is that the Pakistan army would lose its predominant position in Pakistani society. However, can such a rationale outweigh the damage terror organisations have caused to Pakistan’s internal security? Despite constant terror attacks on the Pakistan military’s establishment, few lessons have been learnt. “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbor,” as former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had once remarked. “The state is willing to crush jihadi groups that engage in violence against Pakistani citizens and security personnel but has no qualms about the mobilisation of jihadis that target other countries, particularly India, Afghanistan, and even the United States,” says Hussain Haqqani, the former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States and a leading South Asia expert. 

“The problem with this policy has been that jihadi groups do not make the distinctions made by the government and often collaborate with each other on the ground.” What makes it worse in the Indian context is that some in the Pakistani establishment are unwilling to give up on “bleeding India with a thousand cuts” with the help of terrorists.
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