Pakistan poses multiple challenges
Pakistan currently faces three challenges; a secessionist threat from Balochistan, internal unrest in the country, and local terrorism which is taking a heavy toll on life almost every day. Hardly a day passes without a blast somewhere in Pakistan, which results in deaths of its own civilians. Despite an elected government, Army still plays a dominant role; in a way encourages militancy locally and across borders.
Whatever Pakistan may say about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, its record in Balochistan is worse. The Pakistan Army is trying to crush the uprising ruthlessly and there has been a gross violation of human rights. Some compare the situation in Balochistan to J&K but there is a difference. Only a small section, led by hardliners want to go with Pakistan. They want “Azadi” which is not possible in the given situation.
One wonders why, with all its internal unrest and a revolt brewing in Balochistan, Pakistan should send militants across the border in Kashmir to foment trouble and be killed. It is clear that Pakistan government is not fully in control of the situation.
Nawaz Sharif is in danger of being undercut by his own army. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Raiwind visit was followed by the Pathankot attack. Just as Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Lahore bus journey was followed by Kargil invasion. India’s inability to distinguish between Sharif’s friendly feeling and the Pakistan Army’s more complicated games persuaded Sharif to appease the army at home.
The gruesome death of 18 jawans in Uri is arguably a defining moment for Modi’s foreign policy. But India’s larger enduring strategic puzzle remains the same. How do you deal with a nuclear state that uses terror as an instrument and which is still back by major powers? How do you deal with a state where the army has the incentive to maintain centrality, whose identity is marked by resentment? There are no easy or comfortable answers. Pakistan is a state where defeat leads to even more militarisation and radicalisation; this is a state that is willing to bear the cost of great internal violence, so a little more experience of internal violence will hardly make a dent. It makes a reasonable assumption about the risk of escalation.
The stakes are too high to ignore this risk. It calls in question the Indian state’s capabilities. It also draws on experience; societies are not weakened just by terrorism as much as they are by overreactions. Under some circumstances, restraint can be a form of deterrence if the other side does not get the political leverage it hoped for.
It is also based on the recognition that India-Pakistan dispute is not a conventional problem; it is a long psychological and historical process. Restraint also plays to India’s advantage; India’s strength and standing have increased immeasurably during the last decade or so.
After 1971, instead of crafting a new, perhaps more liberal political identity, Pakistan used violence and Islam more as a plank of statecraft. This is not a question of blame. But it is elementary political logic that you raise the ante with another symbolic existential threat in Balochistan, there will be blowback from a state that has no compunctions of any kind.
Second, the military-civilian tussle is still a live issue in Pakistan and keeping the India pot boiling has always been a central element to it. Third, Pakistan’s strategy of “internationalisation” has always rested on creating a sense of apocalyptic violence in South Asia. It operates on the assumption that bad behaviour that can be shown to destabilise the region will get the world’s attention. Therefore, India’s restrained response has it chafing. Fourth, arguably uncertainty in the US is tempting many powers to be adventurous. Finally, there is the immediate context of Kashmir.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s address to UN General Assembly was lacklustre. He, as usual, raked up Kashmir issue and glorified slain Hizbul Commander Burhan Wani as a young leader even as he expressed readiness for a “serious and sustained dialogue” with India for peaceful resolution of outstanding disputes, especially Jammu and Kashmir. Sharif’s remarks drew a sharp reaction from India. Glorification of Wani shows Pakistan's continued attachment to terrorism. Also, Sharif poses unacceptable conditions to a dialogue. India’s only condition is an end to terrorism, said Vikas Swarup, spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry.
In a fresh development, two American lawmakers introduce a bill in the US Congress that aims to designate Pakistan a terrorist state. It is a humiliation to Pakistan. The US move to declare Pakistan a terrorist state came ahead of Sharif’s address to UN General Assembly. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)