Pakistan yet to figure out next step
For the Pakistan army, India’s “surgical strikes” on the jihadi camps across the Line of Control (LoC) have proved its longstanding contention about an existential threat from India.
The Deep State (DS) comprising the Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) can now claim that they always knew India hadn’t accepted the existence of Pakistan, notwithstanding Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore in 1999 to signify India’s acknowledgement of partition.
The DS will now feel confident that no further attempts will be made by the leaders of the two countries to take the road to peace – at least not in the immediate future.
In the past, whenever such attempts were made, as by Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf or by Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, the DS had engineered a terror strike to frustrate the civilian leaders.
Now, not only will the civilian establishment in Pakistan desist from reaching out to India, but it will also take a back seat at a time when the looming clouds of a war threaten the subcontinent. The army chief, General Raheel Sharif, is now the “real” Sharif, as is currently being said in Pakistan.
The Pakistan army has returned to its familiar role, therefore, of being the master of all it surveys in the country. It can pat itself on the back for having achieved the objective yet again of being the de facto rulers without having to organise a coup, which is rarely appreciated by the international community.
Having strengthened its grip on Pakistan, the army will have to figure out the next step. One disadvantage is that it may have to be less proactive in the matter of carrying out terror strikes on Kashmir or elsewhere in India, ala 26/11, not because it has become wary about the acts of provocation, but because the jihadi mayhem will confirm India’s accusation of Pakistan being in the ivy league of terror.
Yet, the army cannot afford to sit idly either, for that will give the impression that it has been unnerved by India’s sabre-rattling. For the first time, there is open talk in India of overt and covert action. The Pakistan army will probably wait for a decent interval, therefore, before sending jihadis across the LoC.
At the same time, the gap between Uri and the next target cannot be too long if only to ensure that the separatists in Kashmir do not feel being let down.
But it isn’t only putting its pet rottweilers of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) on hold which will be problematic for the army as the reaction of outfits like Tehreek-e-Taliban, the so-called “bad” terrorists, which are not friendly towards Pakistan, as opposed to the “good” terrorists like LeT and JeM.
In view of the likelihood of Pakistan moving a substantial portion of the army towards the border with India in the east, the western regions will be left largely unguarded against the anti-Pakistan Islamists. If the latter step up their depredations, taking advantage of the army’s absence, Pakistan’s reputation as a dysfunctional state apart from being the nursery of terror will be highlighted.
Such a state of affairs may enable Pakistan to claim that it is a victim of terror while the unrest in Kashmir is the handiwork of “freedom fighters”. But there may not be too many takers for this line, for as the Afghan vice-president, Sarwar Danish, told the UN General Assembly, “the world knows where Taliban leaders live”.
The increase in terrorism in Pakistan’s western regions will be a cause of despair, therefore, for the army which will not be balanced by its success in emasculating the civilian leadership and establishing its stranglehold on the country.
In addition, the army will undoubtedly rue the signs of proximity between India and Afghanistan, which have an unmistakable military dimension. What was regarded by the Pakistan army as an area of strategic depth in the event of a war with India, has now been converted into an area of strategic vulnerability.
Although there is unlikely to be a war, the presence of the Indian army in the east and of the Afghan army backed by India in the north cannot but be a matter of concern in Rawalpindi, now the “real” capital instead of Islamabad.
Pakistan’s only solace at present is the support which it is getting from China with, first, its blockage of water in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra in retaliation for India’s threat to undo the Indus treaty and, secondly, by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the JeM’s Masood Azhar.
But, in the process, China itself will earn a bad name, confirming its reputation for irresponsibility as after its refusal to abide by an international tribunal’s diktat on the South China Sea.
India, on its part, will know that of the two rogue nations to its north, Pakistan’s dysfunctional status cannot but increase as the “real” Sharif recognises that he can no longer pursue his policy of waging a proxy war via the jihadis without paying a heavy price.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)