Of late, relations between India and Pakistan have soured, to say the least. Continuous tensions along the Line of Control, India’s efforts to realign the control positions at Haji Pir and the vitriolic stance taken by Times Now of Times of India to build an anti-Pakistan hype ultimately failed. The apparent purpose was to use the oft repeated image of an unreliable Pakistan to whip Indian public support in favour of the ruling party and balance out the criticism from the revivalist Hindu looking BJP. India was caught once again using the Pakistan proxy for the consumption of its domestic audience.
Earlier, Ajmal Kasab was hanged in haste for his role in the Taj Mahal massacre, despite the fact that the issue is still within the ambit of judicial CBMs between India and Pakistan. It also means that the only living witness of the events is no more. As a final build up, Afzal Guru was hanged in secrecy whilst many human rights organisations feel the act never served the ends of justice. Had it not been for the saner individuals like Karan Thappa in the Indian media, the Indian government, military and air chiefs and media spinners like Arnab Goswami could have led India-Pakistan relations to a lowly nadir. The question is: what made India so jittery?
Discomforts and fluctuations in the Indo-Pakistan relations are endemic. Till such time that the core irritants like Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen are not settled, the Line of Control will continue to provide a flashpoint where the two nuclear-armed countries will flare up and look eyeball to eyeball.
This is exactly what continued to brew unnoticed from November 2012 till the recent escalation in January this year. Pakistani detractors critical of the events seized the occasion to blame Pakistan Army for fermenting clouds of war to eclipse the eminent national elections. Conspiracy theorists were quick to offload their opinions and establish links between the forthcoming elections, sudden appearance of Dr Tahirul Qadri and the escalation in Kashmir as one link to the defence establishment’s ambitions.
During these trying days when Pakistani soldiers were being beheaded and killed in cold blood, a particular segment of the Pakistani media spared no occasion to slight the Pakistan Army. With the passage of time, this episode passed away and a tense truce prevailed. But does this answer the question: what makes India so jittery?
The answer can, perhaps, be found in the US exit plans from Afghanistan. India appears to realise that its Afghan policy, in spite of massive investments, is going to reap limited rewards and certainly not a policeman’s role in the region after the US withdrawal.
The Government of Pakistan, despite a pathetic performance in governance and economy, has somehow managed to stay in control of its Afghan policy and steer it in a direction that keeps Pakistan indispensible to a post-withdrawal scenario. Despite the violence in Balochistan created by diverse groups controlled both by non-state actors and foreign powers, the government of Pakistan has remained steadfast in its Gwadar and Iran policy.
As a result, it gives Pakistan enough leverage to ward off such threats to its integrity and raise its stakes in the solutions to the Afghan crises. John Kerry’s appointment as Secretary of State and Chuck Hagel’s as Secretary of Defence by President Barack Obama sends a message to India that Pakistan is indispensible. Hagel’s statements in the past alleging Indian interference in Balochistan through Afghanistan and his flexible stance on Iran create enough ripples to make India jittery and the Line of Control an ugly reality that can bring the kettle to boil at will.
Like so many crises of the past, Pakistan has somehow managed to outlive this one but only temporarily. There are many more challenges ahead and Pakistan needs drastic measures to address them to hedge stakes, as a viable international ally and regional actor.
First, the Foreign and Defence Ministries have to work overtime and imaginatively to neutralise the destructive effects of a volcanic Line of Control. This means viable and maintainable CBMs across both sides of the divide that ultimately make flare ups inconsequential. Traffic across the line needs to be eased up further for the local populations with a common lineage, culture and religion. In the run up to the resolution of the Kashmir issue under the UN Resolution of 1948 and Constitution of Pakistan, the intermediary objectives could be mutually-agreed reduction of armed forces on both sides and ultimately policing of the area by civil armed forces. Pakistan’s commitments to a peaceful and just solution, according to the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, must remain at premium.
Secondly, India on its part could follow the same suggestions pending a final solution to the Kashmir issue. The Indian policy planners must beware that exploitation of Pakistan’s weak economic conditions cannot be exploited to advance its interests contrary to security perspectives of Pakistan. India must take full advantage of its growing trade relations with Pakistan to create durable alternate links. Its biggest trust building initiative would be to stop material and financial assistance to non-state actors in Pakistan. The fact that nuclear weapons preclude large-scale military actions is a reminder enough that it is time for peace without proxies.
Thirdly, Pakistan mired in its precarious financial and governance issues needs to take a new guard on the stumps where all short to long term policies converge towards the ultimate objective of a self-reliant, proud and credible Pakistan. Unfortunately, the election period will also be the worst economic period in its history. Yet, the regional and economic imperatives indicate that Pakistan would ultimately get some breathing space in these self-created crises. The interim government will have to shoulder the twin responsibilities of conducting credible elections and applying brakes to the economic downturn.
Fourthly, Pakistan will have to re-adjust its policy towards Afghanistan in a manner that removes jitters for the Afghan people and international community. It is Pakistan’s responsibility to exercise its influence over the friendly Afghan militant factions towards moderation and, hence, a bigger role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan has to reinforce its trust building measures in Afghanistan with affirmative action in diplomacy and the binding social commonality.
Lastly, the people of Pakistan will have to seize the moment and make a conscientious use of their vote with heavy turnouts to produce dedicated, honest and professional political leadership. It is also the responsibility of every voter to break away from the traditional voting culture and opt for a change. “Khushal Banay Gha Pakistan” should be every citizen’s slogan. Ultimately, it is this national cohesion that would secure Pakistan’s security. Most, it will make it difficult for India to cry wolf over Pakistan.
The writer is a retired army officer, current affairs host on television and political economist.