ISLAMABAD: The Indian claim of carrying out ‘surgical strikes’ is still shrouded in mystery while Pakistan insists no such activity took place on its side of the Line of Control (LoC) before dawn on Thursday.
On the contrary, an Indian minister on Friday retracted his country’s earlier claim that helicopters were used during the ‘surgical strikes’. The retraction by Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore cast doubts on the Indian narrative and reinforced the view that the term ‘surgical strikes’ might have been used by the Modi administration just for public consumption.
Claims and counter claims aside, the evolving situation and aggressive posturing by India has thrown serious challenges for Pakistan both at the diplomatic and military fronts.
Although Pakistan vehemently denied India carried out any ‘surgical strikes’, a series of huddles both at political and military levels suggest it is not business as usual. “These activities point to one thing that Pakistan is confronted with serious challenges in the evolving scenario,” former ambassador and strategic affairs expert Ali Sarwar Naqvi told The Express Tribune.
Militarily, what India is trying to achieve under the Modi government is to change the rules of engagement at the de facto border. Though the Indian claim is debatable, the fact that New Delhi publicly announced its special forces intruded into the Pakistani side of the LoC is tantamount to setting a dangerous precedent.
Under the existing rules of engagements, Pakistan and Indian forces exchange small arm and sometimes artillery fire but without intruding into each other’s controlled part of Kashmir. Therefore, Indian troops’ purported intrusion is a red line that Pakistan always says if breached would be considered as an act of war.
But despite Indian provocation, even if it is for public consumption, Pakistan appears to be following a careful policy that is to show military restraint but pursue a pro-active diplomacy, according to officials, who spoke to The Express Tribune off the record.
They say that while showing military restraint and preferring proactive diplomacy, the Pakistan government will convey to the global community that this approach should not be construed as its weakness.
“Pakistan must take key global capitals into confidence on the progressive defensive measures it will take in case of further escalation of tensions by Indian security forces across the LoC, especially in the case of hot pursuit,” said Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed, who teaches international politics at the Quaid-i-Azam University.
According to Pakistan’s assessment, India wanted to achieve two objectives through publicly claiming that its forces carried out surgical strikes (a) to divert global attention from the Kashmir situation, (b) to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in the long term.
“So, Pakistan will not fall into the Indian trap,” said one official. And Dr Ishtiaq agrees with this policy, saying Pakistan should respond to the situation keeping in mind Indian tactics. On the diplomatic front, major challenge for Pakistan is to counter the narrative being built by India that it is responsible for terrorist attacks in the neighboring country.
More worrying thing for Islamabad is that powerful countries, including the US, have somehow maintained either silence or tacitly supportive of Modi’s aggressive posturing towards Pakistan.
“India is presenting itself as a victim of cross-border terrorism. We need to counter this narrative through a well-crafted policy,” former ambassador to the US Abid Hussain said.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2016.