South Asia is yet again at the precipice of a war-like situation. “Save our Soul,” tweeted senior Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Geelani. The use of cluster ammunition by India, prohibited internationally under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, on the civilian population along the Line of Control in Kashmir is unprecedented. This indicates that India is ready to use sophisticated methods to shatter the will of the Kashmiri people.
The Imran-Trump Summit that brought the Kashmir issue under international light has taken India by diplomatic and political surprise. Imran Khan has, through his charismatic personality and strong political-military cooperation, discredited the Indian version of the Kashmir dispute.
India seems to be uneasy ever since Trump’s acknowledgement to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. Its reiteration on July 30, 2019 further incensed the Indians. The resulting actions were: one, the issuance of travel advisory to the Hindu tourists, the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims and students to leave the valley; and two, the use of cluster munitions on the night of July 30/31, 2019 by the Indian army against the unarmed civilian population. The situation is exacerbating, in turn, demanding a reappraisal of the dispute for better comprehension.
The Kashmir dispute has been unresolved since 1947. Both India and Pakistan have emotional attachments to the issue and feel right in their respective claims over the valley. Wars of 1948, 1965, 1971 and the Kargil Conflict have all been single-mission military ventures i.e. securing the Kashmir Valley. Till the 1965 war the Kashmir issue remained under international light; however, since the Shimla Agreement in 1972, India successfully limited the dispute to bilateral level.
Pakistan had lost international steam on the Kashmir issue after the 9/11 incident which introduced terrorism as a new kind of tangible threat to global peace and stability. India took full advantage of the US-led terrorism narrative and was quite successful in misleading the world that the indigenous Kashmiri liberation movement was nothing but a terrorist movement supported by Pakistan. India did not leave any international forum to malign Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism, that too without proof. However, in-spite of all the efforts, India has fallen short of defaming Pakistan and was abashed on multiple forums including the United Nations. The recent episode of the Indian failure in getting Pakistan included in the FATF blacklist is a case in point. The US announcement of its withdrawal from Afghanistan and its acknowledgement of Pakistan as the main actor for restoring peace did not gel well with the Indian scheme of keeping Pakistan embroiled in a two-front war scenario. India felt betrayed and defeated with regard to its political and military investments in the Afghan power politics.
The Indian leadership is extremely distraught by the sudden turn of events that have put their strategic interests, especially keeping the Kashmir dispute low profiled for the last 48 years, at jeopardy. For the first time since 1971 the unresolved Kashmir dispute has been acknowledged internationally.
In such an unfavourable situation, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is on his heels to get back the lost political and diplomatic grounds through violent means. India seems to have decided to adopt the Chanakya and Kautilya approach of using power to meet its own ends. On the military front, India has already deployed thousands of troops inside Kashmir Valley while politically it has done away with Articles 35A and 370 of its constitution which accords special status to Kashmir. Through this, India attempts to redesign the Kashmir district borders to dilute Kashmiris into a minority. They apparently intend to implement the Israeli model, of subjugating the Palestinian population, in Kashmir.
Amidst such strategic environment, Pakistan’s think tanks are required to be proactive. India seems to be initiating a situation that could lead to sudden war, possibly nuclear exchange. It is likely that India could stage a terrorist incident on the lines of the Pulwama incident to divert attention.
At diplomatic and political levels, Pakistan should immediately send high-level delegations to all P-5 capitals to apprise them of the Indian scheme; brief all like-minded states to keep them abreast of the situation in Kashmir; and impel international institutions like the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the Red Cross and the export control regime of Wassenaar Arrangement to act, besides calling for special UNSC, UNGA and OIC meetings.
Domestically, Pakistan’s political elites must continue to focus on building the economy by eradicating corruption, inculcating tax culture and keeping the public informed about developments in order to have an assured collective national response.
Militarily, Pakistan has a robust armed force, duly equipped with the state-of-the-art conventional as well as strategic hardware. Pakistan would least desire to escalate the situation being a responsible nuclear state — which was evident from their controlled response to the Indian aerial intrusion after the Pulwama incident.
In a nutshell, India must understand ground realities. Instead of an armed conflict, it should look for a dialogue. War, if initiated, could unexpectedly spiral out of control. India must recognise that Kashmir and Palestine can’t be equated. Israel has had an assured US support while Indian-US relation is nothing but a mere ‘marriage of convenience’ that has come close to divorce many a time in the recent past. Albeit, war under a nuclear overhang is highly unexpected; however, the choice of war or peace lies with India. Pakistan would respond befittingly in both the cases.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2019.