Kashmir: Unsolicited advice for Pakistan

By Ali Ahmed

Aug 10, 2019

New Delhi: Pakistan was likely foxed by India’s speedy conversion of Kashmir from being a status with a special status to a mere territory of the Union. Its intelligence agencies were perhaps mulling over New Delhi’s information war offensive when India struck with the momentous action.

Not that rumours were not aplenty that could have alerted the Pakistanis to expect a surprise, including a setback on the Article 370 front. Nevertheless, it was only on India revealing its hand that Pakistan got into response gear.

Pakistan now requires a sober, ‘diplomacy-first response’. This is to make a virtue of a necessity. Imran Khan while addressing parliament rhetorically asked whether under the circumstance he was expected to attack India, knowing well the adverse power equations and that India would likely have taken the preparatory steps militarily prior to the announcements in its parliament. Also, Pakistan’s economic health is best indicated by its borrowings from the monetary fund and its being under scrutiny by the task force on terrorism financing. Such straits permit little leg room for any other response. This could persist till its diplomatic energy culminates on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly late next month.

Islamabad is no doubt keeping watch for an Indian misstep in handling the blow back from the people in Kashmir, who have been kept in a lockdown state for the past week. The much-feared aftermath of Friday prayers in the Valley reportedly led to a score of casualties from pellet gun discharge. There are further occasions that can yet witness escalatory spiral: the forthcoming Eid, Pakistan’s independence day (to be celebrated in Pakistan as a day of solidarity with Kashmiris) and India’s independence day, followed by yet another Friday.

It awaits bad news with bated breath. It would enable Pakistan a foot in the door. It can help it frame its case at the UN. It can help legitimize its reversion to proxy war that had of late been substituted by an indigenisation of the insurgency. Reactivating its proxy war to earlier levels may require creation of a crisis situation, under cover of which Pakistan could seek to pump in jihadis and material to fuel the fire. Doing so would also help the Pakistan army divert jihadi energy and angst onto India, rather than have it contend with it in within Pakistan.

Jihadis, impatient with a diplomatic response, may want to have a go at India to avenge the Indian act. How Pakistan manages to stave off the jihadis while its diplomatic action unfolds and how it thereafter deploys them would determine if the risk India has run of a regional conflagration was worth it.

Ideally, India would prefer the Pakistani state fight off the jihadis on its own turf, rather than have them exported to India. This has the benefit of keeping Pakistan off balance in internal strife, even as India consolidates the new status of Kashmir. Towards this end, India appears to have a strategy in place. It has begun well in keeping rhetoric and triumphalism low key, thereby keeping international attention off Kashmir.

If it manages to keep the lid on within Kashmir by handling protests with restraint, India might just get away with its gambit. It has sensibly promised a reversion to statehood when this blows over, incentivizing a deflation in Kashmiri anger. It has enough time as the diplomatic prong of strategy plays out on both sides to put in place a militarily deterrent posture, limiting any scope for Pakistani conversion of the ongoing insurgency into yet another round of proxy war.

If under the circumstance, Pakistan proceeds with a shift from the diplomatic prong to a quasi-military prong of strategy, it will likely suffer a reverse. Though generating a crisis on the line of control would serve to crystallize international attention, the pressure may well fall on Pakistan – quite as it did during its Kargil caper. Pakistan would be falling into an Indian trap with Doval’s masterly fingerprints all over it.

Consequently, Islamabad needs to reassess the efficacy of the military-intelligence response option altogether. What then would be a sensible policy for Pakistan?

The jihadi angst can be expected to be in proportion to the possible violence in Kashmir. If civilian casualties in India’s handling of the blow back of civil society are kept limited, then the non-state actor interest within Pakistan of the developments in Kashmir shall wane. If Pakistan can take some credit in helping India keep these casualties limited through intervening imaginatively, Pakistan would save itself the bother of both fighting off jihadis so bestirred as also of any compulsion to act militarily itself.

How can such a situation be brought about?

As mentioned, a quick succession of events is coming during which the situation might flare up. India, perceiving as much, has required its paramilitary to be cautious in the use of force as also has them intimately supervised, with the national security adviser seemingly camping in Kashmir to keep a lid on any over-reaction. Pakistan can help defuse the situation by urging restraint on the Kashmiris. It can use the air waves to this end, as also plug the message through its subterranean channels.

If its public intervention manages to tamp the feared backlash from people, a self-reinforcing loop would be set up in which few casualties will result in lesser energy with which the Indian state will be challenged, resulting in turn in fewer casualties. Pakistan would have the dividend of taking the credit for averting a possible blood bath in Kashmir; gaining a foot in the door for the future; and demonstrating its ability to influence and shape the environment within Kashmir.

To be sure, such action could help bail out India from a difficult situation – a Jallianwala 2.0 or even a Bijbehara 2.0 would take the sheen off India’s action. India can do with some help to preserve itself from a hit-wicket. Pakistan can then swing itself back into the reckoning. With neither state having torn up the bilateral agreements that posit bilateral talks, Pakistan can then pressure India to talks. Its privileging of diplomacy and ditching of the terrorism option would be stark.

It can tacitly encash any good will its gesture of persuasion of Kashmiris to desist from violent unrest may have elicited in India’s national security establishment. Under the circumstance, India would be hard put to avoid talks that it is committed to.

The most significant advantage is in preserving Kashmiri lives that would otherwise be lost to little purpose. Naya Pakistan would truly have arrived in a fresh light. India, having been let off the hook it has willfully mounted, can use the hiatus in violence to initiate the promises Narendra Modi made to Kashmiris. India’s tacit reciprocation to Pakistan’s gesture would enable it to defuse the jihadi enterprise directed against it by enabling Pakistan to fob off the jihadis by showing progress on the talks front.

Clearly, imaginative solutions are called for. Both states can do with stepping back and reappraising muscular policies. A win-win outcome is not impossible to salvage given that both claim to be New, Naya Pakistan and Naya Bharat. Counter-intuitively, the current Kashmir imbroglio is an opportunity to demonstrate their respective turn of a new leaf.

(Ali Ahmed is visiting professor at Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia. The views expressed are his personal).

–India News Stream