Indo-Pakistan ties in pits?
Dr Satish Misra
Ties between India and Pakistan are at its lowest ebb. Efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to improve ties with the country’s western neighbour have come to naught as Islamabad continued to aid and abet terrorist attacks on India particularly on the Armed forces establishment.
Terrorist attacks in Gurdaspur, Pathankot and then in Uri last month had left no option for the BJP-led NDA government to change its Pakistan policy. It resulted in a surgical strike on Pakistan.
In the wee hours of September 29, the Indian Army carried out surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. The operation was against Pakistan sponsored terrorists. Strikes destroyed terror launch pads in Pakistan -occupied Kashmir (PoK).
While such and similar operations have been launched in the past, the September 29 strike was different in a significant way that not only the Modi government owned it but also publicised it.
Blowing the trumpet loud and clear, the Director General of Military Operation (DGMO) Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh held a press conference on the morning after the ‘successful’ surgical strike and read out a statement but refused to take any questions from the press corps that had been summoned to announce a strategic step that had been taken in close consultation with the government.
Pakistan reacted on expected lines playing down the incident and denied that any such surgical strike had been conducted by New Delhi across the LoC and called it a minor cross border incident of not much significance.
While political parties initially supported the Indian Army’s operation against terrorist launch pads unanimously, there was a setback when UN Secretary General Ben Ki-moon’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the “UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan has not directly observed any firing across the LoC related to the latest incident”.
“They are obviously aware of the reports of these presumed violations and are talking to relevant concerned authorities” the spokesman said.
Though Indian Permanent Representative at the UN Syed Akbaruddin rejected the refusal from the UN saying that “I have nothing to say because what (Dujarric) said ‘was directly observed’. It’s a call that they have to take. I cannot place myself in their boots and directly observe something”.
“Facts on the ground do not change whether somebody has observed it or not”, Akbaruddin further said.
As said earlier, the UN Secretary General’s spokesman had damaged India’s image and helped Islamabad stand that there was no surgical strike but it was only an unprovoked firing on the LoC in which two Pakistani soldiers had been “martyred”.
The NDA government’s decision of a surgical strike and its admission publically is definitely a shift in its Pakistan policy as the predecessor UPA government had conducted similar strikes in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013 but had not given them such an extensive publicity and had not even called them “surgical strikes” which evoke both awe and novelty.
A changed Pakistan policy poses serious challenges to the NDA government. Its diplomacy will have to work hard to expose Islamabad’s designs internationally and at the same time it will also have to remain in a state of high alert for a considerable period of time.
The policy becomes more complex in the context of continuing unrest in the Kashmir valley.
Though New Delhi has begun to get support from some countries but the situation in Kashmir will continue to create problems for the country at international forums. Russia, India’s decades old friend, has supported the surgical strike and has found a rationality in India’s approach. Moscow’s stand is grounded in its own fight against terrorism and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal commitment to India.
Cancellation of the scheduled summit of leaders of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was another success as its members supported India’s stand against terrorism from across the border. Majority of the SAARC nations supported India’s decision to boycott the summit that was supposed to be held in Pakistan.
The European Parliament has also backed India’s surgical strike. In a signed article, Vice President Ryszard Czarnecki said New Delhi’s action against the terrorists should be “commended and supported by the international community”.
India deserves global support in its fight against terror emanating from Pakistan, for, if left unchecked, these individuals and groups would be attacking Europe and the West soon, Czarnecki said.
Support has also come from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim countries which indeed are a sign of the success of the Indian diplomacy but much more needs to be done as China remains steadfast in its support to Pakistan.
Relations with Beijing have been under strain for some time now. India’s growing ties with the US are being closely monitored by China. China, like the US, wields considerable clout internationally and it will go to any extent to thwart New Delhi’s efforts to isolate Islamabad. China has stood with Pakistan in its good and bad times.
Pakistan, master at this game, has committed all weather friends. Its geo-strategic location also gives Islamabad an advantage. Effort to isolate it internationally is no easy task.
While ties with the US are growing as New Delhi moves relatively faster into the American orbit, it must be said that Washington’s track record of supporting its friends and allies does not evoke much confidence.
Precisely that is why the Modi government will have to undertake sustained and untiring efforts to gather international support for mounting pressure on Islamabad so that it refrains from using terror as an instrument of its foreign policy.
At the same time, New Delhi will have to take steps to normalise the situation in Kashmir and make concerted diplomatic efforts to neutralise Chinese support to Pakistan.
Relations with Pakistan are in for a long haul now. It is a long battle whose outcome is difficult to assess at this point of time. Hopefully, a battle does not result in a war.
(The author is a veteran journalist and Senior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation)