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Era of false flag operations

We are living in an interesting era of false flag operations, especially in military and media domains. India’s high drama about Uri attack is fizzling away; and fabricated coverage of the incident by Indian media stands exposed. In the post Uri setting, de-escalation may just be around the corner. The two countries are now talking to each other rather than talking at each other.

While Pakistan’s national leadership was striving to put-up a unified stance to handle the situation arising out of India’s false flag attack on its own military base, an out of the blue, exclusive news story by Cyril Almeida published by a leading Pakistani newspaper on 6 Oct 2016, captioned: “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military” came down upon national canvas like a thunderbolt. It raised many eyebrows. Story even if correct was ill-timed to embarrass military leadership. It was also a sure recipe for lowering the morale of nation in general and combatant troops deployed at the Line of Control (LoC) in particular. No wonders, it was lifted, out of proportion by the Indian media.

In all probability, the reported meeting did take place, and the content— actual or fabricated—was leaked on purpose, by someone from amongst the civilian participants of the quoted meeting. And the way Dawn took a firm stand and the swiftness with which, compulsion driven, denials poured in from all official corners indicate that the reported content may also be, by and large, accurate. However, who-so-ever leaked the story did no service to the political leadership either. Hitting at the raw nerve at the verge of command change over in the Army amounted to showing a matchstick to tinderbox, which by any count is not a prudent action.  It is, however, regrettable that at this critical time a newspaper of international stature chose to become a party to a petty dirty game. Hopefully, the high level investigation ordered by the Prime Minister would bring the facts to public knowledge, and the culprit(s) would be held accountable under the in-vogue Official Secrets Act. Notwithstanding the outcome of the inquiry, the saga has left a bad taste in the mouth and is a low point in the national affairs—specifically in the domain of civil-military relations. And for Cyril Almeida: when one choose to become pawn, he loses entitlement to protection under the noble title of ‘journalist’!

Now, back to Pakistan-India canvas.

Era of false flag operations
Era of false flag operations

There is a broad based consensus amongst the strategic community of Pakistan that people of India and Pakistan will have to wait for improvement in bilateral relations till BJP throws-up a sensible Prime Minister. Now this has been acknowledged by Pakistan at official level as well. Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has stated that “there is no hope of improvement in relations between Pakistan and India during the premiership of Modi”. Sartaj Aziz also hoped that if the independence movement in occupied Kashmir continues and international pressure continues then India would become ready to resolve the Kashmir dispute. He said India cannot succeed to divert the world attention from the Kashmir issue through the Uri-like self-staged incidents.

While Indian political and military leadership is busy in eating its word pertaining to surgical strikes, Pakistan’s response to escalation by India was prudent and systemic. Fissures are clearly visible in the voices from within India, while there wasn’t a single voice of dissent, entire Pakistani nation demonstrated that it stands by the cause of Kashmiri people, and in condemning India for triggering uncalled for escalation starting with Narendra Modi’s provocative Independence Day rhetoric .

A member of state assembly from Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), Engineer Rashid, revealed on October 06 that Indian army was filming a fake operation in the Leepa valley to present as evidence of its so-called surgical strikes. “Very credible sources confirm that the Indian army is filming videos in the Nowgam and Leepa sectors, adjacent to the border, to show as if it is carrying out covert operations in enemy territory,” he quoted by the Greater Kashmir newspaper. He also stated that the BJP staged the surgical strikes drama in order to boost Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s profile as prospective chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), where election are due next year. Surgical strikes also need to be understood in light of a Times of India story published in June this year. It had revealed that BJP will declare Rajnath its candidate for UP chief minister and that “before doing so, Rajnath may claim to have carried out some big military operation in Kashmir”. Chief Minister of New Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, came under an ink attack, soon after he demanded of the Indian government to provide evidence that its troops had actually carried out “surgical strikes” by crossing the LoC.

Senior Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma also demanded credible evidence. “The government must expose Pakistan’s denial. It has all the tools and instruments to do so”.  Sharma, disapproved of attempts to ban Pakistani artistes and cricketers in India. He said it was “not correct” to brand every citizen of Pakistan, including artists and sportsmen, a “terrorist”. Yet another Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam termed the claim fake and said the BJP government was trying to derive political mileage from it.

Leading US newspaper, The Washington Post, on October 03, published interviews of locals living along the Line of Control. The majority of villagers in the three areas along the LoC said that they did not witness any cross-border movement of troops or hear the sound of any helicopters. Another well-reputed publication, The Diplomat, in a piece titled “Is India Capable of a Surgical Strike in Pakistan Controlled Kashmir?” raised serious questions about the capabilities of the Indian military. According to a BBC Urdu article, when locals residing merely two kilometres away from Indian check-posts were inquired about the strikes they said: “What surgical strikes? That day there was just more than usual firing.” India’s state minister for information, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, has already accepted that “no aerial operations were included in the operation”.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while addressing the joint sitting of the Parliament on October 05 said Pakistan is against war and wants durable peace in the region by resolving all issues through negotiations. “We have done everything to make India come to the dialogue table, but India did not let it happen,” Nawaz said. Touching on Uri attack, Nawaz added: “Without any investigation within a few hours India put blamed Pakistan for the attack. Through this one can see what India’s motives are”.  Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah said: “We need to tell the world that India cannot run away from what is on the record. “We all are united for Kashmir”. The NSC that met on October 04 expressed complete satisfaction over operational preparedness of the valiant armed forces.

National Security Advisors of the two countries have held talks for defusing the current standoff. Nasir Janjua and Ajit Doval have had “candid and frank discussions” on the current strain in relations between the two countries. There have been contacts at foreign ministers’ level as well.

In the regional context, soon after the end of Modi’s brief honeymoon with SAARC leaders, it became clear that Modi is for a solo journey and his vision for SAARC is focused on using this platform for furthering Indian strategic objectives at the cost of other members. And if SAARC didn’t fit into this role, it had no place in Modi’s regional calculus. India likes to have all SAARC summits in New Delhi, and whenever these are planned elsewhere, it first tries to disrupt the event, and when there is no plausible reason to do so, it attends with a pinch of salt. Hopefully, SAARC summit shall also take place soon in Islamabad.

Lesson on false flag operations.   There is need to put behind the strategy of false flag operations, at all levels, in all domains, during this era of globalization and flash communications, these tactical fixes often create strategic dilemmas which are difficult to address, and they haunt for a long time to come.

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