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India’s Pathankot Blues!

A recent Times of India report indicates that India plans to cover more than 40 vulnerable unfenced riverine stretches located in Punjab, along the Pakistan border, by laser walls to prevent any infiltration. The suspected infiltration point of Ujj river in Bamiyal, the report said, that was used by six Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) operatives who allegedly stormed the Pathankot airbase was not covered by laser. Camera installed to keep watch over the 130-metre-wide river bed was found to be not recording the footage. Reportedly, Indian border force had started putting up the wall on riverine stretches last year in Jammu sector, which were more prone to intrusions till an attack in Gurdaspur in Punjab in July 2015.

In the latest twist, India defence minister has announced that Pakistani investigators won’t be allowed inside Pathankot; many believe this statement to be a hoax ant that it would be retraced in due course. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif continues to follow a single track approach towards India. This is raising many raising many eye brows as to whether he is confronting failure of Indian approach towards Pakistan or reinforcing failure of his own approach towards Indian leadership.

Diplomatic channels have collapsed and both Pakistan and India have lost the capacity to hold scheduled and structured dialogue due to foolishly accumulated domestic political baggage by successive Indian governments. Now Indian and Pakistanis officials meet in third countries to spring up surprises. Despite Pakistan meeting Indian precondition of initiating action against India nominated entity Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) for allegedly attacking Indian air force facility, foreign secretary level talks have melted away. Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries have jointly agreed to reschedule the talks to hold them in “very near future”. India has welcomed the arrest of several members of the JeM. Indian has also arrested some activists who attacked the PIA office.

Are both the countries on their way their way to depart from traditional pattern of crisis handling to professional crisis management procedures? We’ll have to wait for a while and see. Pakistan has tried it earlier for a number of times but India has not reciprocated. For example, Pakistani foreign minister was in India when Mumbai attack took place and he immediately offered to engage in crisis management but Indians declined to engage him. Even, now best things would have been that the foreign secretaries should have met, it’s natural that once there is a problem we start talking to fix the problem, here India stops talking to aggravate the problem. Even though necessary measures had been taken, and further investigation are under way, there should have been no further complaints from India and talks should have proceeded. Though National Security Advisers of Pakistan and India are busy devising modalities of exchanging high-powered teams to investigate attack on Indian Air Force Station Pathankot, deciding on the terms of reference for these team would be an uphill task. Moreover, killing of all attackers would restrict the job of investigators to circumstantial evidence and, hence more sticky.

Back home governments of Pakistan and Punjab also face a double edged questions whether outlawed outfit JeM continued to retain the capacity and capability to launch such autonomous tactical attacks on a military facility in a neighbouring country at its own, and if so then how to take official tall claims about success of counter terrorism effort under the exalted National Action Plan; has it all been a politically motivated application of force?. And despite voices from saner corners, was the presence of terrorist elements in parts of Punjab being ignored as a political expediency? Or, is the federal government caving in under Indian pressure to frame a dormant entity for the acts it did not commit? Answers to these questions either way are not likely to provide an enviable face saving for the federal and Punjab governments.

In Pakistan there has been a strong pro-peace constituency towards India—mainly people based, same line has been towed by the leadership across the party divide. Hardliners in India, both extremist political and social elements have been systematically working to weaken this constituency. Chunk of electoral activity in India comprises of anti-Pakistan sloganeering and anti-Muslim sentiment. People to people exchanges are obstructed, sporting and cultural events are becoming hard to schedule and harder to execute. Attack on PIA’s Delhi office was another such effort to reinforce the impact of attack on Pathankot. It will take a long time to ascertain who attacked Pathankot and why; and by the time such information is known with a fair degree of accuracy, it would be of little relevance as were those of Ganges plane hijacking in 1971 and some other subsequent high profile false flag operations by India. Such operations are important with respect to immediate gains; later nobody bothers about them.

As of now, Pakistan should scan the horizon for the immediate strategic objectives for which India wants to render Pakistan a non-factor in 2016-2017 time frame, through a combination of carrot and stick, two such objectives are: India is being considered for its NSG membership in June 2016; and voting on UNSC expansion in UNGA may take place in October-November 2016. Indian wants to keep Pakistan under pressure till a certain point then release pressure offer few concessions, then ask America to apply pressure, neutralize Pakistan’s opposition and subsequently withdraw its own concessions—leaving Pakistan high and dry similar patterns it followed for cowing in Pakistan for voting at IAEA before NSG Waiver in 2008 and the promises about playing domestic series with Pakistan before strategic cricketing decision at the ICC.

Pakistani policymakers need to realize is that they can’t continue to wait for Indian initiatives and form reactive responses on the Indian projections; instead we need to reduce the space acquired by India for distorting Pakistan’s image amongst comity of nations and need to take our own proactive initiatives. At the same time, Pakistan should strengthen its relations with other neighbouring countries and form strong alliances with other regional structures—SAARC, GCC, ARF, SCO, CICA etc. This will help Pakistan in stop negotiating from a position of weakness when dealing with India.

Since Prime Minster Narendra Modi came to power, India has pursued a deliberate policy aimed at sabotaging bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. India has a evolved a tendency to treat even cultural and sports exchanges as a concession to Pakistan for which Pakistan must cede some strategic space; the fate of ICCI underwritten cricket series and the way India manoeuvred to scuttle it is reflective of prevailing Indian mind-set. Pattern has it that through diplomatic gimmicks Indian projects its peace gestures towards Pakistan with great fanfare to attract international focus—thus painting Indian as lovely guy— then quietly undoes it through professional intrigue—projecting Pakistan as problem Child. Even though Pakistan is sincere in having good relations with India. However, Pakistan can’t do it all alone at the cost of its core interests, especially when the other side is resorting to intrigue to undo Pakistan’s good work.

This time, so far, both sides appear to have used the Pathankot attack as an opportunity. Pakistan has taken a step forward towards demonstrating to the world, and in the current context most notably to India, that it is determined to wage a battle against terrorism and ensure that militancy does not wreck the region. Will Indian leadership demonstrate the political will to take up issues like water sharing, Siachen and Kashmir with the same determination to resolve them? And on international forum will India give up its approach of maligning Pakistan for anything that has and could go wrong in this imperfect universe? The future of peace process depends on answers to these questions.

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