Since August 2014, the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has been ablaze except for the short break brought on by the disastrous floods on both sides. Speculation has been rife as to why this is happening. Does India have to gain from it and thus be accused as the instigator, or is it the complex, deep set paradoxes within Pakistan’s internal environment further exacerbated by the rapid change in the strategic environment in the
subcontinent ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in New Delhi. This is a relevant subject to analyse to send home the correct message to our own public as well as across the spectrum of stakeholders internationally.
While it is good to take into account the operational level aspects of infiltration and the Pakistan establishment’s necessity of increasing terrorist boots on ground in J&K, there is a strategic level connect which must not be lost sight of. Not in my memory has the politico-strategic situation in the subcontinent ever changed so rapidly in such a short term frame as it has with the arrival of Narendra Modi at the helm of affairs. Firstly, foreign policy was never considered as an area where Modi would make such an early impact. I recall discussions with Pakistani intellectuals and their worry about how Modi’s arrival could make a difference to bilateral relations but never could they have imagined that in four months or more India would be at a different platform with the world beginning to once again get excited at its economic prospects and ability to punch above its weight in international forums.
The high profile visit of the Chinese President and visits to Japan and the US have given the Indian Government a new confidence which would translate into diminishing significance of Pakistan and the reluctance of the world to hyphenate Pakistan with India. This is unpalatable for Pakistan, especially as the situation in Afghanistan is yet none too stable and a higher Indian diplomatic capability could upset many Pakistani ambitions. Thus it was important for Pakistan to do something and do it in a hurry to regain focus and that too to a hyphenated India-Pakistan equation. What better place to bring this to effect than the LoC and the J&K International Border.
The second reason for this trigger by Pakistan is the pressure from the India focused Jihadi groups which have been for long Pakistan’s poster boys in its proxy war with India. Beginning June 2014, a high profile and much more radical group-the ISIS- has come to fore and it is attracting support of other radicals groups/individuals from across the globe, and is drawing them into competition. The Taliban supports it while the al-Qaeda is competing with it for space in the sub-continent. All this again makes the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the India focused groups within Pakistan, most insecure as it dilutes their importance. With Pakistan deeply involved in Operation Zarb-e-Az on the western front, the India focused groups perceive their own marginalisation, and the necessity to do something, before this winter, looms before them.
The third reason is the opportunity which has come India’s way with the disastrous flood in J&K. Although economically very adversely hit and socially at a low, J&K is actually presenting an opportunity in its tragedy. This is an opportunity which India could exploit to advantage through Modi’s well recognised capability to bring development to the forefront in the state, coupled with a supportive fervor from many organisations across India reaching out to help the people of J&K.
The hundred smart cities plan of the Prime Minister could well start from Jammu and Srinagar. All this is not lost on the Pakistani establishment whose intelligence must have given it exactly the same assessment. In the absence of no action now, the mainstreaming process of J&K could well commence through the coming winter and then it could become a tad late for Pakistan to retract the situation. Thus, this analysis too demands early action, diversion of attention, psychological pressure on J&K’s population and resolving turbulence in the hinterland.
There is also a need to analyse whether India’s policy of calling off even the flag meetings and giving a free hand to the Army is on the correct lines? The difference between the shelling across LoC recently and the situation last year lies in the fact that time, the Army is being trusted and it is acting responsibly, retaining flexibility and escalating only by notches while being fully conscious of the need to de-escalate once the objectives have been met. The two things, they must keep in mind are- First, any attempt by Pakistan to escalate to level of trans LoC operations by ground troops or Border Action Teams will be a red line and the response will be huge and unacceptable to Pakistan. Two, the ceasefire of November 26, 2003 remains an important confidence building measure but cannot be taken as a limiting factor in working out options. If it has to be fully abrogated for national interest, so be it; we lived with no ceasefire for many years and safeguarded our civilian population; we can do it again.
It is unlikely that Pakistan will go the full way towards its vaguely selected objectives which remain hazy, as it has never been known to think through a strategy while has remained a star in the field of conflict initiation. When the realisation dawns upon Pakistan that none of their objectives are achievable now or in the future, it will pipe down. Therefore the message from the Indian Government must be clear that India is open to reason but not nonsense and irrationality.
-Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (The writer is a former GOC of the Srinagar based 15 Corps and has extensive experience in the conduct of LoC