Something deeply problematic has happened since the Indian claim of launching strikes across the LoC into Azad Kashmir: the unstated rules of engagement have been altered — perhaps forever. We are now staring into the unknown.
What stares back at both Pakistan and India is a dangerous ‘new normal’ in which words like ‘restraint’, ‘deterrence’, ‘escalation,’ and ‘retaliation’ are acquiring a new life of their own. Within the fog of jingoistic madness unleashed by India and the barrenness of our official statements, there is not much that can be said with certainty about what exactly transpired that night on the LoC. This vagueness may be deliberate — from both sides — to suit their respective purposes, and details may yet emerge sooner or later, but for now it matters not. Yes, given the volatility of the situation and the dynamics of mutual hostility, what actually happened may matter less than what is believed to have happened.
This belief, say Indian analysts, has manifested itself in the Modi government openly and officially embracing the claim of having launched ‘surgical strikes’ across the LoC. The argument being built in India is centred on the premise that Modi has broken away from the traditional Indian policy of ‘strategic restraint’ and has carved out a new policy premised on the LoC not being sacrosanct anymore. This policy is constructed on the willingness to take the battle to Pakistan by tearing up the Simla agreement and throwing the LoC into the dustbin. Senior Indian analysts say the Modi government has reached this conclusion after calculating that the world will stand aside to let India conduct military operations inside Azad Kashmir within the larger ambit of the globally-acceptable ‘crackdown on terror’.
This has grave ramification for Pakistan. We recognise the LoC and yet we do not because Jammu and Kashmir is disputed territory as per UN resolutions and awaits a referendum allowing Kashmiris to decide whether they want to join Pakistan or India. And yet while this remains our official position, we have in the past discussed options to carve up Kashmir as part of the final settlement of the issue. India, too, has engaged Pakistan on such options and at one point during the Musharraf years both countries had come very near to agreeing on the contours of a settlement.
The past may have had a bearing on the present, but the present as defined by the last three days is carving out an unpredictable future. It is this future that should be a cause for serious concern among the Pakistani leadership in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. This concern is two-fold:
One, the world swallowed Indian claims of cross-LoC strikes without a murmur of condemnation. Two, the ball is in Pakistan’s court but the narrative of what Pakistan can or should do is nowhere in sight.
India’s provocative claims of cross-LoC raids should have elicited a reaction from influential capitals — a reaction wrapped in urgency, alarm and a dash of panic. They did not. When was the last time one nuclear power claimed to have poked another nuclear power in the eye only to be greeted by a resounding silence from the world? Now put this silence in the context of a larger precedent being set: India may have lied about its claims of surgical strikes, but what if it does not lie the next time? And has not the silence from the world essentially signalled to India that the ‘next time’ could also been seen as ‘legitimate’?
India’s provocative claims of cross-LoC raids should have elicited a reaction from influential capitals — a reaction wrapped in urgency, alarm and a dash of panic. They did not. When was the last time one nuclear power claimed to have poked another nuclear power in the eye only to be greeted by a resounding silence from the world? Now put this silence in the context of a larger precedent being set: India may have lied about its claims of surgical strikes, but what if it does not lie the next time?
And if there were a next time — the threat of it happening is now almost declared Modi policy — what would we do? This response must be shaped by a narrative that builds up a legitimate case for Pakistanis at home and for the world at large. Our existing narrative goes like this: If India crosses the LoC it will get a severe response; if India crosses the working boundary or the international border, it will be a clear declaration of war and will get a severe response. In each case, the narrative hints at a steep escalatory ladder under the nuclear overhang. Yes the ‘N’ factor is very much there in the background as the ultimate deterrent to whatever India has in mind.
And yet this narrative falls short of pre-empting what is fast becoming the ‘new normal’. It does so because it is weak on nuance and short on specifics. Test it against the recent Indian claims and see how it loses traction. India says it crossed the LoC and conducted a military operation as a response to the Uri attacks which it blames on Pakistan without any evidence. In the aftermath of the Indian claims, a senior minister in the Modi government says India has done no wrong because the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is its territory, and therefore Indian forces have conducted an operation on their own territory. New Delhi has shaped a new narrative.
What does Pakistan say? More importantly, what does Pakistan do? As per the existing narrative, does it maintain a defensive approach by saying it will defend Azad Kashmir against any future ingress by the Indians? Or does it spell out a counter-offensive that will punish India inside Occupied Kashmir? Remember we are not talking proxies here. The Modi government’s covert operations against us may be continuing but the claim of surgical strikes is an overt claim signifying a policy of open, sanctioned aggression through the use of its military. Should the new Pakistani narrative work on a response that is shaped by the use of the military and not proxies? If India trashes the LoC and claims the whole of Kashmir as its land and proceeds to build a legitimate narrative around this supposition, can Pakistan flip the same argument around without losing the argument’s legitimacy? Will not Pakistan then be justified in laying claim to Occupied Kashmir and legitimately claiming the right to military action to halt Indian state terrorism against the people of Occupied Kashmir — our own people?
We recognise the LoC but we do not recognise it too. The new Indian ‘aggressive defence’ is testing the limits of what is clearly an outdated Pakistani narrative. It is also touching a raw nerve. If we cannot come up with a legitimate response — diplomatic and otherwise — to grave provocation from a belligerent neighbour and be able to convince the world of the justness of this response, then something is terribly amiss in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The Article First Appeared In The Express Tribune
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