Balakot was a strong message from India to Pakistan, but whether it has been heard is not clear.
The Pakistanis believe that their response was quick and effective both politically and militarily — which deterred further escalation by India. Pakistani circles seem concerned that important global countries did not condemn the Indian action. They intend to highlight India’s liberal interpretation of Article 51 of the UN Charter (right to self-defence) as well as oppose the UN listing of Masood Azhar as an international terrorist so that India is denied a diplomatic victory at the cost of the China-Pakistan all-weather relationship.
If the need to take concrete action against proscribed organisations is being recognised, priority is also being given to pushing for the resolution of the Kashmir issue on the basis of self-determination.
Road from Balakot
How this squares up with wanting improved relations with India is unclear. Believing that Imran Khan’s peace talk has provided them propaganda advantage internationally and won the applause of pro-Pakistan lobbies in India, Pakistani circles are now contrasting its peaceful overtures with India’s war-mongering, Pakistani moves to curb terror groups and de-radicalise its society with India’s “state terror” against the Kashmiris and rise of Hindu extremism and minority persecution in India.
With these kinds of delusions, hoping that India will simply resume dialogue with Pakistan after our elections without the core issue of Pakistani-sponsored terrorism being addressed defies understanding. The Pulwama attack has focused attention on jihadi groups in Pakistan promoting terrorism against India. India’s robust reaction in using its air force for an anti-terrorist operation in Pakistan proper has obtained understanding from key countries.
Surprisingly, even China’s position has been carefully formulated. Pakistan, under pressure to act against these groups, has made moves against Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). But preventive detention of the leaders of these formations or taking control of the management of madrasas and charitable institutions run by them are reversible steps that leave the fundamental problem unaddressed.
Pakistan has repeatedly asked India to provide actionable intelligence against the jihadi operatives, but whatever evidence we provide is considered insufficient. The dossier provided on the Pulwama attack has also been dismissed as relying largely on press clippings and publicly available information. Pakistan has thus no intention to build cases against the LeT and JeM and have their cadres tried in courts and convicted.
In actual fact, the ISI and the Pakistan army have all the evidence they need because of their own complicity in sponsoring terror strikes against India, but using it will be self-incriminating. Pakistani military tribunals can try terrorists behind closed doors, but it is hardly conceivable that JeM and LeT operatives would be prosecuted by them.
Posturing as usual
Pakistan’s strategy, as in the past, would be to ward off external pressure for action against terrorist groups by taking some minimum steps and once the heat is off to go back to business as usual.
Currently, because of grey-listing by the FATF, the serious financial straits the country is in, and the need for an IMF bail-out, Pakistan is especially vulnerable, but it may still believe that it has cards to play, such as assisting America is dealing with the Taliban, cautiously serving America and Saudi Arabia as a pressure point on Iran, leveraging China’s geopolitical stakes in Pakistan, Russia’s increasing evenhandedness on India-Pakistan issues, and, of course, the protection provided by its nuclear status.
Even as key countries put pressure on Pakistan to address the presence of terrorist groups on its territory, they are concerned about the escalation of the India-Pakistan conflict rising to the nuclear level and, consequently, India too will come under diplomatic pressure to contain tensions with Pakistan.
At the end of the day, India will have to deal with Pakistani-sponsored terrorism on its own because, much as they be concerned about India-Pakistan tensions going out of control, Pakistan will not be sanctioned by America and its allies the way Iran, North Korea and even Russia have been. Imran Khan’s discourse of “Naya” Pakistan may have some resonance domestically, but for us, it remains the old, dissimulating Pakistan, still controlled by the armed forces, plugging the old line that it is a victim of terrorism itself and hence cannot export terrorism. It is still accusing India of blaming Pakistan for homegrown terror in J&K, harping on Indian atrocities in Kashmir, calling for a resolution of the Kashmir issue based on self-determination, threatening India with its nuclear capability, opposing the OIC’s opening towards India and so on. A new feature, exacerbated by the Balakot strike, is the reviling of Prime Minister Modi in Pakistani circles.
A flawed democracy
It is a symptom of how dysfunctional our democracy is becoming that the line between legitimate criticism and opposition to the government’s policies and adopting anti-national positions is being blurred.
The Balakot strike is being questioned, proof is being sought which insinuates that our air force is misleading the country, 600 Indian academics, writers, artists summon India to abide by international law in letter and spirit, decry the war hysteria in the country, use Pakistan’s nuclear argument to dissuade an Indian response and see Kashmiris, subjected to gross human rights violations, as the principal victims.
Has Modi-hate got transmuted into a form of India-hate?