Underestimating the enemy is never a smart thing to do — more so when the enemy is desperate, seething with rage and looking to do something, anything, to lash out.
Pakistan today finds itself in exactly in such a state.
The Narendra Modi government’s audacious move to make Article 370 redundant, scrap Article 35A and bifurcate the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two Union Territories (UT) was received in Pakistan with shock and awe.
Caught wrong-footed, Pakistan is now evaluating its options — which, on the face of it, are quite limited.
But that is precisely why India must remain on guard and expect the unexpected because when Pakistan finds its back to the wall, it does its utmost to pull a surprise to recover some lost ground.
Back to the wall: But there's no gainsaying what they could come up with. (Photo: Twitter)
In a way, Pakistan has boxed itself into a corner by over-reacting and over-reaching on the constitutional and administrative changes India has made in J&K. Whether it is out of ignorance or simply the outcome of a self-serving interpretation of what has happened, the Pakistanis have suffered a complete meltdown. Like characters in some Shakespearean tragedy, they have been swinging from depression and helplessness to agitation and aggression. No doubt the step taken by the Modi government is historic — but the fact is that it only alters the internal political and constitutional reality in J&K, not the external dimensions of the issue.
In other words, much of what the Pakistanis are screaming about hasn’t actually changed.
The United Nations (UN) resolutions, for whatever they are worth, remain as redundant today as they were before sweeping changes were made in J&K. The conversion of J&K into a UT doesn’t make the Line of Control (LoC) into an international border; it remains the LoC because India hasn’t given up its claim on the Pakistan occupied portion of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. J&K has not been annexed by India simply because ever since the state acceded to India, it has been treated as an integral part of India. Countless times, India has made it clear to Pakistan and the rest of the world that J&K is an inalienable part of India. The conversion of the state into two UTs doesn’t change this reality.
What Pakistan did almost 70 years back — when it split PoK into what it euphemistically calls ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)’ and Gilgit-Baltistan — India has done 70 years later.
Pakistan always maintained that the status of the areas under its occupation wasn’t decided, while India was emphatic that the accession was a done deal and was irrevocable. Just as Pakistan has made constitutional changes in the areas under its illegal occupation, India is well within its rights to make whatever changes it feels necessary in the Indian state of J&K. Just because Pakistan doesn’t like these changes doesn’t mean these changes are unconstitutional, illegal and violative of international law.
The Pakistani claims that these changes have rendered the Simla Agreement irrelevant is plain stupid.
Just like most Pakistanis have never bothered to read the UN resolutions that they keep parroting all the time, it seems they have also not read the Simla Agreement.
This agreement prohibits unilateral action only in the context of changing the status quo in terms of territory — not in terms of legal and constitutional changes which the Pakistanis have themselves made both in ‘AJK’ and GB. And then there is the whole issue of making Article 370 irrelevant. The Pakistanis wrongly link this article of the Constitution with the Instrument of Accession (IoA). The fact of the matter is that the IoA that the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir signed is identical to the IoA that every other princely state signed.
Article 370 is not connected to the IoA at all because it was the outcome of a political agreement — which no longer holds.
But having fed all sorts of lies and half-truths to its people, Pakistan today finds itself in a bind. It has raised passions to a point that not being seen to be doing anything is not an option. But the options that exist have serious downsides.
The LoC stays that: The Pakistanis can't meddle with this — without India reexamining the Indus Waters Treaty. (Photo: Reuters)
For now, the Pakistanis have behaved pretty much along expected lines. They have taken some measures which really don’t amount to much. The downgrading of diplomatic relations makes absolutely no difference to India. In fact, this is a favour that the Pakistanis have done to India because the Pakistani High Commission was a den of spies.
India should use this opportunity to actually downscale the mission and let a second or third secretary head it. The suspension of trade is also a classic case of Pakistan cutting its own nose to spite India. Although the balance of trade was in India’s favour, the utility of trade was much more for Pakistan. Clearly, India isn’t going to spend sleepless nights just because there is no trade with Pakistan.
The threat to review bilateral agreements is a signal that Pakistan could revoke some bilateral treaties — including the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration. Some analysts like Ankit Panda believe that since the current LoC was formalised as a result of the Simla Agreement, the LoC will become open for contestation and it will be a signal that Pakistan is ready to risk war. But this is a game that two can play — India could always retaliate by revoking the Indus Waters Treaty.
Pakistan has also decided to observe August 15 as a 'black day', whatever that means. Just like the Kashmir Solidarity Day on every February 5 is something that causes more harm to Pakistan than it does India, the black days, shutdowns, nationwide protests, all damage Pakistan more than they do India. Clearly, none of these steps that have been announced by the National Security Committee of Pakistan are going to impress India very much.
But apart from what Pakistan has already announced, they also have some other options.
The first option, and in some ways, a very attractive and satisfying option because it is relatively low cost, is to double down on the export of terrorism into India — especially in the UT of J&K.
Pakistan has the wherewithal and the wares to do this, and now, they can always use the bogey of 'Kashmiri anger' to claim that the terrorists it exports are actually indigenous. There will also be a temptation to divert some of the Taliban terrorists that Pakistan has nurtured for so long into J&K.
Will they be sent our way? Pakistan could use some of its carefully nurtured Taliban against India. (Photo: Reuters)
The problem, however, is that Pakistan’s claims of plausible deniability doesn’t find many buyers. Already Pakistan is under the scrutiny of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is dreading the possibility of being blacklisted — something that will be devastating for Pakistan's already tattered economy. Even staying on the grey list of the FATF is not an option because the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that its package is contingent on Pakistan getting out of the grey list.
Under these circumstances, if Pakistan starts operating its jihad factory full-time, it will risk economic collapse. The use of Taliban is also a high-risk low-return gambit because it will only end up justifying India’s moves in J&K since this is one of the apprehensions that was behind the monumental decision taken by the Modi government.
The second option is diplomatic.
Already, the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi have said that they will launch a diplomatic offensive and contact the OIC (often lampooned as 'Oh I see'), the UN Security Council, human rights bodies, the P5 countries and the European Union, and try and win support for its stand.
But Pakistani analysts and former diplomats aren’t very hopeful that this will lead them anywhere — much less get them any comfort.
Already the UAE has come out in India’s favour, the Chinese and the US have counselled restraint (the Chinese have taken up issue with India on Aksai Chin, but have maintained a studied silence on Pakistan's concerns), the Saudis have said nothing, the Malaysians have been wishy-washy — and the Turks don’t count for much.
Pakistan is planning on sending delegations to various capitals. But if the past is anything to go by, the delegates Pakistan sends will get an all-expenses-paid junket in the name of the beloved ‘Kashmir cause’, and come back with nothing to show for their travels. There are suggestions to mobilise the Kashmiri and Pakistani diaspora and organise protests in Western cities and capitals. But this has already been done to death. Plus, if push comes to shove, India can always mobilise the Indian diaspora which is bigger, richer and more influential than whatever the Pakistanis can muster up.
None of the P5 countries — probably not even China — is likely to go along with Pakistan. At best, they will issue calls for exercising restraint. The Pakistanis however hope they can get the US to intercede on their behalf by leveraging the ‘peace talks’ in Afghanistan to get some comfort on Kashmir. While the Americans, desperate to get a deal with the Taliban, might make some noises, even offer mediation, it is unlikely that they will push very hard for this and India will acquiesce to any such offer.
Of course, India needs to stay alert and counter any diplomatic move that Pakistan makes by engaging its strategic partners among the P5, perhaps even giving some favours to scotch the Pakistani efforts.
China is unlikely to side with Pakistan in ratcheting up protests against India world over. (Source: Reuters)
The third option is military.
Pakistan could ratchet up tensions along the LoC and indulge in sabre-rattling in the hope that the international community gets badly spooked and intervenes between India and Pakistan. This is a ploy that the Pakistanis have used many times in the past.
Already there are reports of Pakistan beefing up troops along the LoC and International border. The possibility of Pakistan actually indulging in some adventurism across the LoC to push the envelope cannot be ruled out. It might appear irrational and foolish — but simply because everyone thinks Pakistan would avoid going down this slippery slope is the reason why this cannot and should not be ruled out.
Conventional wisdom suggests that with bankruptcy staring them in the face, Pakistan just doesn’t have the resources to risk even a limited conflict. But this is precisely what Pakistan did in the past. At the time of Kargil, the Pakistani economy was literally scraping the bottom of the barrel — yet, the generals decided to risk a wider war by intruding into Indian territory. India cannot afford to be complacent of the Pakistanis trying something like this again. It is imperative that India makes clear to all its partners in the international community that whatever changes have been made in J&K are a purely internal affair and that India has no intention of doing anything across the LoC. Any adventurism from Pakistan's side will be retaliated to with full force. The tensions that result from Pakistan's belligerent acts are not of India's making and that it is the Pakistanis who need to pipe down and back down.
Finally, there is the information war that Pakistan will unleash.
It will deploy its media corps and troll corps to manufacture a poisonous narrative — with some help from jihadi journalists working in the Indian media.
All stops will be pulled out to incite hatred, instigate violence and create disturbances using fake news. The Indian state and security agencies have their work cut out for them in this domain — one of the areas where the Pakistanis score a lead over India.
Having vented its outrage and done the drama of a joint sitting of its Parliament, Pakistan needs to do the smart thing and rethink whatever it is up to because nothing that it does is going to undo what India has done in J&K — nor will it change anything insofar as the India-Pakistan dynamic on J&K is concerned.
No going back: India has taken a decisive step on Article 370. Pakistan needs to back down. (Photo: Reuters)
If Pakistan can only understand that while on the face of it, everything has changed in J&K, in many ways, nothing has changed in J&K, it will step back from the slippery slope it seems so desperate to get on.
Otherwise, it will tempt fate, and worse.
India, meanwhile, must be ready for any eventuality because the Pakistani capacity for making monumental miscalculations should never be underestimated.