The recent diplomatic battle between India and Pakistan at the UN general assembly followed up by their respective ‘right to respond’ and press comments clearly indicate that animosity between the two nations is only increasing. Numerous comments by both, display of pictures, including a wrong one by the Pakistan permanent representative solely to make a point, only moved the relationship into deeper trouble.
The UN has always been a diplomatic battle ground for the two, however this year it took a turn for the worse. India took advantage of the fact that Pakistan had faced the brunt from the US and within the subcontinent Afghanistan and Bangladesh would join it in condemning Islamabad for its support to terrorism. In every case, Pakistan had to resort to taking the ‘right to respond’ to clarify its position and seek to present a different picture, the only country in the world to do so multiple times. India was also buoyed by the success of the BRICS summit statement, hence could let the anger flow, hitting Pakistan where it hurt the most – speaking of poor development, lack of facilities and domination of terror groups within the country.
The animosity had been building ever since India called off talks, after the Pathankot strike. Pakistan has always felt that terror and talks should continue, while India wants to delink the two and will only consider talks if terror strikes cease. This is impossible, hence talks are unlikely to resume in the near future.
With a clear directive on the issue, highlighted by the surgical strike and strong response to Pakistan’s border misadventures, India has pushed its neighbour into a corner. The Pakistani civilian establishment hopes that by commencing talks and moving forward the agenda on Kashmir and other disputed areas, including Sir Creek and Siachen, it could gain leverage to compel the deep state to rein in terror groups. The deep state on the other hand is unwilling to relent as any attempt to rein in terror groups could lead to an internal backlash, adding to woes of the security forces, as the groups have gained power and created an identity of their own with the masses.
For India’s government, considering talks, opening dialogue and then have a strike take place would be politically disastrous. This government has adopted a hard policy. Hence, unless it is assured of cessation of terror activities, it would be wary of moving forward. This wide perception gap is neither easy to bridge, nor is there any midway point which could suit both countries. Pakistan thus harps in every international forum including the General Assembly that the UN resolution must be implemented under the aegis of the Security Council.
The Indian stand is amply clear, which it has continuously reiterated, that as per the Shimla agreement and Lahore declaration the issues were to be discussed bilaterally, hence the UN declaration is redundant. Thus, differences only widen and animosity builds. Pakistan had over the years used the separatists to ensure that the valley remained in turmoil and underdeveloped, despite massive government investment.
Its funding the agitation and pushing in terrorists used as cannon fodder, created an environment of violence compelling the Indian army to enhance deployment. Its support to terror groups has enhanced animosity from the Indian end. Violent border clashes with civilian casualties have pushed the countries further apart. Presently, with the NIA and ED moving after the separatists and isolating them, while the army buoyed by enhanced intelligence and surveillance achieving spectacular success, the scenario is well within control and can be considered near normal. The deep state’s well-oiled plans appear to be falling apart. It has attempted to increase infiltration attempts, but most are being nipped in the bud, enhancing frustration within the deep state. Prime Minister Modi’s announcement of political support to the Baluch people in their freedom struggle has been misconstrued by Pakistan to indicate military support.
Further, with an increase in operations by the TTP across the country, Pakistan appears to be facing greater threats from within. Their blaming India and Afghanistan appears to be misplaced, but it must be done, as it is the only way to shift blame from the military.
In a simple analysis, India faces limited turmoil in the valley, Pakistan faces it almost across the length and breadth of the land. India’s intention of isolating Pakistan has been noticed by them, adding to their anger. Support from neighbouring states, which refused to attend any SAARC summit in Pakistan, has pushed the regional grouping into a state of near collapse.
The region stands as one alongside India, as recent events indicate. The US providing India back-up and seeking an enhanced role for the country in Afghanistan has riled Pakistan so much that its Prime Minister was compelled to make a statement that it would never accept any role for India in Afghanistan. Pakistan had banked on support from China and Russia for continuance of its existing policies, irrespective of international views. Hence immediately after the BRICS summit, its foreign minister rushed to China.
The joint statement while offering continued support did not contradict the BRICS statement. This indicated a shift, small but significant. Russia also commented that the BRICS declaration on terrorism would reduce terror support in the region. Recent comments by Pakistan’s foreign minister, Khwaja Asif, that the country is aware of its liabilities, but lacks assets to deal with them, is another signal of things beginning to hurt. It has finally begun visualising its internal scenario from the Indian viewpoint. It was compelled to ban the formation of a political party led by Hafiz Saeed. The US defence secretary, Jim Mattis’ comment that they would be watching Pakistan, only enhances pressure. Differences are immense, animosity high and there is no sign of any thaw in relations.
Mounting international pressure by the West, regional isolation, increased firing along the LoC with India, encounters with militants in the restive tribal belts and along the Durand Line are only adding to the woes of their army. It knows it must act against terror groups, but hesitates, fearing a backlash. Increased international isolation fuelled by India would enhance animosity and increase pressure in the near to mid future.
It would be worthwhile to watch Pakistan attempt to preserve its survival as a nation state, while being compelled to dismantle terror groups.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)