October 12, 2014

Pakistan’s Dangerous Game of Brinkmanship


Arun Sahgal

October 10, 2014
Insecure Pakistan in the backdrop of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is faced with the twin dilemma of international marginalization as part of fast receding regional relevance and political and economic instability. These fears are heightened by India's rapidly developing economy, political stability and fast paced modernization of its armed forces. For Pakistani fed on the belief, as Christian Fair puts it 'accepting the status quo with India is a defeat', such a scenario is an anathema that it is loathe to accept. This ideological perspective remains the driver that is forcing the Pakistani army in taking calculated military risks as a manifestation of its continued struggle which it must continue and persevere. According to Fair this behaviour of Pakistan is a result of it being fundamentally a dissatisfied state which seeks to increase its prestige through spread of its ideology and religion in pursuit of its revisionist policies.

Why Continued Firing along the LoC?
Within the above backdrop the firing along the LoC has three possible manifestations. At one level it is an attempt to keep the pressure on Kashmir and create insecurity along the border by the combined nexus of Pakistan army, ISI, the terrorists under the United Jihad Council (UJC) supported by the separatists in the J&K. The aim is to keep the status quo in flux. By putting stories of great efforts by the Pakistani army to thwart Indian security forces nefarious designs, an attempt is being made at national mobilisation. It is also to gain public sympathy and support for the army providing it greater flexibility in the flawed civil-military relations. In short, it is an orchestrated plan to provoke India. The Pakistani army believes that it can take such a risk of escalation in the back drop of its effective nuclear capability.

Second is the "K" factor. Over the last few years there has been a perceptible decline in militancy and cross border terrorism. Kashmiri separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani are too old and Mirwaiz Umar Farookh too weak to sustain the so called separatist struggle. Other leaders like, Yasin malik and Shabir Shah are attempting to pick the gauntlet but have yet to establish their credibility.

It is in this milieu that Pakistan is now trying to revamp its entire apparatus in the Kashmir valley, with eye on the forthcoming elections (likely to be postponed to Mar-Apr 2015 owing to floods). This is being done by attempting to induct nearly 1000 militant cadres, reported to be waiting to infiltrate across the LoC. What is worrisome for Pakistani is that militancy and terrorist strikes are not providing any tangible results, or attempts to exploit post-floods anger working.

In the last one month alone nearly 17 terrorists have been killed in the Kashmir Valley (including dozen of them attempting to cross the LoC). In addition, owing to effective counter infiltration and terrorism operations over the last one year there is no worthwhile terrorist leadership left in the valley capable of leading disruption of impending polls or spread antipathy and instigate civil strife during the forthcoming months. Thus it has become an imperative to induct and embed terrorist leadership before the onset of winters.

Interestingly, attempts at infiltration in North and South Kashmir, traditional focus of infiltration has been far and few. There appear to be two reasons: one, Pakistan does not want to be seen as disrupting the flood relief work in the valley, something which could become potential source of alienation and second, vulnerability of its lines of communication should India resorts to massive retaliation. For these apparent reasons the focus of Pakistani firing and escalation has shifted to South of Pir Panjal.

As a result Pakistani firing is largely concentrated on traditional areas of Rajouri and Punch as also across the International Border that includes sectors such as Sambha, Rabirsinghpura, and Chicken's Neck in Akhnoor, etc. Pakistan's increase in intensity and firing on civilian positions both along the border and around is part of an orchestrated strategy aimed at provoking India to relocate civilians to depth areas thereby facilitating infiltration. Locations of cross border tunnel are proofs of Pakistan's nefarious designs.

Third is the impending election in J&K. Successful elections which could throw up electoral arithmetic in which centrist forces become powerful power brokers would result in a government that would follow strong nationalist policies thus severely curbing the separatist space. The manner in which India reacted to the Huriyat leaders meeting Pakistan's High Commissioner should have made absolutely clear to Islamabad that New Delhi with growing international support will brook little or no dissidence from these groups operating outside the constitutional process.

Apart from above factors, it appears that Pakistani military is attempting at brinkmanship to bring the beleaguered country back into global relevance by focusing on Kashmir (the forgotten dispute) especially now with the focus shifting to the ISIS.

India's Response
India needs to follow a three pronged strategy: First, a swift, sharp and effective response backed by controlled escalation to Pakistan's provocations. India should be in no doubt that Pakistan could attempt at escalation misreading Indian resolve. Second, India should expose Pakistan's crass attempts to rake up tensions in the subcontinent by adequately exposing its nefarious designs both in Kashmir and rest of the country. There should be no talks till such time Pakistan mends its ways and agrees to meaningful dialogue. Third, Kashmir post-flood reconstruction work must gain momentum and fair distribution. The state administration must be encouraged to show empathy in distribution of relief.

Time has also come for another round of dialogue with all shades of opinion in Kashmir including separatist leadership but strictly within the confines of the Indian constitution. In so far as dialogue with Pakistan is concerned it should be made clear that India wants peace but will not bow down to such provocations.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India

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