India-Pakistan with Kashmir in between

As testimony for the efficacy of the counter insurgency grid, the commanding general in Kashmir indicated that terrorists ran into an army post while they were trying to get into the civilian areas in hinterland, and were promptly eliminated. However, it challenges common sense as to why they would take a route near the highway while they could well have moved into civilian areas with less chance of detection by sticking to the upper reaches on their way in. 

Clearly, then there is an alternative explanation, which is that they were out to target the military and to do it spectacularly to befit the occasion: elections and their disruption. This explains their choice of target, the route to which they would certainly have memorised by studying the Google map. This makes political sense too since Pakistan would not like more civilian blood on its hands with an Obama visit to Delhi lined up the following month. 

But the general is right in his assessment that the attack is part of a coordinated campaign authorised right at the top of Pakistan’s Establishment. However, his interviewer rightly alighted on this aspect of the interview to suggest that the military was pronouncing on a political issue. Whereas this may have been a faux pas in the earlier regime in which a distinction was sought to be made between the Pakistani establishment and the terrorists in order to continue dialogue with the former, in the Modi era it is no longer politically incorrect. The military is being used for political messaging, earlier left to diplomats, in order to more firmly shut the door to dialogue banged shut in August. 

Doing so is necessary to drive home to Pakistan that it is now dealing with a new regime with a difference. The policy of the new government was explicated most recently by Mr. Jaitley on the campaign trail in Srinagar. Pakistan would require reconciling to the reality of an India going places, while it remains poised on the brink. The earlier possibilities, brought to attention once again by Kasuri in his insider account on the near-miss of a resolution in the Musharraf era in his book, are now history. There are reasons for this, strategic and political.

The impending visits to India in quick succession of Putin and Obama and the earlier visit of the Chinese premier that gave Islamabad a go by are indicative of India’s economic and strategic draw in the region. With the US engagement transforming into a training mission in Afghanistan, even if one robustly named Resolute Support, it needs India as minder in the region. India has for its part stepped up to the plate, besides serving itself up for economic, defence, industry and strategic purposes of the US. Pakistan, on the contrary, has lost its nuisance value imparted by its strategic location. Whereas India earlier countenanced talks, albeit pragmatically, it was partially under US pressure occasioned by US need to have its backyard free of India-Pakistan discord as it went about resetting AfPak. India was then also attempting to get closer to the US through the nuclear deal, partially to offset Pakistan’s proximity. Now, India has managed not only a de-hyphenation but a closer relationship than that of Pakistan, brought about by the in-the-works US ‘pivot’ towards Asia-Pacific in which China looms large. As for China, India is offering its economic space. This is not so much to ambitiously displace Pakistan, but to ensure that China does not substitute for the gap left by withdrawal of US support of Pakistan. Strategically, therefore, India finds itself well poised to ignore Pakistan. 

Politically, there is little reason for an ideological regime in Delhi to talk. It believes it is poised on a historic win in Kashmir and will be able to settle with the Kashmiris by offering development, if only they would forget azadi. Mr. Jaitley when in Srinagar reiterated Vajpayee’s formula of ‘insaniyat’ indicating that the speedy inquiry into the Chhatergam incident was within such a framework. (Ominously he also outlined the contours of this include making Kashmir a hub for leisure, adventure and religious tourism!) He referred to discussing a new constitutional arrangement, indicating that India has the stick of reworking Article 370 to beat Kashmir with. It is a useful pressure point to make Kashmiris settle for what they have, with the hard-line reinforcing that they have none to bail them out. 

Since India is not intending to budge and asymmetry stares Pakistan in the face, Pakistan, as a rational actor could well reconcile. Its civilian side is suitably incentivised for this. They are willing to play along with an endless dialogue in order to get the commercial and economic gains turn the equations over time in their favour over the hold-outs in the military. The military for its part is aware of the portents of the ill wind from the spreading instability in the Middle East. The new ISI chief wrote his thesis during his US training stint on the need to engage India. Therefore, it is not entirely without reason that Delhi is through its hard-line gambling on making Pakistan see the writing on the wall finally. By this benign logic, if and since Pakistan cannot also open up another front against terror by reining in the Kashmir oriented terrorists, it will likely only for tactical reasons allow them a limited scope for operations. However, this is how the previous national security establishment in Delhi would likely have viewed things. 

This time round there is an ideologically inspired national security establishment. This explains the link of the terrorists who hit Mahura (Uri) with the Pakistani establishment drawn by the general. It is no doubt on account of this that Pakistan’s national security adviser has admitted that no headway can be expected during the Modi era. Therefore, the link is suggestive of Pakistan’s response to India’s new aggressiveness. Noting that India needs to be incentivised once again to talk, Pakistan for its part may take the proxy war route. Pakistan perhaps reasons that India is concentrating on its economic trajectory, threats to which are avoidable. Once the new government in Delhi gets the message that Pakistan is not rolling over to play dead, it may come round to talks. This would be more likely once the government, currently busy gaining a dominating position in Kashmir to reflect its hold over Delhi, chooses regional stability for economic growth over the status quo in Kashmir. As always, Pakistan is gambling with a gun to its own head. 

India in counter could also indulge in an intelligence led proxy war that can push Pakistan over the edge. To the extent India has done this so far, it has been only to convey the message that Pakistan living in a glass house ought to be more circumspect. India also could not afford to have an unstable nuclear armed neighbour. However, these sensibilities of the earlier national security establishment are unlikely to be emanating the current ideologically inspired one. In fact, the increased proximity of India with Israel suggests strategic osmosis in which Israel’s strategy of keeping its periphery restive in order to remain at peace may be finding a receptive ear in India. In this strategic alternative, not only is trouble assuredly ahead for Pakistan, but also for India. 

Both states are gambling on the other’s good sense. Since both exhibit a lack of good sense – Pakistan traditionally and India because of having ideology substitute for strategy – an ‘interesting’ year in the Chinese sense of the term is surely coming up. 

(Firdaus Ahmed is author of Think South Asia: A Stand for Peace and Subcontinental Musings: Making a Difference (forthcoming) that are available for free download at his blog