Special Report

There is a sliver of hope that both sides will see reason

There is a sliver of hope that both sides will see reason

written by Seema Guha FPJ :War clouds are looming over the sub continent as tension escalates between nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan. Will the two nations fight another war? Or will good sense finally prevail and the crisis diffused. Across the world leaders are advising India and Pakistan to exercise restraint as the two countries down each others planes and an Indian Air Force pilot is in Pakistani custody. The situation is still fluid and could go either way. Yet, with international prodding there is a sliver of hope that both sides will see reason.

India’s air strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp in Balakot, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan led to much chest thumping here, with analysts saying that there was a paradigm shift in government policy. The air strike was triggered by a suicide bomber in Pulwama that killed 42-CRPF soldiers in Kashmir. The Jaish led by Maulana Masood Azhar has its headquarters in Pakistan claimed responsibility. Narendra Modi, always projected as a strong decisive leader, has lived up to his image.

Indeed, analysts say that Pulwama terrorists had handed Modi the 2019 elections on a platter. National polls are likely to be announced in the next few days. Many in the BJP have not wasted time in making the point. Whether it is BJP President Amit Shah or the BJP state chief of Karnataka, both have done so. Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale called the strikes a “non-military pre-emptive action,” emphasising that the target was a terror camp.

Gokhale took care to point out that the strike was not aimed at the Pakistan military or the people of the country. Just at terrorists. No one believed that Pakistan would allow the transgression of its air space to go unchallenged. The Pakistan military hold the country on a vice like grip and perpetuates it by fear of Indian aggression. The army stands between India and the people of Pakistan. In such circumstances it was inconceivable that Pakistan would not act. And it acted immediately.

On Wednesday, Pakistani jets flew into Indian airspace and a dog fight followed. India claimed to have shot down an F16 fighter aircraft while one of India’s MIGs was shot down by Pakistan. Afterwards, its foreign ministry claimed that this was not a retaliation to continued Indian belligerence. Pakistan has therefore, taken strikes at non military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage. Sole purpose being to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence. “We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm.”

Ironically the tone and tenor was much in the lines of Vijay Gokhale’s statement on India’s airstrike. This was followed hours later by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s televised address to the nation where he appealed for peace talks with India. India called in Pakistan deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah to South Block to protest against the violation of Indian air space. Pakistan was asked to handover the captured Indian pilot immediately. A dossier on the JeM was handed over for Pakistan to take action. Earlier, India had refused to do so as dossiers by the dozens are with Islamabad, given after each terror strike, with no action ever taken.

Now that Pakistan and India have both demonstrated that they can violate each other’s air space and downed a fighter jet each, what is next? Pakistan releasing Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman shows its sincerity. This will be seen as a friendly gesture by India and the world. It will calm temperatures. Pakistan is unlikely to take action against Jaish or the training camps. The next step for both sides would be to gather diplomatic support. Delhi had made sure that the major powers were in the loop. In fact Donald Trump had said before the strikes that India was “planning something big.’’ All friends and neighbours have been briefed.

Pakistan on its side has also worked the phone lines and talked to its allies and friends. China endorsed the Russia, India, China statement after the RIC meeting in Wuzhen, where a call was made for “eradicating the breeding grounds of terrorism.” Yet at the news conference after the RIC meeting, Wang Yi clarified: “…China, Russia and India have reaffirmed our strong opposition to terrorism in all its forms. At the same time, we believe that Pakistan has always been opposed to terrorism.’’ The OIC had condemned India’s air strikes in Pakistan.

It is not that Pakistan has been isolated and is friendless at the moment. Despite loud cries of isolating Pakistan, it is a foolish notion. Pakistan is not a small country. It has a population of 204.60 million, and is the sixth most populous nation in the world. It is also a nuclear power. Each nation looks out for its self interest. The US, despite President Donald Trump’s earlier rambling against Pakistan, now needs Islamabad as he prepares to wind down in Afghanistan. The US and Taliban held its second round of substantive talks in Qatar on February 25.

It is well known that without the Pakistan military and its spy agency ISI, getting Taliban to the table would be difficult. So not much can be expected from the US. What is expected is pressure on both India and Pakistan to de escalate. Hopefully, that happens as neither country can afford a costly war.

Seema Guha is a senior journalist with expertise in foreign policy and international affairs.



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