The proxy war of 'Terroristan' snowballed from the year 2016; with India implicitly ruling out formal talks with Pakistan till Islamabad brought the perpetrators of Uri and Pathankot airbase attack to justice.
The year 2017 started on a hopeless note, without much improvement in the proxy war. Firing on the Line of Control (LC), extended further to the international border (IB). Pakistan’s relation with the US deteriorated for the want of credible action against the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups. As the infirm stand of Pakistan against terrorism affected US security, it appeared that Pakistan may be forced to reduce its state support to terrorists.
Apparently, erstwhile Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried convincing the military and the ISI to let their strategic assets (Jihadis) lie low to avoid international isolation. Despite UN terrorist tag and $10 Mn bounty on Hafiz Sayed, there was little done beyond his symbolic arrest, followed by his release and attempt to get into mainstream politics.
For attempting to interfere in the Pakistan Army’s power-play, Nawaz Sharif found himself ousted from power on corruption charges. 2017 is about to end without a Pakistani leader worth talking, as Prime Minister Abbasi is not effective due to the uncertainty of forthcoming elections. As the main player, the Pakistani Army will not let the relations improve because their influence and relevance are due to “Indian threat” and Kashmir issue.
Can the bilateral relations really improve?
Unfortunately, The India- Pakistan relations are marred with an inseparable historic baggage of animosity, military coups and resultant instability which continues even now. The 1971 war, besides dividing Pakistan (and creation of Bangladesh), resulted in 90,000 Prisoners of War for the victorious Indian Army. Pakistan Army could never forget it and kept trying to wipe this scar. Today the same generation of military is not in power, but the thought to avenge professional shame is alive with their military.
President Zia’s ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ became breeding ground for Islamic terrorism. With Taliban and Wahhabism in the rise, Pakistan witnessed a change in psyche and ideology. Kashmir remains an obvious target to avenge. The forced occupation of Baluchistan and ill-treatment of its population makes Pakistan further unstable. Due to internal instability, Pakistan Army could project itself as the only option available to bind and protect the country against India; hence they justify holding the reins of power.
President Musharraf further nurtured militants, used them in proxy wars, as ‘strategic assets’ and this reality has not changed to date. In this backdrop, every effort by each of the successive Indian leaders to improve relations was destined to fail, and the situation today is no different.
Events severely challenging India-Pakistan relations in 2017
Sino-Pak nexus grew stronger and Chinese refusal to support a UN ban on Jaish-i-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar continues. The rolling out of CPEC despite India's opposition and the reported presence of the PLA and developments in Gwadar port further added to Indian security concerns.
The other spoiler was Pakistan’s claim to be a victim of Indian “state-sponsored terrorism”, by wrongly citing Kulbhushan Yadav’s case. No one, including the UN is convinced by his unfair trial by Pakistan Army Courts violating some basic tenets of justice.
The Silver lining!
Indian efforts to expose Pakistan as a state that is sponsoring terror in every international forum have resulted in more voices against terrorist groups having safe sanctuaries and training camps in Pakistani territory, duly supported by Pakistan Army and ISI. Almost all South Asian countries pulled out of SAARC meet in Pakistan for this reason.
Trump Administration’s ‘New South Asia Policy’ of putting Pakistan on notice, and inviting India to join their fight against terrorism in Afghanistan in a “Trilateral Security Arrangement” was a positive development. This, however, did not show much of results, except one more round of sham arrest and release of Hafiz Sayeed, and the inclusion of LeT, and HM in global terror list. India can smile about the outcome of BRICS, where even China reluctantly agreed to name LeT and JeM as terror groups.
Indian Response to changing realities
Having tried all kinds of peace initiatives in past, India did try some innovative ideas to send stronger messages to Pakistan to stop terrorist activities and proxy war. India has expressed moral support to the innocent population of Baluchistan who are suffering atrocities under Pakistani Army.
I do not believe that India has any intention to destabilise Pakistan because a destabilised Pakistan under Jihadi influence is not in the Indian security interest.
The surgical strikes by Indian Army on terrorist camps, well inside Pakistani territory were daring measures. There have been some militant attacks even after the surgical strikes, but its significance is more in the context of nuclear blackmailing by Pakistan. Pakistan has been openly threatening that if India crosses LC or international border, it will use tactical nukes against Indian Forces.
Pakistan Prime Minister Abbasi, in New York, called India as “Existential threat” and openly highlighted Pakistan’s possession of tactical nuclear weapons. This myth was adequately broken by the surgical strikes, wherein LC was physically crossed and Pakistan could do nothing except making feeble attempts to deny it.
With over 200 militants killed in Kashmir, India is making remarkable progress in pulling innocent Kashmiris out of the fear of Pakistani militants. Pakistan is strategically important for China and US, hence some sustenance to keep it afloat will be there from either of them. India will have to be ready for all eventualities within its own comprehensive national power. Talks without any credible action against militants, and before next Pakistani elections are meaningless.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).