• July 19, 2024

War, peace and an interaction

The dynamic between India and Pakistan has held the region hostage for a long time. We witnessed it time and again in the SAARC meetings. Every time a SAARC summit took place the rest of the agenda would be shunted to one side. Now that the two countries often share other platforms ranging from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to the UN summits and have a growing say in international matters it seems that this dynamic may repeat itself.

Right when you are about to make peace with the idea that due to its sheer reliance on meaningless optics the current Indian leadership is incapable of talking to Pakistan, some interesting development materialises. The hotline between the Indian and Pakistani Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) is considered a matter of routine. But this time the talk was about resuming the Line of Control (LoC) ceasefire agreement of 2003. As per reports, both sides agreed to implement it in letter and spirit. Whether it can lead to something bigger like the resumption of dialogue between the two countries is yet to be seen. But even if the agreement leads to the stabilising of the LoC it would be quite a heartening development. Since the Modi government came to power the LoC instability has wreaked havoc on both sides of the divide. In the occupied territory because of the atrocities of the Indian authorities, and in Azad Kashmir because of the reckless shelling by the other side. I wish I was exaggerating but it is what it is.

While Pakistani authorities issued a balanced if cautiously optimistic statement, the Bollywood adjacent Indian news industry is spinning a yarn of a heroic outreach where the Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval magically materialised in Pakistan to hold backchannel talks with the national leadership. And this arduous journey took three months. One can understand the eagerness to take credit in the changing global environment and let’s face it, it is an improvement if the Indian media’s penchant for theatrics is put to better use than peddling war hysteria.

What happens next? There have been many false starts in the past. So I am not going to lose any sleep over it yet. Meanwhile, Pakistan has done a lot to document the Modi government’s perverse activities in occupied Jammu, Ladakh, and Kashmir and its part in exporting terrorism and destabilising ideologies to the neighbouring countries. The leaked FinCEN files, the DisInfoLab’s report, a spy confessing his involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan, statements amounting to territorial ambition against all its smaller neighbours, the ill-advised confrontation with China, the noise and Indian ruling party’s inexplicable zeal to get Trump re-elected. What gift has the current Indian government not given to its detractors? And that is in addition to what India does to its people. Can it change its spots? We shall see.

In the past two years especially since Pulwama, I have shared with you whatever I have heard from the authorities. Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Foreign Office, the ISPR, the Army Chief. I admire the fact that despite the Indian government’s stir-crazy attitude our civil and military leadership continues to remain convinced of the importance of peace in the region especially between India and Pakistan. What I have missed I intend to share with you in the coming days. Let me tell you for example that when I interviewed Dr Moeed Yusuf, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security, last month, there was no sign of an active backchannel with Indian authorities. The Indian media’s talk of such a channel sounds more like embellishment than reality given that he is identified as the Pakistani liaison. I believe whatever transpired happened in the past one month.

Another riveting experience was an interaction with the Air Force Chief this week. Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan took us back to the days of the post-Pulwama confrontation between India and Pakistan. So far, we had heard from the civil and army leadership about the face-off between the two nations. Listening to the chief of the force that brought two Indian planes down, three if you count the helicopter downed by Indian friendly fire, captured an Indian pilot, and yet did not go for an overkill helped fill in many gaps. Compared to the dog whistles through which the Indian security establishment communicates with its press nowadays, I must say that I am growing fond of the openness their Pakistani counterparts brief the media with. You get a clear picture of the strengths and limitations, opportunities seized and missed, the vision and ground realities.

The air chief minced no words when it came to what Pakistan accomplished that day. Where Operation Swift Retort restored conventional deterrence it also established the operational and psychological ascendancy. There was only one pilot who was downed, captured and then returned. The rest was the fog of war. In the calibrated and proportionate response of our civil and military leadership he sees the trappings of a responsible state in comparison to the irrational actor India has become. In sharp contrast to the mixed signals emanating from New Delhi where a government wanted to use a crisis between the two nuclear-armed states to win an election, the Pakistani leadership was clear-eyed about the mission objectives — deterring further adventurism while avoiding escalation. Mission accomplished.

And yet it speaks to a larger issue at hand. The strategic calculus in New Delhi. Compared to all its neighbours but China, India is a giant of a country. With the endless supply of money, resources, diplomatic and political clout and access to cutting-edge technology, this power should act its size. But now replace this giant’s head with that of an impulsive seven-year-old kid. How do you contend with such a force which is least self-aware and oblivious to the consequences of its actions? On one side muscle-memory keeps dragging it to a position of growing influence, on the other its impulse control issues keep dramatically increasing by the day. What are we to do? The PAF, we are told, is alive to the challenge. It is focussing on indigenisation, improved training and research and development. It recently established a Centre of Artificial Intelligence and Computing along with state-of-the-art training facilities.

This is what the PAF is doing to meet the challenges despite its limited resources. But given India’s mad rush to procure more military hardware I like to posit that we will have to be more creative with diplomacy. Improved relations with India may one day convince it of the need for restraint. India talks a great deal about confronting China. But its strategic outlook remains obsessed with Pakistan. The problem with the idea of diplomacy bearing fruits is that the current Indian government is devoid of the vision to see its uses. For long I have argued that Pakistan should reach out to the Indian diaspora. In our countries we do not need to be reminded of our identities. But in foreign countries we, South Asians, look and sound the same. Given the Modi government is becoming a liability for the South Asian diaspora, Pakistan can reach out and win it over for an agenda of broader regional peace.

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