The events following the Pulwama Attack on February 14 – resulting in an act of aggression by India and a response by Pakistan ensuing in an Air Force “dogfight” – have brought the South Asian region back into the global limelight. For days, the international community feared the two nuclear-armed neighbours might end up fighting a full-blown war; however, as of now, the situation seems to have de-escalated owing to a number of domestic and global factors.
When India first intruded the Pakistani airspace, with the IAF fighter jets dropping their “payload” in Balakot, it raised the compulsion for Pakistan to react. If the attacking aircrafts had been aggressively engaged, and one or two of them downed, it would have been seen as a prompt and major equaliser. But that was not to be. So Pakistan responded by also dropping a few bombs, not across the international boundary, but across the Line of Control (LoC) in disputed Kashmir. Again, whether the targets were “successfully locked” but not hit as is claimed, or whether anyone was killed or not, Pakistan had shown that it will not hesitate and strike back, come what may.
The current calm in tensions between both the neighbours at this point in time provides an opportunity for soul searching for both India and Pakistan. India must ask the question why Kashmiris feel so deeply alienated and are ready to die. Pakistan must ask the question whether the militants allegedly operating from its soil have become an albatross around its neck. Pakistan also needs to ask how these militants and proscribed groups are undermining the Kashmiris’ just cause.
In terms of global support, Pakistan was isolated, since no country condemned India. Friends of Pakistan called for “restraint”, but there was no condemnation of the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Most sounded neutral and some offered to mediate in a lukewarm manner. This should come as a rude awakening for our Foreign Office and policy makers.
Moreover, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), a body that Pakistani believed it could rely on amid tensions with India, also refused to withdraw the invitation to Indian Foreign Minister as ‘guest of honour.’ The empty seat from Pakistan spoke as no words could speak more loudly of its loneliness at a forum that was founded by it. No one even spoke about mediating. The joint declaration adopted at the end talked of almost everything except Kashmir, which found mention only in a subsequent resolution that was secondary in nature.
The OIC’s message for Pakistan was: “While we value your friendship, we should not be counted as your allies against India.” Instead of rejecting India’s presence at the OIC, it might be worthwhile to weigh in its potential to provide some comfort to Indian Muslims. Pakistan should have utilized the forum – instead of abandoning it – to give a reply to Sushma Swaraj’s one-sided allegations implied against Pakistan.
However, it was not only the OIC, but the non-OIC countries also did not accept Pakistan’s narrative on militancy. President Trump recognised India’s right to strike. While talking about a “dangerous situation,” he also underscored that he “understood” why New Delhi was seeking a strong response. As he said this, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He stood by his side. The US Secretary of State Pompeo tweeted: “We stand with India. Pakistan must not provide safe haven for terrorists to threaten international security.”
Iran, Pakistan’s other neighbour, had also blamed Pakistan for the militants’ attack on a bus carrying Iranian soldiers, killing 27 of them, barely 10 days before Pulwama. Last November, Iran had also warned of launching operations against terrorists inside Pakistan in case Islamabad failed to take action. Around the time of Pulwama, a frustrated President Ashraf Ghani announced the start of Afghan exports to India via Chahbahar port in Iran bypassing Pakistan.
All these developments bring us to the all-important question; Is this not time for some soul searching?
The PTI government announced on Monday freezing of assets of entities and individuals listed by the UN on its terror list, in a new bid to signal its readiness to move against terror outfits. A day earlier, in a planned briefing for selected media persons, a senior security official talked of “imminent and decisive crackdown on extremists and militant organisations” as well as of “reviewing the stance on the listing of JeM chief Moulana Masood Azhar by the UN.” On February 26, the ban on JuD and Falahi Insaniat Foundation (FiF) had also been reinstated. Even though these moves were positive, such “expressions of intent” were also made in the past by successive governments.
Many in the country now hope that the assurances given this time will be different, but will things really be different? The question is relevant when one looks closely at the official background briefing. Replying to the question why Pakistan had failed to take action thus far, the official claimed that the military had implemented its part under the National Action Plan (NAP) and quickly blamed civilians for “lack of capacity, capability and will” for the failure. Asserting such self-serving untruths casts serious doubt on the seriousness of claims to launch a “decisive crackdown.”
In terms of Pakistan’s future policy direction, the litmus test in days ahead will be the progress in the trial in Mumbai attack, dealing with Moulana Masood Azhar and ending the distinction between militants that target the Pakistani state and those that target other countries. Only after taking a clear position on these the latter issues could Pakistan create a coherent narrative in the global community.
The writer is a former senator.