For the better part of three months, Indian public attention has remained rooted to the situation on the LAC in Ladakh. It shifted marginally to J&K on the first anniversary of the dilution of Articles 370 and 35A but remained fixated on analysis of governance, politics and the neutralisation of terrorists, with too little focus towards the actual threats from across the borders that remain persistent, though as yet low-key. The Indian decision of 5 August 2019 put Pakistan in a quandary.
The separatist networks started drying up, propaganda through social media got largely neutered with deactivation of 4G mobile connectivity and internationally, there were few takers for the Pakistani narrative. Even the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed no reservations over India’s actions. For Pakistan, J&K remains an obsession; the psychological make-up of its polity, leadership and even its people is based upon the pursuit of somehow taking J&K into its fold.
Expression of national frustration is rife, putting even the deep state under pressure to do ‘something’. A bounce back is what Pakistan is working upon in the hope of creating severe challenges for India in the domains of internal security, LoC management, information and psychological warfare, internationalisation and dual front threats. So where does it stand in actualisation of these threats?
Nothing seems to have worked in its favour, so it is in the field of international relations that Pakistan’s deep state reckons it has scope to show its people that it is making some efforts.
It probably hopes that the internal situation in J&K will take a turn with time for which it must remain prepared internationally. This perception springs from the rapidly changing international environment where its strategic partner and closest ally China is seeking to upset the US dominance of the world and pursue a new balance of power equations. Pakistan has already demonstrated strategic loyalty by moving troops to Gilgit Baltistan (GB) to posture and prevent India from focusing all its effort towards meeting the Chinese threat.
Pakistan is aware that in the emerging dispensation, China aims at diluting India’s strategic confidence to prevent it from playing any effective role in the joint US strategy to contain Beijing. A subsidiary intent is probably assessed by Pakistan as the safeguarding of Chinese interests in GB through which its flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), runs from Kashgar to Gwadar. Here arises the fond Pakistani hope that China will coerce India militarily for which it will need Pakistan’s assistance to keep J&K on the boil both internally and at the LoC.
Pakistan’s frustration also stems from the refusal of the Saudi Arabia-led OIC to endorse its bidding on J&K. Pakistan was hopeful of taking the Islamic world along to back its efforts at the UN to raise J&K as an agenda, which would have put India under pressure. The Saudis have long considered Pakistan an asset in terms of its balancing presence as it shares a long border with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s chief rival within the Islamic world.
The relationship has even seen Pakistani military presence in Saudi Arabia for protection of the Royal Family and former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif as head of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition set up by the Saudis. In the last two years, Saudi Arabia has bailed Pakistan out of a deep financial crisis with a $3 billion aid-cum-loan and $3.5 billion energy credits on deferred payments. In December 2019, the seeds of a cleavage in the relationship appeared sown when Pakistan initially joined Malaysia and Turkey for an anti-Islamophobia conference at Kuala Lumpur outside the aegis of the Saudi-led OIC.
It withdrew when the Saudis frowned but claimed that a special J&K-focused OIC meeting would be held at Islamabad in April 2020, which never happened. Strangely, Pakistan is now displaying even more frustration with its maverick foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, stating to Saudi Arabia: “If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask PM Imran Khan to call a meeting of Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the Kashmir issue.” Probably backed by China, Pakistan was willing to go against its most important partner in West Asia, returning $1 billion of the Saudi loan due for repayment and accepting a promised equivalent from China.
Internationalisation, currently the main component of its strategy, has led to the visit of Turkish diplomat Volkan Bozkir, due to take over as the President of the UN General Assembly, to Islamabad. Turkey was one of the few countries that supported Pakistan over J&K but Bozkir’s ability to swing anything for Pakistan is challenged by the relative international lack of will and intent to look at the world’s conflicts while the pandemic rages. China’s recent attempt at discussing J&K in the UN Security Council also failed.
While none of the above diplomatic efforts seem to have succeeded, Pakistan has also resorted to its age-old ploy of cartographic aggression. It has published new maps showing J&K as part of Pakistan. The new map, in which the complete J&K is shown integrated with Pakistan, also has annotations of “India illegally occupied J&K—disputed territory—final status to be decided in line with relevant UNSC resolutions”. It hopes to project the map at the UN too.
Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts appear to be an attempt at psychological warfare against its own population to keep reminding it of the intense efforts by the Imran Khan-led PTI government with reference to J&K. Paradoxically, the five-month reprieve given by the Financial Action Task Force is also drawing to a close and there are half the demanded legislative actions yet to be completed. Energetic moves towards support to terrorists have taken a temporary break but the effect of that on the internal security situation in J&K will only go in favour of Indian security forces.
With infiltration having been reduced due to effective Indian operations at the LoC and recruitment of local Kashmiris having gone down by 40%, the deep state is looking into an abyss in which it may effectively run out of resources by the end of this year. It would have to ramp up infiltration from different directions (the Jammu routes) and attempt one big Pulwama-type terror act, which is not easy under the given circumstances. Failing these, the LoC would be activated. That translates into actions by BATs or hits against shallow objectives, Uri style. Thus, while India can temporarily remain satisfied with the situation relating to J&K, there is every need to remain wary of some old and perhaps some new ways that could be attempted to turn the situation around.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd).
Former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps. Now Chancellor, Central University of Kashmir