India-Pakistan: Back from the brink of war

By K.N. Pandita

Issue to be discussed

In this article we shall discuss the escalation of tension between two Asian nuclear power states of India and Pakistan. They have been at loggerheads ever since the partition of India in August 1947 and the creation of a new State of Pakistan out of the western land mass. Actually, two Pakistans were created; the Western Pakistan which is the present–day Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the Eastern Pakistan – separated by thousands of miles from the western Pakistan. The Eastern Pakistan rose in revolt in 1971 and separated from its western wing to establish the independent state of Bangladesh.

The reasons of acrimonious relations between India and Pakistan are many. The contention of M.A. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan was that the Indian Muslims would not live in a state of subjugation in the Hindu dominated majority of India, and as such, demanded a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims. The campaign for a separate stte for the Muslims naturally created bad blood among the two communities and the hate-Hindu psyche continues with the Pakistani rulers and indoctrinated people because of later events and their cumulate impact. Despite the partition, a majority of Indian Muslims stayed back and did not migrate to the newly formed homeland for them, viz. Pakistan. This became a point of discord because Pakistan very often takes up the case of the Indian Muslims as a discriminated lot and thus tries to bring its onus to the doorsteps of India.

Pakistan has been nursing other grudges against India. The first is that the Radcliff Award given by the outgoing British authorities at the time of partition of India in 1947. and aimed at drawing a dividing line in Punjab province, was unjust and a result of India bribing the British officers. As a result of this cartographic engineering, the district of Gurdaspur, which should have gone to the newly created state of Pakistan, was awarded to India. This unjust territorial alignment allowed India the overland access to the State of Jammu and Kashmir which has a Muslim majority and which otherwise would have no physical link with the Indian Punjab.

The second irritant to Pakistan, and perhaps a greater irritant, is that according to Pakistan’s contention, India illegally occupied the State of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. It argues that the Maharaja of the State was forced to sign the accession under duress, and hence, it is illegal. Pakistan further asserts that India has failed to implement the resolution of the UN Security Council, to which India had referred the issue, and that the fate of the State has to be decided according to the wishes of the people ascertained through a plebiscite.

India refutes this argument by asserting that in October 1947, when the ruler of the State of Jammu and Kashmir had signed a standstill agreement with Pakistan, the latter broke it unilaterally and then sent in armed hordes from the tribal areas in the then North West Frontier Province (now called Khyber Pukhtunkhwa) into Kashmir and provided them with arms, ammunition and other logistic support. The ruler of Kashmir, unable to withstand the onslaught of the tribal lashkars (legions) approached India, signed the instrument of accession and thus sealed the fate of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan refutes this standpoint of India by arguing that a revolt against the ruler of the State had been brewing in the frontier district of Poonch of the state where the state forces, engaged in quelling the revolt were perpetrating atrocities on the people who were fighting a national battle in Poonch area. Pakistan argues that the civilians of the present – day Pakistan administered Kashmir had thrown in their lot with the insurgents as they wanted freedom from the autocratic rule of the Maharaja of Kashmir.

As regards the resolutions of the Security Council, to which Indian had approached under Article 35 of the UN Charter supplicating for measures to be taken by the international community to throw out the raiders who had lead an incursion into Kashmir that had legally acceded the Indian Union. After long debates at the Security Council, two major resolutions were passed in 1948 and 1949, which provided a mechanism of restoring normalcy in the war-torn State of Jammu and Kashmir by taking recourse to the holding of an impartial plebiscite. However, there were some pre-requisites to that action and the most important one was that Pakistan was asked to withdraw all its regular and non-regular fighting forces from the original state of Jammu and Kashmir, India to minimize its military presence, and the Srinagar government to be recognized and held responsible for holding a free and fair plebiscite. It so happened that Pakistan never withdrew her fighting forces from its part of Kashmir rather reinforced them with more battalions, and India did not reduce the strength of its soldiers in Kashmir. In these circumstances, the allegation of Pakistan that India has been avoiding plebiscite in Kashmir cannot be considered tenable though Pakistan continues to harp on the same tune without relent.

In a significant development two Secretaries General of the UN, namely Boutros Gali and Kofi Anan said in a formal statement that the SC Resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir had lost their sanctity after the two countries had signed the Shimla Agreement in 1972 which was later ratified by the parliaments of the two countries. Both agreed to convert the ceasefire line into the Line of Control. They had also agreed to resolve the dispute through a bilateral dialogue.

Thus Kashmir (Jammu and Kashmir) has become a boon of contention between the two states; they have fought three wars and in one of these Pakistan lost the entire eastern wing which has become the independent State of Bangladesh. Their acrimony and animosity continues with dangerous escalation intermittently. One such dangerous escalation has sprung in recent weeks and months which we shall be examining in lines to follow.

Current issue background

After the eastern wing of Pakistan separated and formed a new state of Bangladesh through active instrumentality of India in 1972, a fear that India might at some point of time engineer fragmentation of the State of Pakistan, the policy planners in Islamabad are reported to have focused on two main action plans. One was to manufacture the nuclear bomb “even if she had to eat grass” and equip her army with latest weaponry to match the Indian might. The other was to internationalize the Kashmir issue and win over the opinion of western countries to the legitimacy of her cause in Kashmir. In both of these action plans Pakistan succeeded, thanks to the huge financial support provided by the Saudis and the political support provided by the imperial powers who considered Pakistan something of bulwark against the expanding Soviet Union of those days. The task of Pakistan in winning considerable ground for her twin plan became easier when India under Prime Minister Nehru decided to jump on the bandwagon of the Soviet bloc. In the diplomatic parlance of the western countries particularly the US, Pakistan became more aligned than the allies.

In recent months relations between India and Pakistan have met with a sharp downslide. It will be recollected that despite Pakistan’s insistence on holding bilateral talks to resolve outstanding issue including the Kashmir issue, India has not responded in positive terms. India argues that Pakistan has been instrumental in whipping up passions among the people of Kashmir, conspired to provide training to Kashmiri dissident youth in fighting the state forces and supporting the armed uprising in Kashmir. They have before them the model of Bangladesh where they claim India armed and supported the Bengali people to rise in revolt against the Pakistani authorities in 1971 resulting in the liberation of Bangladesh from the control of Pakistan.

India’s contention is that Pakistan is abetting insurgency in Kashmir on the one hand and on the other she asks India to sit round a table for a bilateral dialogue. India says there is contradiction in terms in Pakistan’s approach to the outstanding issues. . She has often told Pakistan to put a stop to the infiltrating of armed terrorists into Kashmir from her soil and wind up the terrorist training camps – more than fifty of them — on its soil at different places. India has drawn the attention of the Pakistan authorities to various armed attacks by the Pakistani terrorists on sites within India including the Mumbai attack in which nearly 262 innocent civilians lost their lives or the attack on Pathankot air base, the Kargil war of 1999 and many more attacks on military and police sites in the Indian part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan has been trying to convince the world that there is a voluntary freedom struggle going on in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and all that she does in this situation is to extend moral and diplomatic support to the freedom movement in Kashmir. Pakistan has rejected all the plethora of evidence produced by India to prove that these attacks are actually managed and guided from across the border. India has been strongly propagating all over the world that Pakistan has unleashed a proxy war in which terrorists trained on Pak soil are the rime actors.

It is true that there are a number of radical and religious extremist organizations in Pakistan claiming that Pakistan being an Islamic puritanical state will not tolerate religious plurality. There are laws like the Blasphemy Law according to which a person indulging in blasphemy against the Prophet or the faith will be he tried and punished by a court of law. The Blasphemy Law has been mostly used against the Christian minority of Pakistan. Likewise, the armed gangsters called Lashkar-I Jhangvi have openly declared the Shia faction of the Muslims as their target. A number of massacres of Shia community members have taken place in the past. Likewise, the Ahmadia are declared non-Muslims in Pakistan.

In Kashmir, strikes of armed militants against the presence of India have considerably increased in many parts of Kashmir, particularly in South Kashmir during recent months. The armed groups called terrorists by India and freedom fighters by Pakistan, have established a stronghold in South Kashmir which is considered the centre of the activities of radical Islamic party called Jamaat-i-Islami (JeI). There was escalation in insurgency related activities with Imran Khan taking the office of the new Prime Minister in Pakistan. Although he talked of resolving bilateral issues through a dialogue and not military power, the situation on the ground in Kashmir mostly handled by handlers outside Kashmir worsened day by day. In the meanwhile India kept on warning Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist structure in that country and help create an atmosphere of peace.

Another development that happened outside Kashmir but was germane to the Indo-Pakistan tension was the hard stance adopted by the Trump administration against Pakistan for its involvement in terror-related activities. President Trump accused Pakistan repeatedly of giving shelter to the militants of Haqqani group of Afghanistan that was fighting the NATO forces. It is reported that the Taliban and Al Qaeda activists that include the members of Haqqani goup also, have made safe havens in Quetta — the capital city of Balochistan, the southern province of Pakistan where the Afghan Taliban take shelter whenever hard pressed by the Afghan State forces. Pakistan has usually construed such diatribe from Washington as indirect support to India. In one of his speeches made in 1917, President Trump had said that his administration expects India to play a more pro-active role in the reconstruction programme of Afghanistan. Pakistan was sore on this policy matter because Pakistan does not want India to have any role in Afghanistan.

The fact is that Pakistan knows that Afghans have very cordial relations with India. A strong Afghanistan would become a fertile ground for Indian policy-planners to hatch conspiracies against Pakistan. As such, a section among Pakistan policy-planners including the hardliners in her super intelligence agency are convinced that Afghanistan should remain either politically or militarily weak or a pro-Pakistan regime should be at the helm of affairs in Kabul. It is with this objective in mind that Pakistan had created Taliban long back and had also convinced the US that creation of an austere entity called Taliban would be helpful in stabilizing peace in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has emphatically asserted that she needs space westward and Afghanistan has to be within her sphere of influence. Islamabad is determined not to allow India a foothold in Afghanistan although India’s role has usually remained limited to the developmental activities and building the infrastructure for Afghanistan. Thus Afghan crisis and the future of Afghanistan has also become an irritant in Indo-Pak relations. Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan has its direct repercussions in Kashmir. In 1990s, when many Kashmiri youth crossed over to the Pakistani part of Kashmir for receiving training in the training camps, many of them were taken to the Afghan training camps in the present Khyber Pukhtunkhwa area where the combined training camps of the Taliban and Al – Qaeda were functional. Once in a missile attack of the US navy on Khost terrorist training camp in Afghanistan several Kashmiri terrorists who were receiving training in the camp were killed along with some Afghans Taliban.

Reasons for the issue to happen

On 14 February 2019, a convoy of the Central Reserve Police, a security entity of the Government of India, was passing through Pulwama, a town about 30 kilometers to the South of Kashmir. The policemen were returning from their leave to rejoin their units in the valley. Then at a place near Lathipora, a person rammed his I$D loaded car into one of the vehicles carrying troops. The inflammable matter was detonated perhaps through a remote control which caused huge blast and the convoy’s carriers were set on fire. It was a a suicide attack in which 44 policemen lost their lives instantaneously. Jaish announced that it was responsible for the blast. Neither the Jaish headquarters in Pakistan nor the Pakistan government repudiated the claim of the Jaish. India lost ano time in recording her protest to Pakistan and Pakistan rejected the allegation saying that it was India’s figment of imagination as no inquiry had been conducted. India provided a plethora of evidence to her friendly countries to prove that the attack was planned and guided from across the border. India announced that the perfidy would not go unpunished. This was the beginning of fresh tension between the two countries. New Delhi came under public pressure to act in some way so that Pakistan does not get away with the impression that it is incapable of taking any serious action.

Ten days later on 24 February, Indian Air Force jets made a night assault on Balakot, a place on the border of Pakistan administered Kashmir and the KP province of Pakistan. Indian sources said that the Jaish militant organization in Pakistan had established its main camp at Balakot among the forests and on that particular night hundreds of Jaish activists had assembled there in connection with a convention. India claimed that in a blitzkrieg about 500-600 terrorists were killed in Balakot. However, Pakistan said that Indian Air Force had violated the Pakistani air space and she would take necessary action. Pakistan also said that the air attack from the IAF had done no damage at all to the humans and had only hit some trees in the forest. But unidentified videos have shown hundreds of dead people covered with coffin. The news also came that many corpses in Balakot were thrown into the river and some dead bodies, probably of the VIPs were air lifted. Veracity of these videos and rumors cannot be established.

Next day Pakistani war planes tried to intrude the Indian space and bomb some Indian ammunition dumps close to the LoC in Poonch sector but were confronted by the Indian fighters and engaged in a dog fight. In the course of this activity one Indian MIG was downed and its pilot bailed himself out. He was caught by the locals and handed over to the army authorities. A day later he was released and returned to India. Pakistan Prime Minister said he had ordered his release and return as a goodwill gesture and expected India to respond. India claimed to have downed one F-16 warplane of Pakistan and its blown up parts that fell on Indian side were shows to the authorities. India raised the issue with the US authorities that Pakistan using F-16 against India was in violation of sale-deed terms signed between Pakistan and the US. However, Pakistan denied using F-16 or its shooting down by the Indian fighter.

This was a very grim situation and reports say that both sides made frantic efforts to keep their air force in readiness. Pakistan imposed a ban on over flights as a security measure but Indian side said that Pakistan had banned over flights because she was deployed troops and armour along the border with India. India said she was ready for any eventuality.

As the crisis deepened, world powers took a serious note of the deteriorating situation. The almost warlike preparation by the two nuclear powers in South Asia was a serious threat to the peace in the region and the world. In view of the seriousness of the situation, the US, UK, Russia and even China advised restraint to both the countries. Behind the curtain diplomacy was pressed into service and pressures were brought on both sides to de-escalate tension. It is reported that the return of the captured Indian MiG pilot by Pakistan within one day was the result of most serious intervention by the US and other powers.

Fortunately the two sides responded positively to the good advice of their friends and did not do anything that would escalate tension. However, shelling and firing on the Line of Control continues intermittently as it has become a routine with the two sides.

The question is what next? The situation described above has brought out some harsh facts of the situation. Pakistan shall have to realize that it cannot continue nor expect any helpful outcome from promoting terrorist activities in Kashmir. India shall have to understand that the terrorist structure which the non-state actors have raised so assiduously in Pakistan cannot be dismantled overnight and that Pakistan will need time to do so. It is very clear that the two warring sides will have to be prepared to take counsel from their friends if they want to resolve the tension. The good sense that has prevailed at the last moment has saved the sub-continent from a cataclysm of unprecedented magnitude.

Future implications

India and Pakistan are two nuclear powers in South Asia. They are at loggerheads for last seven decades. At international platforms they are usually demonstrating their opposition to one another. Three wars have been fought on Kashmir issue. India says Kashmir is its integral part while Pakistan says Kashmir is its jugular vein. The international community tried to intervene but without success. The show off that took place in the last week of February is an indication that the warring countries know that a war and a nuclear war means total devastation and disaster. It will be in their interests to re-visit their traditional policy towards each other. Hatred does not help nor does obstinacy. Denial of facts ultimately turns into a big moral loss. The future unfolds two opposite situation. If good sense prevails, the two countries will find an amicable solution to their outstanding issues including Kashmir problem and then live in peace and harmony. The benefits of peaceful coexistence between the two will be highly beneficial to both the countries especially to Pakistan which can find a huge market for its products next door. But if destiny plays the catastrophic role then God be with them. They are standing on the brink of disaster; pull back or get destroyed, the choice is theirs.

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