Wednesday, March 22, 2023
HomeOpinionGlobal PrintIndia-Pakistan face-off over Pulwama is Narendra Modi's biggest foreign policy challenge

India-Pakistan face-off over Pulwama is Narendra Modi’s biggest foreign policy challenge

New Delhi can pat itself on the back for persuading Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to not fly directly from Pakistan.

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India and Pakistan are facing off over Kulbhushan Jadhav at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, at the Financial Action Task Force in Paris, and will soon, via their respective friends the US and China, battle over banning Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar at the UN Security Council.

Back home in Battleground Kashmir, the fight for influence has ebbed and flowed since 1947. But nothing brings back memories of Masood Azhar as intimately as the decision by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1999 to release three terrorists – Masood Azhar, Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar, aka Latram – in exchange for nearly 180 passengers of the hijacked IC-814 flight in Kandahar.

On the tarmac in Kandahar, on 31 December 1999, was none other than national security adviser Ajit Doval, then an officer with the Intelligence Bureau. He, along with Vivek Katju, then joint secretary on the Pakistan desk of the ministry of external affairs, waited for then foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s plane to land and hand over those three most-wanted men to the hijackers.

Also read: As Pakistan’s leverage with US, China, Saudi Arabia grows, is it even possible to isolate it?

But Masood Azhar’s first brush with India had come long before in 1994 when he entered the country on a forged Portuguese journalist passport. He was arrested and confessed later that his job was to unite two terror groups, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), under the Harkat-ul-Ansar, of which he was the secretary.

Today, Doval is once again leading the charge against Pakistan. This time, though, besides the Kulbhushan Jadhav case, he is also helping strategise India’s broad response to the Pulwama attack.

The big difference in these 20 years, between India then and now, is the rupture in Indian politics. In April 1999, the Vajpayee government lost power by one vote but when the invasion at Kargil was discovered a month later, he led from the front as caretaker prime minister in getting the Pakistanis to walk back across the LoC.

The Congress party and the rest of the Opposition supported Vajpayee during the Kargil conflict. When IC 814 was hijacked and Vajpayee decided to release the three terrorists in exchange for the passengers, the Congress party held its tongue. The political attacks came much later.

Today as well, after Pulwama, the Congress and the rest of the Opposition has come out in support of the government. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are travelling across the country, ostensibly to inaugurate development projects but promising severe retaliation against Pakistan at every pit-stop.

Also read: India has been squeezing Pakistan economically even before Pulwama

Meanwhile in the Punjab Assembly, BJP ally Akali Dal is demanding the Congress sack Navjot Singh Sidhu because he said that the blame for Pulwama cannot be laid at the door of all the Pakistani people.

As for the Pakistani people, they seem to be pretty energised by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) statement that Pakistan should consider him their ambassador in the Arab world.

“We can’t say no to Pakistan,” said MBS, the enfant terrible of the Arab world, in response to Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan asking him to look after the interests of the 2.5 million Pakistanis who work in Saudi Arabia.

Oddly enough, MBS has flown back to Riyadh after the completion of his Pakistan visit Monday and will fly back to Delhi Tuesday from Riyadh – all to avoid the odour of the India-Pakistan hyphenation.

Certainly, Delhi can pat itself on the back for persuading MBS to fly up and down over half of Asia. After all, a flight from Chaklala airbase outside Rawalpindi, where MBS’ convoy of aircraft landed two days ago, to Delhi’s Palam airport takes a mere 75 minutes. Compare that with the five-odd hours it takes to fly back to Riyadh and then another five hours to Delhi.

All eyes are now on MBS’ India visit to see if and how he will surpass the rhetoric he employed in Pakistan. He is sure to ask Modi about his thoughts on Pakistan. Is India likely to cross the LoC again and carry out another surgical strike against his ‘favourite’ country? Something else, perhaps?

Of course, the Pakistani media has begun to extrapolate from MBS’ comments that India’s attempts to isolate Pakistan over Pulwama can never happen because it remains far too important for the rest of the world.

Also read: Why the Pakistani deep state sponsors terrorism in India

Pakistan may well be right. The Americans desperately need Pakistan right now for the success of the Taliban talks, which will allow them to exit Afghanistan. The Pakistani establishment has hosted the Taliban for several decades and they certainly have the clout to deliver them to the talks table.

Notice, though, that Donald Trump hasn’t once tweeted in support of Modi or India on Pulwama – since February 14 when the incident took place, there have been two tweets on China. The US President has left it to his NSA John Bolton to make the appropriate noises.

And then, there are the Russians. Only in January, the Russian energy company RAO Engineering said it wanted to invest $2 billion in Pakistan’s energy sector. This month, Russia’s Gazprom and Pakistan’s Inter-State Gas Systems have signed an MoU to conduct a feasibility study regarding gas supplies across the region.

Meanwhile China, Pakistan’s “all-weather” partner, continues to loom large.

Pulwama may well become the Narendra Modi government’s most important domestic as well as foreign policy challenge. In Kashmir, the political vacuum is growing, and people are getting increasingly restless.

As for Pakistan, PM Modi is certainly hoping he can use his personal friendships abroad as well as India’s influence to finish off his western neighbour’s use of terrorists as leverage, once and for all.

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  1. Indian is living in the name of so called democracy,but don’t let Kashmir’s to live democratically since 1947 either one way or the other ways and has always put Draconian laws on them & after capturing kashmir forcibly

  2. Do you in any way think MBS is going to give more leverage to Indian prime minister than the one he visited a day or 2 before?

  3. John Bolton has indeed made “appropriate noises” on his boss’s behest, but I doubt if in his heart he really sympathizes with India. Many years ago I watched him on TV. From my vague memory, someone asked him why should anyone doubt India even if it hadn’t signed nonproliferation treaty, hinting presumably at India’s nonviolence image. Again from my vague memory, John Bolton said some words to the effect that it was okay that Gandhi had popularized India’s nonviolence bit, but there were some extreme Hindutva elements in India which prevented him from being so sanguine.

    This was 7,8, or may be 10 years ago, I truly don’t remember. But I clearly remember the essence of that exchange as mentioned above. So, despite the simple statement he put out to Ajit Doval that India has a right to self-defense, some no-mincing-the-words stuff must have gone out to both Pakistan and India. Pakistan’s roughish-ness is known to the world, but John Bolton cannot be expected to have a benign view of India’s present power clique.

  4. While India has to worry about China, Saudi. USA and nuclear arsenal of Pak, Pak is free to hit India as world needs it for many things. Hence, India should talk peace, observe strategic restraint and wait for next round of attack. If this is the thought, then why not hand over J&K to Pak and buy peace? We need to review our objectives and strategize accordingly. If we are what we believe we are, we must give up all restraint and hit ISI and its terror infrastructure and assets everywhere, come what may. Else we are doing the same round of chest beating one more time.

    We ought to isolate those 5 district of J&K which have separatist concentration, abolish Art 370, make 3 states of kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh, exterminate anyone taking up arms, throw dead bodies in Arabian sea as terrorist has no religion etc.

    If Modi can do it, he would do a great service to India.

    • It is collated that Pakistan is a nuclear threatening rogue nation with terrorism its main stay. It is all too willing to perish by using nuclear arsenal in the guise of retaliation at Indian military provocation. The Indian military has acknowledged contingency plans exist for punishing Pakistan severely in the event of a terrorist attack. But carry the danger of retaliation by pak and uncontrolled escalation. This fear is exacerbated by the fact that both countries possess nuclear weapons. Pakistan has repeatedly signalled it would not hesitate to use them. Extremist elements in Pakistan have a clear incentive to precipitate a crisis between India and Pakistan, so that Pakistan’s nuclear assets become more exposed and vulnerable to theft. World peace is at stake.
      Can India give up all restraint and hit ISI and its terror infrastructure and assets everywhere, Come what may? Now PM Modi and India as a responsible, sensible peace loving Nation have to show sagacity and choose to deliver a possible holocaust to assuage public outrage to avenge the forty four brave hearts martyred in Pulwama attack or still have alternatives to bring Pak to senses. The rest of the world is really helpless consternating at a possible nuclear war.

  5. Jiothy Malhotra embroidered on the subject, but after reading the article, there is nothing concrete. We owe it to one or another to act on Pakistan. It is not the supposed influences that the public authorities have that will solve the challenge. It may be necessary to start wondering if the internal aspect of the problem should not be dealt with. This has not been done since 1947. And yet we have tons of reports and commissions that have thought about it. To do what? The issue is not limited to outside interference, there is a problem at the bottom. And this problem is internal. Let’s start by treating it, while not losing sight of outside interference.

  6. Everybody knows the reality, but is afraid of openly expressing it for fear of being branded anti-national. Let a few days pass and let the tempers cool down. Questions will be asked and responsibility will be fixed.

  7. Never has the hyphen between India and Pakistan seemed as firmly wedged as it is today. No one believes it will be placed between India and China any time soon. It is a measure of petty thinking that we cannot countenance Crown Prince MbS jetting in directly from Ckaklala to Pslam, these are the achievements we now take pride in. Along with their Ministerji, the corps diplomatique of MEA too seem unable to make their voices heard. The twin policies, if one may call them that, of not talking to Pakistan and seeking to isolate it internationally are in full bloom, and we see their fruits all around us.

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