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Imran Khan’s diplomatic reverse swing has stumped Indian hawks and BJP

India will now have to step back and wait for diplomatic success to get Pakistan to abandon its jihad dependence.

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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement on the release and return of Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to India will now be used by the BJP as a proof that the muscular policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NSA Ajit Doval worked. But in reality, many questions will linger over the whole Balakot operation that was launched in response to the horrific Pulwama attack.

Imran Khan said the release of the pilot was a ‘peace gesture’ and urged India to start dialogue. But it is unlikely that any dialogue between India and Pakistan can begin before the upcoming Lok Sabha election. Even if the BJP rightly claims that new redlines vis-à-vis Pakistani sponsorship of terror have been laid, the new government in India post-May will have to deal with a shrewd Imran Khan, who has shown the same versatility in office that he showed on the cricket field.

Imran Khan saw an inflexion point and seized it. After Pulwama, India may have established the new pre-emptive strike doctrine to inflict punishment on terror abettors deep in Pakistan, which Pakistan’s ISI will ingest. But the ISI may simply embed the jihadi assets in the military facilities for their protection and not decapitate them. But the Indian aggressive policy of Ajit Doval, or Dovalisation of the Kashmir policy – using force sans political outreach and carrying out “surgical strikes” to counter Pakistani terror – have run their course in the current term of the Modi government.

Since the Uri attack in 2016, India-Pakistan relations have been in deep freeze. But the car-bomb attack on the CRPF convoy at Pulwama, killing 40 servicemen, for which Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) instantly took credit, landed the Modi government in a difficult situation. The BJP has been trying to politically exploit the emotive terror issue since the 2016 attack on a military camp at Uri. They gleefully awaited its Bollywood version called Uri, and went about ratcheting up jingoistic fervour after its release. Even Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman performed the fist-clenching act of soldierly “Josh” from the film.

Also read: Pakistan releasing Abhinandan for peace but Imran Khan isn’t optimistic about Modi

The Pulwama attack pushed this narrative and inflamed already roused public emotion, which now sought instant retribution. The Modi government faced a dilemma confronted by prime ministers since the 2001 attack on Indian Parliament. How do you punish a state clandestinely supporting non-state actors indulging in terrorism when it possesses nuclear weapons?

On 26 February, Modi government broke that vicious cycle of blackmail by aerial attacks on two targets across the Line of Control (LOC) and a major JeM training facility, within Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, at Balakot.

Foreign secretary’s briefing emphasised the following points: India had not targeted Pakistan but made a “non-military, pre-emptive” strike against non-state actors; India had credible information that those under training were planning to attack India; and India had no desire to escalate beyond this.

Naturally, public euphoria was widespread. Modi, subtly, and his party president Amit Shah, blatantly, used it in their election speeches. Next morning, Pakistan’s retaliatory air intrusion caused little damage on the ground but a MiG-21 chasing Pakistani aircraft was shot down and the pilot was captured by Pakistan. India claimed it shot down a Pakistani F-16, which Pakistan denied.

But with jingoism rampant, the script of invincibility of both militaries was punctured. And Imran Khan capitalised on that – portraying a picture of dignified moderation and readiness to settle differences through talks. He took everyone by surprise when on the floor of Pakistan’s national assembly, he promised the unilateral repatriation of Abhinandan Varthaman Friday.

US President Donald Trump had hinted that some good news was imminent, but most analysts read it as excessive optimism. But now it means that the US was in the loop and most probably instrumental in starting the process of de-escalation between the nuclear weapon-possessing neighbours. Imran Khan’s gesture of goodwill will lower the tension and lead to a gradual stepping back from the edge. Hawks in Indian establishment and the BJP will be stranded by Imran Khan’s diplomatic reverse swing.

Also read: India now awaits ‘third round’ of war-fighting and escalation before the guns cool down

A two-step approach is anyway underway: build public pressure via a joint US-UK-France resolution in the UN Security Council to list Masood Azhar as an international terrorist, and an outreach to Pakistan to dismantle JeM terror machine. Normally, China would veto the first, despite external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s attendance at the Russia-India-China (RIC) ministerial meet. But the US choreography may include putting pressure on China to not play the spoiler. The second step has been unsuccessfully tried by the US on previous occasions. But the Indian military pressure and the looming financial threat of the Financial Action Task Force black-listing Pakistan may help.

Undoubtedly, the Saudi-Emirati alliance is also guiding Pakistan towards reducing tension with India. But it puts Indian government in a bind because it stymies any further military operation against Pakistan, which would seem like an unnecessary military adventure.

After having flexed its military muscles as a show of Modi’s assertive leadership, India will now have to step back and await diplomatic success in getting Pakistan to abandon its jihad dependence.

K.C. Singh is a former diplomat and strategic affairs expert.

Also read: The way Pakistan sees it, Modi govt is playing a risky game & must de-escalate soon

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  1. The old “back channel” talks between India and Pakistan must continue, regardless of elections, or whatever excuses.
    Governments come and so but nations remain, and that’s the mist important thing.
    Khan seems to bank on the now-dormant back channel negotiations, and will revive in good time to heal the 70-year-old wounds of Kashmir.
    Now the proverbial ball in in India’s court – Modi or Gandhi, or whosoevet.

  2. Very dissapointing article..just having an anti modi agenda does not mean you have to show a terrorist country in good light…pakistan will never change its agenda against india..imran khan is puppet of pak army…

  3. Dear KC
    Loksabha ticket from LEFT/KHANGRESS party is up for loot….this article will help you to get one for yourself….

  4. I think what the people who have posted their comments on this article have missed is the point that International Diplomacy played a big part in the release of our Pilot and that the efficacy of our strike is yet to become clear. Indian Diplomacy is working effectively.

  5. Has there any action been initiated by Imran Khan’s new government in “Naya Pakistan” to serve justice in case of 26/11?
    When will they call an Indian delegation to probe into the terrorist links for Pathankot Airbase Attack?
    Does the terrorist enter into India from Arctic Circle? Who let then in?
    Who lures J&K youths to become Suicidal Jihadis?
    Do you have any doubt that the edifice of the state of Pakistan is anti-India?
    What is Masood Azahar, a terrorist exchanged in IC-814 hijack episode, doing in Pakistan?
    Do you think plethora of problems are going to end through TALKS?
    Nobody wants war but majority of Indians don’t also want their elected government(s) to be a mute spectator of a bloody-debilitating-state.
    Counter hegemony (in lips and bounds) has to be build to deter the threats emanating from Pakistan . Balakot airstrike was the second step. Surgical strike was the first.
    The myth of nuclear-deterrence has helped the rogue state of Pakistan disproportionately, to bleed India through Proxy-War. The surgical strike and the airstrike would help burst the bubble.
    I only wish if our politicians could differentiate between petty party-politics and National Priorities.
    One must know what to cash for votes and what mustn’t.
    The sacrifice of soldiers should not be used by demagogues (irrespective of parties) to muster irresponsible nationalistic fervor, WE MUST BUILT INSTEAD INCREDIBLE INSTITUTIONS WHICH WOULD TAKE OUR COUNTRY TO BECOME A TRUE POWER.

  6. what else do you expect from a #pidi who probably got his job and progressed because of #paadseva? These are the types who used to abuse indians comin to the Embassy for help. Eminently ignorable idiocy

  7. For a change, Pakistan played as per rules (i.e returned the soldier as per Geneva Convention)! This has stumped Indians!

    How can a rouge country follow Rules? Surprising, isn’t it!

  8. 1. If Pulwama attack was a JeM work, why didn’t the PM or ministers resign after owning up responsibility for national security failure?
    2. Instead of quitting, govt launched an air strike. Surgical Strike 2 was a farce to create a strong-man image and win votes. It just destroyed some trees and a crow. Are we fools to believe every lie said by our rulers?
    3. In the retaliation from Pak, we lose an ancient fighter jet and our pilot lands in POK. Instead of seeing this as a major failure, bhakts are celebrating. By sending a distinguished Wing Commander to battle in a pre-Cambrian useless MiG21 fighter jet, the government has shown utter disdain for India’s defence forces.
    After all this fiasco, what are the hyper-nationalists celebrating about?
    Those who criticise the govt are not anti-nationals. We are as patriotic as the rest of India, if not more.

  9. Laughable assertions — and he contradicts his own points too. Print website please do not publish such “click bait” headlined articles. This diplomat should narrate his success stories if any while he was in service. As for “strategic affairs expert” I laughed so much I nearly became a “general affairs expert”!. The Print — surely there must be some “real” expert than picking this cipher.

  10. My reply to all the indians go back and read history .your attitude proves our vision Pakistan is not going any where! We are here for 70 years and will be till the end of time .its so true the greatest leader our Quaid was a hardcore congress man till u people should true faces of double standards .what ur doing in kashmir is terrorism of highest level …before u comment on our economic wellbeing try to first build clean washroom s in your purehomeland .hahahs

  11. I wonder whether the author is indian or Pakistani .His entre story shows his ki king for Pakistan.

  12. In a way to through reverse swing Pakistani PM Imran Khan was forced to through short ball to which Indian Govt hit six. Pakistan groomed terrorists have been headache for many Asian and European countries and also to USA. Not forget Pakistan Govt was throwing reverse swing and Army and Air Force, googly to USA, who funded billions to eliminate Taliban, mean while Pakistan got hit out when finally the world’s and USA’s most wanted Osama Bin Laden was caught and ducked in Pakistan’s Abbotabad. Raising Talibani Al-Kaida in Afghanistan and parts of USSR, Pakistan bleed Russia. Further, large number of terrorist organizations especially ISIS, JEM, JuD, Lashkar groomed by the Pakistani military and ISI harmed China,
    European countries and Israel too. The effectiveness by which Pakistan based terror outfits cross talks with, recruit and train terrorists across the globe on its soil haunts western world, China, Russia, Iran and USA too. On the top of that, global leaders suspects Pakistani scientist’s involvement in transferring nuclear weapon manufacturing technology to different countries really really concerns various western countries. World’s major powers recognizes Pakistan’s ability to endorse terrorism and collectively came out up in anti against Pakistan and pressurized it to dismantle terror network on Pakistani soil. It was not much difficult for Indian Govt to amass global support by convencing it’s suffering of Mumbai attack, Pathankot, Uri and recent Pulwana at the hands of Pakistani ISI and military supported evil terrorist network. Besides this and most importantly, Govt of India under PM Modi’s leadership clearly declared punitive action after Uri and recently after Pulwama and delivered clear message to the world punitive action against terrorists, which mounted pressure on Pakistan. Modiji Govt policy believe in yourself and punish instead of screaming for help towards major powers for help to punish Pakistani terror infra.

  13. If u were searching reasons for India not taking it’s place in the comity of nation’s the reasons are people like kc Singh were part of foreign policy apparatus. Thank God he is now part of armchair analyst.Even here he comes across as unintelligent and with strong political leanings.

  14. KC seems to be totally confused. His Modi hatred due to not getting any job or assignment from this government, shows clearly from time to time. But in this article, he shows himself in a very poor light in terms of analysing this episode. Modi has drawn a new red line, considered impossible earlier. Pak was expected to react, which they did, could hardly inflict any damages but in the process lost their frontline F16. India too lost its outdated MIG 21. Our pilot jumped out but landed on the other side of LOC. Is this a matter of loss of face for India? Now under immense international pressure, if IK appeals for peace and hands over our pilot, does he have upper hand over Modi ? If other big powers help India to force Pak to stop its terror activities, is it not a better thing as the other powers would stand guarantee for Pak behaviour? The plain fact is that Modi has delivered a big blow to Pak and that major world powers excluding China are in our favour. You hate or love Modi, he has delivered for his country what was expected of every PM. KC and his ilk, better understand and acknowledge this.

  15. The suggestion coming from a former diplomat is puzzling. What Imran Khan was made to do by his military is not a gesture. After seeing Pakistan through out his tenure as a diplomat Singhsaab can pass such gullibility is equally puzzling. That overnight, Pakistan the rouge state has turned for good is not acceptable. They have stooped to bite back. Cease fire violations have increased and killing of forces is going on unabated. India has to weigh its options. They suffered huge losses in the air strikes. They lost an F16 which they were forbidden to use. International pressure against them is mounting. Even China seems to be circumspect. Pakistan is biding their time. Wg. Commdr. Abhinandan just returned will have to reveal. India has to be watchful. Long way to go. The winding up process is not simple. By the responses from Pakistan the escalation is induced. Let’s watch.

  16. 1.Pakistan Prime Minister has listened to Big powers and has released the Indian Pilot and has also desired to talk to our Hon.Prime Minister.However border attacks are continuing .Unless he creates a conducive atmosphere to “talk” the chances for a meaningful talk will be remote.Let us hope the efforts of big powers and Saudi will prevail on BOTH sides.

  17. A veteran diplomat is giving photo opportunity of an under pressure Pakistani prime minister more credit than the person who crafted such diplomatic relationship in world capitals that India is being backed by all important capitals. The diplomacy that was ridiculed by opposition and ex diplomats alike, is paying dividend. As. Mr. G Parthasarathy mentioned India is only country that is friend to US and USSR, Israel and Iran, Saudi and Iran. Honorable Ambassador K C Singh was in the help of affairs during Kargil and IC814 attack, what did India achieve. It is easy to criticise / comment when out of office, difficult to deliver when on hot seat. Mr. Imran Khan may look to be magnanimous to weak kneed peaceniks, but not to hard nosed diplomats. Everyone knows Imran Khan is not in charge. Despite his peace offer LOC is still on fire. Imran Khan reads out papers provided by army. So only a naive will feel romantic about Imran Khan’s gesture. Finally, if there is so much doubt about Balakot strike, why not ISI / JEM march a few terrorists who India claims to have killed. What better way to rub Indian nose in the dirt?

  18. Frankly I don’t agree at all that India is stumped.i would call it a diplomatic victory and also that India should keep up the pressure so Pak hands over their terror factory managers to us.

  19. Such an anti national elements articles should not be published. Article 13-35 of constitution emphasis on fundamental rights , but for such anti-national who claims patriotic should be banned from writing freedom. Absolute shame..

  20. This article may just as well have emanated in Pakistan as part of their spin. Congratulations,

  21. OK as per the author of this article everything but Indian pressure swayed away Pakistan. Sir, the moot point is how come FATF and UK-US-France have listened to India’s advice, isn’t it because of our hardcore military engagement flanked by diplomatic manoeuvres. It appears that the author is too much sceptical of this govt. and its policies wrt Kashmir and Pakistan. Sir, please enlighten us on the following questions
    1. What you have to say on the principle of the pre-emptive strike has debunked the nuclear threat from the Pakistani?
    2. “The de-hyphanation of Terroristan and Pakistan ” isn’t it helping India to move the fight against terror from Indian soil to Pakistani soil?
    3. The paradigmatic shift among Indian voters to see and vote on the basis of the foreign policy- isn’t it augurs well for the overall polity of the nation?
    4. Sir, what you have to say on rather than consistent policy on Pakistan, the inconsistent policy has yielded a much better result? {since no major terror attack took place in heartland India} .
    5. In addition to these, sir, what u have to say on the overall bigger point raised by the P5 countries that, if India has to sit on a bigger table of UNSC it must be perceived as a regional player and fight against the terror is a sine qua non for the overall bigger picture.
    In conclusion sir, appeasement of Pakistan on the pretext that it may do something foolish is like feeding a crocodile in your backyard thinking that it may not attack you. Sir such kind of sheepish attitude is not working in the international arena and more so in the context of jihadi elements who mokes on humanity and its virtues.

  22. The views of the author is well agreed to, but to give the Devil the entire due for the release of the IAF Pilot is to devalue the role played by a combination of factors including preemptive non military action deep inside Pak territory, diplomatic pressure generated by the Indian foreign office, PM, India’s consistently tough posturing on terrors and elimination of terror network in India. Also the economic sanctions by India, diplomatic isolation of Pakistan and potential military threats weighed heavily against Pakistan. India showed that there is paradigm shift in its approach .

  23. I was not impressed by Ms Eenam Gambhir’s speech at the UN. Polemic and brimstone are not part of a professional doplomat’s repertoire. 2. A similar impression about the speech at the OIC, a first in fifty years. A different script was possible. Trace India’s contact with Islam over a thousand years, referring not to the conquerors and ghulaami but how our lives have been enriched by this great religion. Say the one reason foreign tourists visit India is to see the Taj Mahal. Cut to contemporary times, the great voyage of nationhood and the efforts being made to forge a harmonious, progressive, secular society. Some of the challenges Muslims in India – as in other developing countries – face, the need for better education and economic empowerment, with special focus on the welfare of women. Our many diplomatic relationships with with Islamic countries, how our guest workers act as a bridge. 3. Show real class. Make no reference to Pakistan or terrorism, a subject almost each Muslim country has had to deal with. The message India should send in each global forum is one of self confidence and latent power. Our right arm is engaged with China, Pakistan ke liye toh left arm hi kaafi hai.

  24. Respected Mr.Singh

    Greetings on a day when we all are awaiting abhinandan to return to his motherland.

    Sir I don’t agree with headline of your article, as i am of the view that our pilot’s return was imminent, under tremendous international pressure.
    I would rather go on to say, as we say in game of chess,this was the BEST MOVE for Pakistan (read the establishment, not PAK PM). It should be seen as a political and diplomatic limitation and not a peace gesture.
    I say this because of the Pak establishment’s track record, Imran Khan is yet to make his own track .
    We all know the elected Pakistan is usually the puppet of Pak Establishment( Army+ISI), they are calling the shots since 1965.
    hence all this should be seen as aPR exercise for already internationally cornered Pakistan Establishment.

  25. Pakistan has to be talked into accepting LOC as the international border, Kashmir being permanently partitioned between India and Pakistan and Pak to stay away from affairs of Indian Kashmir for good. The next step is to Indianise Kashmiris and Kashmir.

  26. It remains to be seen as what will be Pakistan’s follow up actions hence nothing wrong in waiting out? If positive then that is what India is demanding since long, and if negative i.e. more of Uri and Pulwama, Pakistan’s true colours will again be visible. I think Imran’s action is being unnecessary seen as a diplomatic victory or reverse swing as Ambassador Singh puts it.

    Finally, a pull back was bound to happen sooner or later. That it has happened so soon should be welcome and let us hope for its continuance.

  27. Like we diplomatically succeeded in last 70 years to convince Pakistan on abandoning the jihad against India.?? Optimism is nice but blind optimism is a curse. And please try to not to be a Congress agent while writing here.

  28. A lot of people were disappointed when a Policeman was made NSA. There are plenty of reposts that nothing has happened at Balakot, but there is also a report of the Pakistani Railway minister’s speech in the pak Parliament. Something has happened for Pak to send a package. The Didis, Babus and Pappus of the world will pick holes in what has or has not happened. There are people with pathological hatred also who would do the same. None of these intellectuals unfortunately have even a suggestion as to how to approach the Pak problem other than at best to say TALK. A lot of different efforts have been made at resolving this self created problem but nothing has worked over last 70 years. Every hole that is picked only helps Pakistan so it would be nice if people keep their mouths shut unless they have a suggestion short of surrender to pakistan. The Gods and great of cricket should take note of Abhinandan who staked his lift for one hundredth of the of their earnings to keep them safe. Instead of hiding behind the government decision, say” India or Pakistan the ICC can make a choice”

    • I fail to understand why don’t Pak ISI and JEM parade the people that were running Balakot terrorist camp, it those people are alive and nothing happened due to bombing? What would be a better way to rub Indian nose in the dirt than parading terrorists as humble preachers. Any TV channel will lap up such an interview. In the past these people have not desisted from showing themselves on TV. Anyway, JEM leadership believes Pak army is not doing much work for them. The fact that no such people have been paraded, the fact that Pak ISI / army has not shown any photographs of the structure being intact, suggest that something had happened. If nothing had happened, why did Pak PM and army chief had a high level meeting, they sent 24 F16 to attack Indian military. This may point at something had happened. Our triservices chief has said that India has evidence. But since when Indian word carried more weight than Pakistani or world opinion to our liberal thinkers?

      • Fairly simple answers to your questions. Pak shared photos of all the four craters that were created by the four bombs that were dropped. No point of showing anything else since no bomb was dropped on them. Secondly why would Pakistan parade the JeM around when the JeM is officially a proscribed organisation in Pakistan. It would be stupid, and an unnecessary rubbing in the noes especially when you’re trying to deescalate tension. Your final question why did the PAF retaliate if nothing happened. Because it was the first time IAF jets came deep in Pakistan territory, not just Pakistani Kashmir but rather Pakistan proper, since 1971. Even in kargil IAF was under strict instructions to not cross the LOC. There was no way the PAF was going to allow this to pass. The deterrence had to be reestablished.

  29. Is this man real? if this man with the brains of Sagarika ghose can be a diplomat, god save India. Why sikhs like MMS, Sidhu and this man denigrate their religion of great courage with there bootlicking attitude?

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