Modi-led India unlikely to de-escalate tensions, experts opine


–Former defence minister warns of future ‘mischief’ by Indian military, advises continued vigilance

–Experts tell both nuclear-armed nations to exercise self-imposed restraint

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has in a very assertive way conveyed to India, through its military response to aerial intrusions earlier this week, that limited scale hostilities cannot be the ‘new norm’ between the arch-rival neighbours, but India is unlikely to change its course at least in the near future.

This was the consensus among military experts at a roundtable on “Escalation Management and Control between India and Pakistan” organised by Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI), a think tank based in the capital.

The speakers included former defence secretary Lt Gen (r) Asif Yasin Malik, Advisor to Strategic Plans Division Amb Zamir Akram, former defence minister Lt Gen (r) Naeem Lodhi, Amb Ali Sarwar Naqvi and former Strategic Plans Division director general Khalid Banuri.

The speakers argued that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was looking for a public face-saving before de-escalating the ongoing crisis with Pakistan. They, however, cautioned that there could be more Indian attempts aimed at settling score with Pakistan’s military forces, which could further escalate tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

Lt Gen Asif Yasin Malik said a climb down from the escalation ladder would be costly for Indian PM Modi. Return of the Indian pilot was useful for building international image but, he opined, the gesture would not affect Indian calculations regarding escalating or de-escalating tensions.

Speaking about the India-held Kashmir, Gen Malik said over 60 per cent of the Kashmiri population was below the age of 35 years, which explained why the youth were more unwilling to accept Indian tyranny and occupation. “Dynamics of Kashmir is in nobody’s control, it is on auto-pilot now.”

The crisis, he said, erupted after a Kashmiri boy attacked Indian occupying forces in the held Kashmir. However, unfortunately, it was being used by the Indian leadership to divert the world’s attention from the Kashmir issue and bolstering BJP’s re-election prospects, the general said.

The former defence secretary, while speaking about the current escalation, said a state had to plan for both escalation and de-escalation, and poor planning for any of the two scenarios could lead to war.

Ambassador Zamir Akram stressed the need for escalation management and control to ensure that nuclear deterrence was maintained. He emphasised that de-escalation was only possible once both adversaries had a common interest in de-escalation and unilateral measures aimed at de-escalation would not work.

He identified rationality, signaling, transparency and credibility as key factors influencing the crisis management.

He said credibility of deterrence was essential for de-escalation.  In the previous crises, he recalled, Pakistan and India exercised self-imposed restraint even when they had not tested the nuclear weapons. Now that both neighbours were nuclear powers, the situation demanded much more care, caution and responsibility from both states as well as a greater role of international community to timely defuse the situation.

It was stated that credibility of the crisis manager is critical for both sides. Helping India and Pakistan timely de-escalate the ongoing tensions is a test of the US credibility as a crisis manager. During the 1990 crisis, Robert Gates helped diffuse the South Asian crisis. However, in the present situation, it remains to be seen whether the US is part of the problem or solution or both.

In response to a question about next possible steps towards de-escalation, the speakers said restrictions on the individuals demanded by India and meeting some of the requirements of demarche shared by New Delhi could allow Indian political leadership to save face before its voters and de-escalate.

Former defence minister Lt Gen (r) Naeem Lodhi warned about Indian military attempting more mischief in future. He, therefore, advised continued vigilance.

Khalid Banuri said the current crisis was a test of diplomacy. Pakistani diplomats must internationally highlight the Indian violation of the UN Charter, instigating an unprovoked international armed conflict and grave violations of the UN resolutions.

Defence analyst Syed Muhammad Ali said that Pakistan had simultaneously demonstrated resolve and capability along with restraint in its calculated use of force. The Pakistan Air Force could have caused much greater surprise but restrained itself because it only aimed at dissuading India from any future misadventure, he added.