And the advantageous fallout at home
Almost two weeks since the Balakot ‘attack’ it seems- at least for the time being- the probability of another war with India has reduced to normal acceptable levels but tensions remain high with daily skirmishes along the LOC resulting in injuries and casualties. For India it has been has been quite an embarrassing folly.
Flying Mirage 2000s into a nuclear armed enemy state’s territory just to ‘show that we can’, lying about the outcome of the ‘strike’ by claiming JeM hideouts were blown to bits with 300 terrorists killed but only managing to fell a few trees was beyond reckless and ill-conceived. In terms of both the successfulness of its air force’s reply and the diplomatic advantage taken from it Pakistan fared much better by taking out an Indian MiG-21 in a dogfight, capturing the pilot and releasing him three days later as a ‘goodwill gesture’.
Modi, with the unquestionable support of the Indian media has been unrelenting in whipping up the anti-Pakistan rhetoric and war hysteria going into elections to be held in a few months. The desperation and transparency apparent in his electoral strategy has forced some even within India to conjure up a conspiracy theory that perhaps the Pulwama attack- the inflection point in all of this- was of the government’s own doing. Ridiculous as it may sound it speaks to how unpopular the BJP’s Kashmir policy really is amongst the more enlightened lot there.
Yet, all the international praise and domestic solidarity has proven insufficient to mask the glaring reality Pakistan faces: years of inaction have made proscribed organisations residing here a major liability
PM Khan’s handling of the entire episode is commendable, to-the-point speeches conveying a collective message of peace and not war. Full support of the armed forces in all matters domestic and foreign helped matters further. Even the opposition parties lent their full support to the PTI government but when it comes to India there cannot be much of a divergent view in any case. A unified response to Indian aggression is probably the only point at which the country comes together, ignoring party lines and religion.
Internationally our swift yet restrained response has been highlighted helping us gain much-needed brownie points with the West. At home an indirect positive outcome has been the firing of one of the most repulsive members of the PTI Fayaz-ul-Hasan Chohan who deviated from the approved narrative on India after a video of his racist rant against Hindus went viral. In the past Khan had overlooked Chohan’s plethora of indecent comments about women, derogatory references towards Kashmiris and a general disdain for political opponents that came out in the vilest way possible.
Ignoring this particular transgression was difficult given the circumstances and all told it was actually good press for Khan with comparisons being made between his action against a racist and his Indian counterpart’s endorsement of violence against Muslims.
Yet, all the international praise and domestic solidarity has proven insufficient to mask the glaring reality Pakistan faces: years of inaction have made proscribed organisations residing here a major liability. Lets not remain under any false perceptions over the presence of the leadership of JeM in Pakistan and its unavoidable ramifications. The combined pressure of the US, EU, FATF and even our allies who have had enough (China) has left little room to exercise our outdated strategy of maintaining the status quo.
An oft-presented argument in favour of these groups is that they are assets useful in combating the infiltration of non-state actors wreaking havoc within our borders. Does this strategy really work in the current geopolitical landscape anymore? Does any other nuclear-armed state maintain a similar defence against the perceived threats it faces?
Khadim Rizvi had to simultaneously push all the wrong buttons to force the hand of all those institutions that had given him a pass in the past. Off the grid due to his belated incarceration and his street prowess crippled as a result, perhaps a future indigenous threat has been neutered albeit after much reluctance. Was it worth it?
Actions that are being taken now are more than welcome but let it not escape us that back in 2016 an English daily reported an exchange between the political and military leadership of the time regarding difficulties faced by the former while making a move against militants in Punjab. Does that report- popularized as Dawnleaks- not merit a reread?
There are no comfortable answers to these questions and it seems those at the helm of matters have finally realized this fact. Masood Azhar’s cohorts have been arrested and Hafiz Saeed reined in. Spin it whichever way you want; there is simply no escaping the reality that our so-called harmless assets fighting the good fight have no space in or relevance to the long-term stability of Pakistan.
A lot of the rot still has to be sorted and rooted out. Hopefully it does not take another flamboyant misstep from our neighbours to make that happen. Moving forward while protecting the genuine interests of the country is key. Progressive democratic countries around the world continue to reject any and all forms of terrorism and extremism and that should continue to be our direction as well.