There would seem to be near unanimity in India that Pakistan has been dealt a major blow by India’s military actions. In Pakistan, there would seem to be near unanimity that India has done nothing of the sortby Gareth Price / February 27, 2019 / Leave a comment
A member of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) stands near the fragment of crashed Indian military aircraft in central Kashmir. Photo: PA For a long time, third countries have attempted to “de-hyphenate” India and Pakistan, attempting to build their relationships with both separately, rather than see one through the prism of the other. India and Pakistan, however, appear not to have been so successful in doing so. The latest outbreak of hostilities follows a familiar pattern whereby India is attacked by militants ostensibly linked to the Pakistan state, and subsequently responds with its own military show of strength. Of course, once a military approach has been adopted, the dangers of escalation increase. The combination of nuclear capability coupled with a desire not to lose face is a particularly hazardous one. Added to this is a reluctance, on the Indian side, to engage in dialogue. India’s approach to Pakistan is relatively straight-forward. It wants Pakistan to stop its crackdown on militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), responsible for a suicide attack on police forces which killed 40 on February 14. Were it to do so, talks would have a purpose. Until that point, what is the value in talks if Pakistan intends to continue sponsoring such groups? Since Imran Khan became prime minister in Pakistan, he has repeatedly offered dialogue with India, and each time has been rebuffed. Pakistan’s position is more complex than India’s. There is widespread agreement that Pakistan should do more, but options for the international community, such as it is, are somewhat limited. In the first instance, engagement with Pakistan is necessary for some kind of political reconciliation in Afghanistan, given its special relationship with the Taliban. Second, attempts to target the leader of JeM at the UN have been vetoed by China. Consequently, India’s aspiration of isolating Pakistan remains, for now, an aspiration. Indeed, its refusal to allow two Pakistani competitors visas to enter India in the aftermath of the attack resulted in the International Olympic Committee urging sports federations not to stage competitions in India. Projecting strength is a core component of Hindu nationalism, as espoused by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. In contrast to previous governments, which it would argue allowed India to be pushed around, now it takes bold steps to counter aggression. The BJP is helped in this regard by a tendency for Indians to support stories that make India appear strong. While both social media and jingoistic news channels are generally problematic for those wishing for better relations between India and Pakistan, in the current climate this nationalism probably offers the way out, if recent precedents are to be the guide. In short, there would seem to be near unanimity in India that Pakistan, and the terrorist groups it sponsors, have been dealt a major blow by India’s military actions. In Pakistan, there would seem to be near unanimity that India has done nothing of the sort. Thus, both sides should have enough to claim victory, with the caveat that shelling across the Line of Control will need to be resumed to demonstrate both countries’ resolve. Certainly, India’s recent “surgical strikes” against Pakistan, and its stand-off with China, have ended with all parties involved claiming success. Hostility if not outright conflict will continue to frame India-Pakistan relations until both sides agree (at the same time) that they would prefer a more amicable relationship. The mid-2000s was the last time this was the case. The Mumbai attacks of 2008 ended any attempt at rapprochement. And while many within both countries would like better relations and can see the merit of so doing, there are powerful interests in both against such an outcome. Pakistan’s military would struggle to justify its political influence without the existential threat that India provides. And the projecting strength element of Hindu nationalism does require an adversary against whom strength can be projected. India, coincidentally, is due to hold a general election by May of this year. Perhaps, depending on the outcome, another window of opportunity for dialogue may open. One day, such an opportunity will be taken. Until then, tension with occasional conflict and the risk of escalation will remain the forecast for this particular region.