And Islamabad’s own isolation
With an eyeball to eyeball confrontation between two nuclear powered adversaries resulting in actual military skirmishes, international diplomacy had to kick-in sooner or later. US president Donald Trump after walking out of a fruitless nuclear summit with North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un in Hanoi on Wednesday started his presser with remarks with, “we have a reasonably decent news that India –Pak confrontation was hopefully coming to an end.”
As a result of Prime Minister Khan’s unilateral gesture of returning the Indian pilot in Pakistan custody the situation has somewhat diffused. But unfortunately the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his overwhelmingly belligerent media are still baying for blood.
According to the Indian narrative Islamabad has done no favour to New Delhi by sending the captured pilot wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman back home within 3 days of his capture. If New Delhi’s self-delusional claims were to be believed Islamabad had actually buckled under international pressure.
Nonetheless Pakistan’s gesture was widely appreciated internationally. On the domestic front also it was by and large welcomed, although there was some muted criticism that Islamabad should have used the release of the pilot as a bargaining chip.
On the domestic front also it was by and large welcomed, although there was some muted criticism that Islamabad should have used the release of the pilot as a bargaining chip.
The Indian reaction to the ongoing standoff has been a mixture of outrage, and shock emanating from a self-created ethos of arrogance fully permeating its political and media elite. The Pulwama incident was justifiably an outrage for New Delhi. But instead of taking on Islamabad’s repeated offers of a probe and talks on all issues including terrorism it decided to teach Pakistan a lesson that in its own misplaced perception it will never forget.
For the first time since 1971, Indian fighter planes crossed the international border in the early hours of last Tuesday and bombed what was claimed to be a terrorist training camp near Balakot in KP province. The Indian media quoting official sources also boasted that 300 terrorists were killed in the operation.
But facts were quite different. The intruding planes had dropped their payload more than a kilometer away from their actual target.
In any case there was no training camp on the site but a madrassa. And not a single casualty was reported in the incident. According to India’s own media sources the villagers were loudly wondering where are the bodies of the so-called terrorists?
Perhaps the Indians thought that they have taken their revenge and given Pakistan a clear message that they can strike inside Pakistan at will. However what happened the very next day was much for them to swallow. Not only was their fighter jet downed in Azad Kashmir‘s airspace its pilot was also captured alive.
The botched revenge operation sowed doubts within the Indian commentariat about the capabilities of its air force. Some pro-BJP defence analysts blamed the previous Congress government for keeping obsolete MiG-21s (like the one used in the attack) in the fleet.
Nonetheless it is increasingly difficult for the Indian polity that the emerging superpower which they perceive themselves to be can be outmaneuvered militarily and diplomatically by their poor backward neighbour that they consider Pakistan to be.
Most Indians have a stereotype image of Pakistan. They think that only the military rules the roost in Pakistan and that the country is infested with jhadists who control the agenda and the national narrative.
To some extent it has to be conceded that Pakistan is grappling with some institutional issues of democracy. Nonetheless it has a functioning parliament with a very large and assertive opposition. Pakistan also has a vibrant and relatively independent media that is quite capable of resisting state control.
It has a developing civil society that has a mind of its own. To top it all off Pakistan has a professional army whose force de frappe is second to none.
Narendra Modi and his defense and foreign policy establishment perhaps overlooked these ground realities. Everyone on the world stage is talking to each other but the India is stuck in its old groove.
It still wants the world to believe that the Kashmir problem is a function of terrorism foisted by Pakistan rather than a self-determination issue that India has to deal with by talking to the Kashmiri leadership and Pakistan as well. However for the time being the jaundiced Indian mindset fuelled by its hawkish media does not leave any room for a reality check.
The US, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE have interceded to bring an end to hostilities. Islamabad has always welcomed third party mediation. It is New Delhi that maintains the myth of not accepting any other country’s good offices.
However history is replete with examples where major disputes between the two adversaries were diffused by third party interventions. The most recent was the Kargil misadventure that was settled through the good offices of US President Bill Clinton in July 1999.
Right now Modi is obsessed with his reelection bid. Only after the April Lok Sabha elections there can be a forlorn hope of a resumption of dialogue between the two adversarial neighbours. In the backdrop of the Indian PM refusing to take Khan’s call during the height of the crisis such hopes will remain a pie in the sky.
The joint session of the parliament was ample demonstration of unity between the treasury benches and the opposition, hitherto lacking. This ostensible bonhomie should be followed-up to build consensus on important national issues including the economy.
Everyone on the world stage is talking to each other but the Indian establishment is stuck in its old groove.
Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi while addressing the House disclosed that Pakistan was boycotting the OIC (Organization of Islamic states) held in Abu Dhabi, as a mark of protest for inviting his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj. The leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif endorsed the government’s view.
However the PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari while addressing the joint session was in favour of attending at some level of representation. He was rightly of the view that Pakistan should engage rather than isolate itself.
Pakistan’s no show left the field open for India. Predictably, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj in her speech at the foreign ministers moot spewed venom against Pakistan.
Despite tall claims of a successful foreign policy India being invited to the OIC forum is a lot of egg on our face. Why was our foreign minister so clueless on the issue?
Admittedly Islamabad should feel isolated on some vital international and regional problems confronting it. Take the case of the US, Britain and France the three permanent members of the UNSC (United Nation Security Council) submitting a proposal to black list Jaish-e- Muhammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar.
Other permanent members of the UNSC are putting pressure on Beijing not to veto the move. But like in the past the resolution could still be vetoed by China.
However, post Pulwama JeM accepting responsibility for the attack puts Islamabad on notice by the international community. Pakistan has to nail Maulana Masood Azhar for its own good rather under international pressure.
Prime Minister Imran Khan deserves credit for handling the situation maturely and with sagacity under immense pressure from our hostile neighbour. It really helped that the military and civilian leadership were on the same page and why shouldn’t it be so in a time of national crisis?
The opposition also despite being driven to the wall gave full support to the government. Unlike India where the opposition was not taken on board, the beleaguered opposition was well briefed by the government and the military leadership in Pakistan.