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Brinkmanship Pakistan style: It won't work anymore

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain

Updated: August 22, 2015, 6:47 PM IST
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Brinkmanship Pakistan style: It won't work anymore
Even as I write, the drama being played out in Indo-Pak relations with respect to the follow up on the Ufa declaration is on expected lines.

Even as I write the drama being played out in Indo-Pak relations with respect to the follow up on the Ufa declaration, is on expected lines. There are two reasons for the chain of events involving Pakistan since Ufa. First, Pakistan failed to slip into the draft resolution any inclusion of J&K issue as agenda for the follow up to Ufa. It is a separate issue whether India would have accepted any mention in the declaration at all. However, it created enough concern within Pakistan and within the Hurriyat in J&K with much strategising to see how diplomatic advantage could be re-wrested. This was the trigger for the next step. To force J&K somehow into the agenda the LoC was activated through a series of ceasefire violations and symbolic acts were carried out in Kashmir to display separatist sentiments. Flags of Pakistan, Islamic State flags and even singing of the Pakistan national anthem were on display; anything, which could draw attention. The strategy has been well thought through. Pakistan's psychological warfare machinery has always been pro-active. Terror acts were kept within threshold; enough to cause damage and raise emotions and yet not force too much pressure on the Indian government. The message here was for the world that J&K is still an unsettled issue and for India that stability was elusive because Pakistan could still calibrate at will. The last part of the strategy was to engage in brinkmanship and for that nothing like a revisit to the same issue which needled India into calling off talks last time in 2014. The Hurriyat may be the pawn in this game but it is quite happy with the role allotted to it. Sartaj Aziz could effectively have consulted the Hurriyat leaders from the comfort of his Islamabad office with 21st century communications such as Skype. But that would have been too practical and being practical doesn't allow good brinkmanship. That is why the Hurriyat drama was re-enacted. As I watch 'breaking news' I find that the brinkmanship failed and the talks are off. Who is the gainer and who the loser?

With their internal constituencies both governments will have different perception of the way the events have moved. The Indian Government has re-established its image of being tough by sticking to its red lines laid down the last time. Engagement of Pakistan's leaders with the Hurriyat is a No-No, especially since it is easily realised that this is to needle India and keep J&K relevant. It is a reversal of policy from the time of PMs Vajpayee and Manmohan when India actually enabled the Hurriyat to travel to Pakistan. Those were times that the Hurriyat behaved a little more responsibly. It did not sponsor raising of Pakistan flags or call for bandhs which lead to extensive stone throwing and violence. The Pakistan government would probably have never involved the Hurriyat or given it relevance but the Army wanted to be in control right from the moment Nawaz Sharif returned from Ufa. It was unhappy and did not accept the fact that NSA level talks were also an ice breaker and expansion of the agenda would be contingent upon the success there. Pakistan did not realise that by agreeing to NSAs meeting and not Foreign Secretaries it had effectively accepted that the prime issue for discussion was terror with add ons. The follow up was to be with the DGMO and DG BSF which again involves infiltration, ceasefire violations, terrorist acts, drug smuggling etc. As it is J&K was getting relegated due to relative stability brought about the Indian Army and the Pakistan based terror tanzeems were getting restive. To bring J&K to center stage Pakistan had to activate the LoC and involve the Hurriyat hoping that India would wilt in a game of brinkmanship. This only reveals how poorly the act Pakistan security establishment understands the current Indian government. This brinkmanship, in situations of future military standoffs on the LoC or when major terrorist actions take place elsewhere, can be extremely dangerous. This is the reason why I was keen for these talks to have gone through. The NDA 2 government has a distinctly different policy towards Pakistan and has not been able to seriously convey this because meetings between the two countries have mostly been on the sidelines and the Prime Minister cannot be expected to do undiplomatic hard talking to his counterpart in these brief encounters. Even the visit of Foreign Secretary Jaishankar to Islamabad was really a recce for SAARC and nothing more. The NSA talks would have allowed the Indian NSA to convey some realities to his counterpart. Among the prime issues would be the fact that India is not impressed by the frequent references by Pakistan leaders, past or present, to the Pakistani nuclear capability which it tends to use as a threat to deter India's response to actions of its proxy war undertaken under the concept of a thousand cuts. That India's patience and tolerance are running thin under severe media and public pressure would have been the next part of the message. The last and most significant aspect would have been a message to communicate that India's severe churning in its armed forces, in terms of procurement, budgeting, reserves, personnel and logistics, must not be read as as dilution in military capability but rather an intent to sharpen our response to challenges. The perception that India is obsessed with economic growth and will not risk a conflict even if it's interests are hurt is flawed and does not convey reality.

Within Pakistan opinion will be divided. There is general awareness of how the Deep State runs Pakistan's foreign policy much against its interests. Segments of the civil society and media will condemn the unnecessary provocation on grounds that this meeting would have been a good ice breaker after many years; J&K could well have been taken up after the first few meetings. But for the Pakistan Army that would be an image dilutor; politically inclined armies are careful about that. Internationally these events are happening just as the American author Christine Fair has launched a very effective campaign to bring to life the real face of the Pakistan Army, as a villain of the peace. After her seminal work 'Fighting to the end, the Pakistan Army's way of war', she has written a series of articles. The latest one urges the US And its allies to link all aid and certification for legislation to the good behaviour of the Pakistan Army. The latest course of events already being linked to the Pakistan Army will only add weight to the arguments of Ms Fair. Naming and shaming the detractors of talks, through usage of extraneous factors other that agreed at Ufa should form the bedrock of Indian diplomacy.

The Pakistan Army and the ISI are adept at the game of subterfuge and back it by bold and irrational decisions, now extending even into the diplomatic domain. What it needs as a counter dose are some very irrational acts which will force its actions to be much more defensive than offensive. J&K is the right place to carry these out. Restricting ceasefire violations to any geographical limits works to Pakistan's advantage. We need to extend our responses to other areas where we hold major tactical advantage.

Even as this piece is uploaded the situation about the talks remains tenuous with Pakistan insisting that it's NSA is traveling to New Delhi on Sunday and that J&K was a part of the fine print. The government of India's tough stance is having effect and for once Pakistan is getting the message that brinkmanship will not work.

First Published: August 22, 2015, 5:37 PM IST

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