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Af-Pak and the great Indian elections

Saurav Jha @SJha1618

Updated: October 24, 2013, 4:53 PM IST
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President Obama's forthcoming withdrawal of most of America's military presence from Afghanistan in 2014, is certainly churning the geopolitical scape in our part of the world. But politics is seldom compartmentalized from geopolitics especially when the epicentre of the latter is right next door. Pakistan's calibrated escalation on the Line of Control (LOC) shows no signs of tapering off, in fact indications are that what we are witnessing is only the beginning of a renewed Pakistani attempt at turning the Kashmir valley and perhaps beyond into a hot zone. But what does this have to do with India's general elections next year? As they say it's all about timing.

Of late, Dr Manmohan Singh's positive image as a clean prime minister (PM) presiding over an otherwise tainted and ineffectual UPA-II has come under a cloud due to the 'coal gate' issue. Recent allegations about the role of the PM's Office (PMO) in the matter have led to calls for his resignation in order to aid a more 'above board' probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), whatever that might mean. This development has followed the infamous 'nonsense' remark made by Mr Rahul Gandhi during the 'ordinance episode' which for better or worse did seem to undermine Dr Singh's authority, denials from the Congress Party notwithstanding.

Although Dr Singh has made it clear since the ordinance drama that he has no desire to remit office and expects to complete a full term, the very fact that he has to publicly state this is indicative that there may be some pressure on this front. Now one of the legacies that Dr Singh is perhaps looking to leave behind is that of having made concerted efforts to improve relations with Pakistan no matter what the level of provocation. His heavily criticized meeting with Nawaz Sharif in New York after all took place even as Pakistani infiltrators were running around in Keran.

Now the arms cache recovered by the Indian Army in Keran had a whole host of 9mm semi-automatic pistols in addition to the usual AKMs and grenade launchers. In fact according to former Indian Army Chief General Shankar Roychowdhury, the arsenal of the infiltrators in Keran resembled that of those who were sent during Operation Gibraltar in 1965 as a prelude the India-Pakistan war the same year. The current Indian Army Chief, General Bikram Singh also alluded to the heavy haul of pistols during the Keran operation in a T.V interview and he wondered if the idea was to facilitate motorcycle shootings etc in the hinterland. Pistols are far easier to conceal than assault rifles and when found in significant numbers on infiltrators is strongly suggestive of a desire to spark a campaign of random shootings against security personnel.

There is no doubt that Pakistan is upping the ante as far as its 'war of thousand cuts' against India is concerned. Infiltrators are now even trying launch operations across the international border (IB) in Jammu as we saw during the Samba encounter. Moreover the Pakistanis are also adopting Chinese Army style tactics and threatening civilian contractors undertaking developmental work along the LOC. Meanwhile the likes of Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed continue to mock America's 10 million dollar bounty on his head and engage in anti-India activities on Pakistani soil in full public view. All in all, the picture is one of heavy provocation and of an attempt by Pakistan to revitalize the Kashmir conflict.

In the midst of all this is US pressure in the background to keep India from taking more overt steps to counter the threat from Pakistan as that could complicate the former's withdrawal from Afghanistan. Indeed, Dr Singh's dovish posture on Pakistan is also seen by some to be borne out of a desire to keep India-US relations on an even keel.

But if say by November 2013 a variety of factors such as coal gate were to make it untenable for Dr Singh to continue in office, will the Congress replacement for the PM's post be equally accommodative of US concerns to maintain peace with Pakistan? If say Mr Gandhi occupies office for the remainder of the term would he still maintain restraint in the face of grave Pakistani provocation?

As I have written before, Mr Gandhi seems to follow matters related to national security somewhat closely( It would be interesting to see what he deems necessary for managing Pakistan's current policies vis-a-vis India. One must also note that if he were to indeed replace Dr Singh as PM, it would be at a time when Mr Narendra Modi's star as a national leader is on the rise and he is known not to support a 'peacenik' approach towards Pakistan. Given that the general elections of 2014 are likely to have a bit of a 'presidential' flavour with Mr Modi drawing large numbers of youth to his rallies, could Mr Gandhi perhaps want to highlight his own 'youthful credentials' as a 'do something' person on Pakistan? In this context the coming months could prove rather interesting for India-Pakistani relations.

If a less tolerant Indian PM were to exercise long muted options of 'hot pursuit' or attack terrorist camps across the LOC, it may set off a wider conflict with Pakistan. In that event would India's general elections proceed on schedule or would they be deferred? More importantly, would such a conflict if settled in India's favour as Kargil 1999 was, also give electoral bounce to the incumbent government as Kargil is supposed to have done? The answers to these hypothetical questions obviously depend on a hypothetical scenario that itself cannot happen unless it happens rather soon. Nevertheless it is interesting to watch various 'West leaning' Indian intellectuals try to shore up Dr Singh's position on social media and elsewhere.

First Published: October 24, 2013, 4:53 PM IST

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