Article 370 revoked: Pakistan’s overt and covert options against India on Kashmir are limited, ineffective and self-damaging

Ambushed by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah on Kashmir, Pakistan is frothing at the mouth. The entire country — the military, politicians, civil society, media and various machineries — has finally gotten over its state of shock and sprung into a volley of vituperative rhetoric against India. Pakistan is undergoing a collective mental disintegration, alternating between shock, disbelief, despair, rage and outrage.

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, who was just the other day grinning like the Cheshire Cat after meeting US president Donald Trump, now looks as if Modi has hit him for 36 runs in the final over of World Cup. Since India’s decision to revoke Article 370, end Jammu and Kashmir’s ‘special status’ and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, a shell-shocked Khan has conducted a joint session of the Parliament and chaired a National Security Committee meeting attended by three services chiefs, ISI head, joint chiefs of staff committee chairman and top ministers.

 Article 370 revoked: Pakistan’s overt and covert options against India on Kashmir are limited, ineffective and self-damaging

Pakistan prime miister Imran Khan chaired the Natioanl Security Committee meeting on Thursday. Image courtesy: Twitter@pid_gov

The collective decision of Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership is to call India’s action "unilateral and illegal" and implement a number of steps against India that are either ineffective, self-damaging, or both.

Let us quickly run through the retaliatory steps. Pakistan’s announcement of downgrading diplomatic ties with India reeks of self-defeatism. It has asked Indian ambassador to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria to leave the country and announced that Pakistani counterparts in India would be called back. On the face of it, the move makes little sense. India has nothing to gain from maintaining diplomatic relations with a terror-sponsoring, rogue, bankrupt banana republic and it may actually welcome the development.

As ORF senior fellow Sushant Sareen writes, "In fact, this is a favour that the Pakistanis have done to India because the Pakistani High Commission was a den of spies. India should use this opportunity to actually downscale the mission and let a second or third secretary head it."

Suspension of bilateral trade with India is more of a self-damaging step for Pakistan — a nation that is tottering on the verge of bankruptcy. India enjoys a marginal surplus in bilateral trade even though the volume is minimal. According to commerce ministry data, India exported goods worth $2 billion to Pakistan (mostly onion, tomatoes, sugar, tea and coffee) while it imported goods (cotton, mineral ore, cement, etc) worth $500 million per year. The figure nosedived 92 percent to $2.84 million in March this year compared to $34.61 million in March 2018.

India had revoked Pakistan’s MFN status long back and as experts have suggested, if Pakistan stops buying Indian goods, there are ready markets in West Asia and South Asia for New Delhi to tap.

Suspension of bilateral arrangements could be slightly more impactful in comparison, though here, too, Pakistan is unlikely to push the envelope. Commentators believe that Pakistan may issue threats to review bilateral agreements such as the Lahore Declaration or Simla Agreement, and some have gone on to express fears that Pakistan may declare intent to redraw the Line of Control (LoC). However, in light of a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs that rearrangement of Jammu and Kashmir’s status is India’s "internal matter concerning the territory of India", any misadventure from Pakistan on LoC will receive an adequate response from India.

As one has already seen during the cross-border ‘surgical strikes’ or Balakot air strikes by the Indian Air Force, India has refused to be taken in by Pakistan’s nuclear bluff and has raised the bar for a sub-conventional military response just under the nuke threshold. It is unlikely that Pakistan will be inclined to test India’s resolve, especially under the current leadership.

That leaves us with the Indus Waters Treaty and the bilateral agreement that prohibits both nations from attacking each other’s nuclear facilities. Here, it is worth noting that Pakistan’s posturing as an "irrational nation" that can inflict self-damage and destabilise the region to get even with India is a cynical calculation for strategic benefits. The 'irrationality', here, is actually the means for a rational end. For instance, IAF’s Balakot strikes invoked a lot of sabre-rattling from Pakistan but in the end, it settled for a symbolic attack on the Indian airspace and ensured the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan whose fighter jet crash-landed in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). It did not exercise the nuclear option.

It is therefore highly unlikely that Pakistan would seek to tamper with treaties such as the Indus Water Treaty or the 1988 Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations and Facilities.

File image of Imran Khan inside Pakistan parliament. Image courtesy: Twitter@MoIB_Official

File image of Imran Khan inside Pakistan parliament. Image courtesy: Twitter@MoIB_Official

Pakistan’s endeavour to take the Kashmir issue to the United Nations Security Council is a stillborn move that is unlikely to result in any traction for Islamabad. The UN has already urged Pakistan and India to "exercise restraint". This is an urge for the status quo, which solidifies India’s position.

In any case, as India’s former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal has pointed out, "Article 370 does not figure in any UN resolution on Kashmir. It was inserted in the Constitution of India in 1954 unilaterally by India, many years after the UN resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir and, so, it can be unilaterally removed. The UN Security Council will not take cognisance of any Pakistani complaint."

It is to be noted that all major powers including some Muslim nations are either silent or have backed India’s position. In Washington, US Representative Eliot L Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and US Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday issued a statement where they tacitly backed India’s position and told Pakistan in no uncertain terms to "refrain from any retaliatory aggression — including support for infiltrations across the Line of Control — and take demonstrable action against the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil".

China has sounded defiant on Ladakh being declared a Union Territory but has refused to back Pakistan’s position. It has also urged “restraint”. It is evident that Pakistan’s move to corner India diplomatically on Kashmir will be ineffective at best and may even backfire.

That takes us to the final resolution passed by the National Security Committee in Pakistan that has vowed to observe 15 August as a “Black Day”. The symbolic move is unlikely to make India shiver in fear.

Pakistan’s declared steps are a smokescreen. It has no real or tangible leverage over India to force it to reverse its decision on Kashmir. What it can do, and will desperately try to do is to foment trouble inside Jammu and Kashmir, activate all sleeper cells and go ahead full throttle to open the jihadi terror tap to create a security nightmare in Kashmir. The terror attacks and casualties, thus caused, may be used by its propaganda machinery (with some help from a section of Indian media) to blame it on 'intifada' in Kashmir. This time-tested terror formula is Pakistan’s best option in terms of cost and effectiveness.

Pakistan may be also inclined to employ some Taliban terrorists into action in Kashmir and encourage trans-national terror organisations such as Islamic State or Al-Qaeda to focus on India. These options will definitely pose a challenge for India, but Pakistan has a problem here. Its status as a terror-sponsoring nation is globally acknowledged and documented, and the grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is hurting its economy. The IMF has already issued a threat to Pakistan that if it fails to exit the greylist, that may adversely impact IMF’s decision to release the $6 billion bailout package.

US president Donald Trump and Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House. AP

US president Donald Trump and Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House. AP

Pakistan has more bad news to contend with. Not only has it failed to meet the FATF standards and action plan on money laundering and terror financing, but it's also staring at possible blacklisting by the global financial watchdog by October. A US high-level delegation that recently visited Pakistan to take stock of its progress has returned unimpressed.

According to a report in Pakistani newspaper Dawn, the US delegation led by Alice G Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, warned Pakistan that it risks getting downgraded if it dilly-dallies on "taking actions against banned outfits, their activities and movements of their leaderships and key operatives". The US delegation "wanted some visible progress by the authorities to address adverse opinions from the majority of FATF members".

What it translates to, effectively, is that it won’t be easy for Pakistan to turn on the terror tap and use the export of terror against India at its strategic ends in Kashmir. The world’s attention is attuned to it and no amount of doublespeak is likely to help.

The second viable option that Pakistan possess against India is best described as the "madman theory". This is the real motto behind Pakistan’s move to downgrade bilateral ties. It seeks to trigger panic in the international community and present South Asia as a "nuclear flashpoint", thereby forcing major powers to impress upon India to reverse its decision on revocation of Article 370. This is not as long a shot as it appears. Pakistan’s frequent threats of using tactical nukes against India and refusal to comply with ‘no-first-use’ policy was an example of this “madman theory”. Its game plan right now would be simple.

It would tell the world that all diplomatic ties between the two nuclear-armed nations have broken down, and South Asia has become the world’s most "dangerous place". It has an ally in western media that readily eats out of Pakistan's hands and buys into its propaganda. Sample this.

Once again, the problem Pakistan has is this. The Balakot air strikes have reduced the effectiveness of this “madman theory” and right now Pakistan’s leverage over the international community (read the US) is minimal. Washington may make some noises to the extent that it needs Pakistan’s help in exiting Afghanistan, but it cannot afford to antagonise India beyond a point and let go of its only bulwark against a rising China.

In sum, Pakistan’s overt and covert options against India on Kashmir are limited. That doesn’t mean, however, that New Delhi can afford to lower its guard.

Updated Date: Aug 09, 2019 08:29:50 IST