Pakistan's desperation over Kashmir is evident as it plays Afghanistan card, threatens nuclear war in South Asia

As diplomatic options become scarce, Pakistan is turning increasingly desperate on Kashmir and showing signs of falling back on the few leverages it has on this issue in an already constrained hand. Its moves to link Afghanistan conflict — where the US is frantically seeking an exit strategy — and naked fearmongering over ‘nuclear war’ in south Asia are aimed at blackmailing the Donald Trump administration and the United Nations into intervening into an issue that until recently was a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan but since 5 August has turned into India’s "internal matter".

The blow has been stealthy, swift and lethal. According to analysts, a fuming Pakistan is also getting ready to simultaneously exercise its covert options that involve deploying jihadi assets to infiltrate into Jammu and Kashmir. However, none of the overt and covert options guarantees the outcome that Islamabad is seeking. The problem is self-inflicted. Pakistan is desperately vying for international attention to solve an inherently domestic problem.

 Pakistans desperation over Kashmir is evident as it plays Afghanistan card, threatens nuclear war in South Asia

File photo of Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. Twitter@PTIofficial

Pakistan’s military leadership and its civilian leaders fed lies to its populace on Kashmir for decades. Those lies are now an albatross around Rawalpindi’s neck. Its economy lies in ruins, and consequently, its strategic choices against India are restricted. This forms the core of Pakistan’s frustration.

India has taken away the raison d’etre of its existence but Pakistan has very few cards to play to force India to alter its decision. Revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status is not linked to Pakistan’s existence, per se, but Narendra Modi government’s move takes away the centrality of the Pakistan army’s role in its polity — which has been to wage a never-ending war against ‘Hindustan’ to enforce Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s 'two-nation' theory and finish the “unfinished business of Partition”.

Pakistan army is on the verge of a precarious precipice. It must continue to wage war against India on Kashmir to maintain its image, but its tools of doing so have been severely dented. Falling back on jihadist proxies to carry out its strategic objectives would have been the most obvious, low-cost option but the impending review by FATF, the global terror finance watchdog, is hanging over its head like the proverbial Damocles’ sword.

Till October, when the FATF review that may decide Pakistan’s fate on staying as a ‘greylisted’ nation or descend into a ‘blacklisted’ one is done, Rawalpindi may refrain from attempting to move its “non-state” actors and assets into Kashmir.

Analysts such as Abhijit Iyer-Mitra of Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies have pointed out, through satellite-based open-source intelligence (OSINT) that Pakistan is slowly building up towards exercising its military options for a sub-conventional war or posing a threat of it as long as it succeeds in grabbing international attention. For now, it is activating cells within Kashmir to create local trouble.

“Pakistan is... asking its local agent provocateurs in Kashmir to foment street trouble. For instance, one message said, 'just go out in the streets and die'. This would play into the expressed concerns of the UN and international community, which revolve around human rights. Such a large-scale death of protesters would also give Pakistan grounds for a major military escalation under the guise of humanitarian intervention or the responsibility to protect," writes Iyer-Mitra.

This is in line with what analysts expect — that an increasingly cornered Pakistan that so far received little international support (even within the Muslim world) on its campaign against India would fall back on its time-tested playbook of activating the LoC.

Tilak Devasher, author and member of National Security Advisor board, writes that "possible Pakistan efforts could involve a big spike in tensions on the LoC coupled with large infiltration attempts and terrorist violence. Observers have noted the movement of air and ground assets in PoK. The disclosure of Imran Khan in the US that Pakistan had over 30,000 to 40,000 jihadis becomes relevant. Pakistan would like to provoke a serious security situation in Kashmir or elsewhere in India and hope the resultant India-Pakistan crisis grabs US attention and intervention."

Such an option will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Pakistan succeeds in fomenting violence within Kashmir by infiltrating ‘non-state’ agents or encouraging local provocateurs, then the violence will feed its narrative of unrest, and, in turn, give rise to more violence. That, at least, is the plan.

On the diplomatic stage, Pakistan bared its hand on Monday when its ambassador to the US explicitly linked developments in Kashmir with the Afghanistan mess. Pakistan adjudges this as the most effective arrow in its quiver since the Trump administration is quite desperate to end America’s longest-running war and carve out an exit strategy from the war-torn nation. As the local patrons of the Taliban, Pakistan’s role as a mediator is to bring the Taliban to the discussion table and broker a peace deal.

Islamabad reckons that if it reneges on its promise, the Trump administration might feel compelled to bear down upon India on Kashmir — a playbook it has deployed since at least 2002 when America’s Afghanistan strategy underwent a sea change post 9/11.

Accordingly, Asad Majeed Khan, emphasised in an interview that Pakistan may be “compelled” to “redeploy” troops from its western border where they are purportedly denying “Taliban a safe haven” and “undertake redeployments” on the eastern border because right now in Islamabad, apparently “we are not thinking about anything but what is happening on our eastern border.”

For good measure, Asad also dropped large hints of a possible nuclear war between two nuclear-capable nations with a “history of conflict” so that global powers, driven by their existential insecurity over a nuclear holocaust in South Asia, force India to alter its decision on Kashmir. It is all very desperate and pathetic, but Pakistan has few options left.

In another American newspaper, among scores of western media outlets that have so far been very sympathetic towards Pakistan’s viewpoints, Asad wrote that India’s actions have “put South Asia on the brink of conflict for the second time in less than six months” and quoted the Pakistan prime minister who “recently warned the international community of catastrophic consequences should India’s latest act of recklessness lead to conflict. This, he stressed, is the reality of any conflict between the two countries that are armed with the weapons that both India and Pakistan possess... The time is now for the United States to make good on Trump’s offer of mediation.”

Interestingly, at a time when Pakistan’s ambassador to the US is threatening the world of a nuclear war unless the US gets ready to intervene, India’s ambassador to Washington Harsh Shringla in an interview said that: “President Trump has made it very clear that his offer to mediate on Jammu and Kashmir is dependent on both India and Pakistan accepting it. Since India has not accepted the offer of mediation, President Trump has made it clear that this is not on the table anymore.”

What we see here is a battle of narratives and that suits India’s purpose just fine as long as status quo ante is maintained. So far, the global community had urged India to maintain the status quo faced with repeated terror attacks or provocations from Pakistan. Modi government’s proactive move to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s “autonomy” and turn it into a Union Territory has put the onus on Pakistan to react, and so far Pakistan has been struggling to come up with a viable response.

It is conceivable that in the long run, Pakistan will fall back on the only real option it possesses against India — jihadist proxies that will launch terror attacks, try to create unrest and civil disobedience in Kashmir to garner the attention of a world that may be becoming increasingly wary of meddling into the dispute. For Pakistan, the choice is clear. Either fall into deeper delusion and give up all semblance of a nation or get a reality check and start rebuilding its economy to increase its strategic choices. One suspects the latter option is beyond its reach.

Updated Date: Aug 14, 2019 18:45:53 IST