Pakistan's sabre-rattling in face of India abrogating Article 370 in Kashmir is almost entirely aimed at Imran Khan's domestic audience

In light of India's decision — as ratified by the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on Monday and Tuesday respectively — to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution, Pakistan, on Wednesday, announced a slew of diplomatic measures aimed at expressing its unhappiness with New Delhi's actions. Furthermore, Union Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah announced that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is to be bifurcated into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir (with legislature), and Ladakh (without legislature).

The revoked Article in question is a 'temporary provision' that grants special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, and makes special provisions for the state that are not applicable to other states.

And while it was on Wednesday that the Imran Khan government called for a downgrade of diplomatic relations with India, the suspension of bilateral trade and expulsion of High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria, rumblings had begun to emanate from Pakistan as early as on Monday. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa claimed, "Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations", while the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, "Pakistan reaffirms its abiding commitment to the Kashmir cause and its political, diplomatic and moral support to the people of Jammu and Kashmir for the realisation of their inalienable right to self-determination". A Joint Session of Parliament was also convened to discuss what was happening over in India.

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On a side note, the semi-closure of Pakistani airspace to Indian airlines, while announced on Wednesday, had actually been set in motion at 2.45 am on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, it appeared the Pakistani media, political and military leadership, sports persons and celebrities alike seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet: India's actions are unacceptable and the United Nations, UNHRC and even US president Donald Trump must sort New Delhi out.

All of which is well and good, but to understand Islamabad's downgrade of diplomatic relations with New Delhi, it must be framed within the context of two events: The buildup of Indian armed forces troops in Jammu and Kashmir over the weekend before Shah's Article 370 speech in Rajya Sabha and Khan's visit to the US.

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 Pakistans sabre-rattling in face of India abrogating Article 370 in Kashmir is almost entirely aimed at Imran Khans domestic audience

Prime Minister Imran Khan during the joint session of the Pakistan Parliament. Twitter @MoIB_Official

Under normal circumstances, Pakistan's response to what it views as a wrong committed by India is to fall back on its tried and tested 'Bleed India with a Thousand Cuts' doctrine. Actors who are non-State in name, but propped up or supported by State in reality, are usually deployed to commit heinous acts of terrorism in Kashmir with a view to destabilising the security situation. Being aware of the massive troop buildup — ergo, high possibility of failure, it's likely Pakistan decided to eschew that route and adopt more diplomatic means to air its grievances.

Khan's US visit at the end of July was mocked by members of the Opposition back in Islamabad, who slammed him as a 'compulsive liar' and took affront to some of his remarks. While PPP secretary general Nafisa Shah called the prime minister "Taliban Khan without beard", PML-N chief and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif claimed that Khan "exposed his dictatorial thinking by saying the media needs to be controlled. He is lying saying the media is free under his government while media is suffering from worst kind of censorship".

However, despite Opposition outrage, the visit was viewed extremely positively in Pakistan. For starters, Khan was able to secure $125 million worth of military sales to reinvigorate his country's F-16 programme. Next, as this article points out, there was no serious criticism of Islamabad vis-à-vis terrorism, with Trump seemingly satisfied with Pakistan's position on the topic. In fact, Trump communicated that he saw the South Asian country as an important partner in resolving the Afghanistan situation — something that will no doubt buy Islamabad wiggle room when it comes to US-Pakistan matters. Finally, it was the self-appointed solver-of-all-problems and cracker-of-all-deals' offer to play mediator on the Kashmir issue, based on specious remarks attributed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that underlined the success of the visit.

In the face of mockery, derision and anger from the Opposition parties, Khan appears to be looking to double down on the momentum and goodwill he and his government have acquired at home as a result of the US visit. And what better way to do it than to show your countrymen that Pakistan is willing to significantly cut down relations with its troublesome neighbour?

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In 2018-19, as per Department of Commerce data, Pakistan was India's 48th largest trade partner (total trade was worth $2.6 billion). To put this into perspective, trade with Pakistan comprised 0.3 percent of India's total trade for that Fiscal Year. In other words, the suspension of bilateral trade isn't really going to hurt New Delhi all that much. The airspace closure, as an Air India official pointed out, will only add 12 minutes to flight time for Indian airlines and "It will not affect us (much)". Khan now seeks to rally the UN Security Council and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take action against India. Neither of these groupings are likely to give him very much joy with Russia (whose annexation of Crimea was first recognised by India) likely to play spoiler in the UNSC and the UAE (one of the OIC's most important members) having already called the abrogation of Article 370 an internal matter. In any case, it's unlikely either bloc will be too enthusiastic about getting involved in a sovereign State's domestic policy.

It's the expulsion of Bisaria and refusal to send the Pakistani high commissioner-designate that raises a few questions: Largely, about what India will do next.

In the 21st Century, spats between the two South Asian neighbours have largely been marked by the phenomenon of  'diplomat tit-for-tat' with one country expelling an envoy, followed swiftly by the other country following suit. For instance, in 2016, after tensions had been simmering for a while following the Uri attack, India expelled Pakistani diplomat Mehmood Akhtar, with Islamabad retaliating swiftly after and expelling Indian diplomat Surjeet Singh. Thirteen years prior, India expelled Jalil Abbas Jillani from New Delhi, only for Pakistan to send back Sudhir Vyas.

This time around, Islamabad has sent back both, New Delhi's envoy and held back its own, preempting any 'tat' from India. Judging by the Modi government's no-nonsense approach to Pakistan, it is inevitable that there will some form of retaliation — although what form it will take is as-yet-unknown.

For now, it's safe to say that a lot depends on how the security situation holds up in Kashmir. Any deterioration will fuel Khan's argument, while a peaceful atmosphere will puncture it.

Updated Date: Aug 08, 2019 12:32:01 IST