Treading softly on the thin red line

There are two routes that India and Pakistan could take: they could either escalate prevailing tensions further and push the region towards greater possibility of a nuclear encounter, or cease further military operations and fight the battle diplomatically. This is because both countries have had their share of chest-thumping and victory to claim in the eyes of domestic audience. The Indian Air Force scrambled jets and allegedly hit a terrorist training camp inside Pakistan. The neighbouring nation, on the other hand, shot down an intruding IAF aircraft inside Pakistan allowing the military to restore its reputation in the eyes of its audience. Since the Balakot incident, people in Pakistan including in the military circles were pointing fingers at the armed forces and their capacity to defend the country. Now, with the shooting down of the IAF aircraft and detaining the pilot to back the claim, the pressure has released.

What lies at the bottom of the present cycle of tension is the struggle of both sides to re-adjust the threshold. The security community inside Pakistan was extremely concerned that not responding to the Indian attack was allowing New Delhi to redraw the red line. Though an assessment is yet to be made if Pakistan managed to push back the Indian red line to the position it was at before Pulwama, both sides now have their respective victories to show. From now on, the two governments could think about de-escalating and starting a fight or a conversation through diplomatic means.

In fact, it makes greater sense to contest the matter diplomatically. Interestingly, in the heat of military tension, the issue of both terrorism and Kashmir had slipped back. In the past few days, the world was discussing the fear of war in a nuclear South Asia rather than the underlying issues. It is only after de-escalation that the conversation may start in Pakistan regarding Jaish-e-Mohammed and other jihadi groups that are based inside the country. The US, UK and France have raised the question to the UN, asking for Masood Azhar and his group to be placed in the list of terror organisations. Obviously, there is frantic activity by both sides in trying to convince the world of their position. Inside Pakistan, a conversation will only begin if any shift in JeM’s status occurs at the international level.

Treading softly on the thin red line

Representational image. Reuters

Thus far, the organisation remains hidden from most public eyes. Unlike the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Jaish did not get involved extensively in welfare activities. It did not even engage with the stated policy of “co-option” according to which jihadi outfits could mainstream themselves by becoming part of the electoral process. Jaish-e-Mohammed has been very clear about its objective of jihad outside Pakistan. Even within the city of Bahawalpur where it is based, it tends to not draw much attention of ordinary folk until people put their ear to the ground and hear the chatter.

People in the immediate neighbourhood of the JeM headquarters sense the power of the organisation and nominally abide by its rules like not playing music, etc. They were not moved or disturbed even after the attack in Uri. They are likely to remain there until some international pressure comes into play. The official Pakistani position remains that the Jaish infrastructure in Bahawalpur is dedicated to imparting religious education. In the coming days, the government may even facilitate more visits to the madrassa by local or foreign journalists to prove the point. The federal information minister even claimed that JeM itself had no presence except for the two seminaries – madrassa Sabir and madrassa Subhanallah. The minister made no mention of Markaz Usman-o-Ali that has been the organisational nerve center since its creation in March 2000.

But referring to India-Pakistan tensions, it is still not clear if the prospective de-escalation that seems to involve the help of foreign players is based on the pre-condition of Jaish being declared a terrorist organisation, or the two countries will go to the drawing board again, trying to negotiate from their particular perspectives. Pakistan would like to draw attention towards, what it considers as the core problem, Kashmir.

While the international community appreciates the “dire conditions” of the Kashmiri people and “human rights violations” in the Valley, there appears to be little sympathy for organised terror as pushing the case. Internationally, there is not much consideration for Pakistan’s position on the group even if it were to make the claim that the JeM had nothing to do with the Pulwama attack and that India does not offer any credible evidence. Depending on the amount of international pressure, Islamabad could also opt for the argument it has used in the past for LeT, of the state not having the capacity to totally eliminate such groups. The international community may even be reminded of Jaish’s confrontation with the authorities in the past. This refers to Masood Azhar’s involvement in the December 2003 attack on Pervez Musharraf.

In short, there are two battles that are likely to be fought from now on - a diplomatic contest that will be linked with the struggle to describe to the world what JeM is as an organisation. In the fog of the ongoing war or warlike activities, how likely it is for the media to independently explore JeM is a question worth asking. At least, no one seems ready to ask the question about why the organisation operates inside the country, and its general worth for the society. From Pakistan’s perspective, even if it has to make some adjustments in the face of international pressure, it will hope for a quid pro quo of the international community linking the issue with the Kashmir dispute. At least, this is what Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has said repeatedly.

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Updated Date: Mar 01, 2019 17:43:55 IST

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