A Frustrated Yell In Kashmir

14 August 2014
Gayatri ChandrasekaranL

New Delhi: Addressing army and air force personnel in Leh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said Pakistan 'has lost the strength to fight a conventional war, but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism'. In usual fashion, the statement was quickly condemned by Pakistan and the country's foreign ministry spokeswoman retaliated by saying, 'Press reports of Indian accusations, at the highest political level, are most unfortunate, especially as the leadership of Pakistan wishes to establish good neighbourly relations with India.' This sudden coldness in relations between the two countries - just three months after Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended Modi's swearing-in - is expected. There is an inherent unpredictability in the relations that can nosedive with one terrorist attack, one aggressive statement or even an exchange of barbs at the United Nations. In the present case, however, Modi's outburst comes after a series of cross-border incidents - infiltration of terrorists and violations of ceasefire on the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir - since early July. Pakistan is in a state of flux. A year has passed since Sharif's election as Prime Minister. But there is no end, or even a start, in solving its most pressing problems. There is a strong insurgency on its western border, one that its army has been selective in countering: the so-called good Taliban have been spared and packed off to Afghanistan to fight the Americans and the Afghan government, while the bad Taliban has been given a drubbing. This selective countering of a terrorist menace has not helped bring stability. Politically, Sharif is increasingly embattled with his rivals - including Imran Khan, whose party now holds power in the disturbed province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - challenging his authority almost daily. Today, on Pakistan's Independence Day, he is to carry out a huge anti-government demonstration in Islamabad, asking for Sharif to resign. The Prime Minister has also had a tough time with the Taliban - with whom his party flirted for a while before the national elections last year - which routinely carries out bombings and killings of civilians, police, judiciary and media. One pattern, observed in the past, is that when politics hots up in Islamabad for the ruling party or a Prime Minister is in trouble, guns begin booming on the eastern border with India in Jammu and Kashmir. Terrorist infiltration, except for a brief lull under Pervez Musharraf as president, has never really stopped. The pot has always been kept boiling. In her book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War, Georegetown University professor C. Christine Fair explains that 'from the 1970s onward, Pakistani military planners increasingly saw irregular warfare as enabled by Pakistan's expanding nuclear umbrella' (Chapter 9, p. 259). This essentially means that the Pakistani army keeps engaging in low-intensity conflicts because it knows that the threat of a nuclear war will keep India from escalating the conflict into a conventional war. Additionally, if the threat of a nuclear war becomes too high, a global arbiter of power (read the US) is likely to intervene and prevent such an occurrence. So the Pakistan army can engage in low-intensity conflicts secure in the knowledge that India won't react too harshly or if it does, the US is sure to discipline it. Modi and peace? This is the usual state of affairs between the two countries and nothing has changed between the time Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister and now when Modi has taken over. The truth is that every Indian Prime Minister for the past two decades has wanted, in fact actively sought, to solve the Pakistan problem, not only to mend fences with a neighbour but also as part of legacy-building activities. And each one has failed, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Singh to Modi. It is too early to say that Modi has failed. But the truth is that altering the dynamics of relations between the two countries is increasingly beyond the power of an Indian Prime Minister alone. Unless he gives in to concessions that will almost certainly kill his political career, no Indian Prime Minister can ensure peace with Pakistan. Something else has to give for that to happen. On this pessimistic note, one can safely say that matters will continue as usual between India and Pakistan, for now at least.