The Sunday morning attack at the Indian military base at Uri, in Kashmir, 10 km inside the LOC, that has left 17 soldiers dead and many more injured has created new shock waves in an already tense regional atmosphere. But its real implications will manifest over the next few days to weeks – depending mostly upon Indian reaction, especially of its hardliner Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. (who will come under pressure from both his right wing supporters and his left of center detractors) But options exercised by Pakistan’s politically embattled Prime Minister (who in his growing paranoia suspects his military behind every move inside and outside Pakistan including the Panama leaks) will have their own dynamics. In view of these implications the event itself needs careful examination.
Elements of Indian state power – its media, strategic community, politicians, civil society pundits, top military and government officials – didn’t take long blaming Pakistan or Pakistan based groups with veiled references (if that can be considered veiled at all) towards Pakistan’s military establishment. Media blamed Hafiz Saeed’s banned Laskhar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) that operates under the name ‘Jammat ud Dawah” and Indian DGMO blamed Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jesh –e- Mohammad (JeM). But it was clear that these organizations are being mentioned in the context of being auxiliaries to Pakistani establishment, so cutting the crap short, its Pakistani establishment. Its difficult to trust whatever is said or printed these days but it was on Indian TV broadcasts that ‘markings of Pakistan’ have been found on the weapons. It was later published in some accounts that Indian DGMO had said that. Indian media also pointed out that Indian Intelligence Bureau (IB) had already alerted about the possible attack, and that three ‘Border Action Teams’ (described as BATs) entered from the Pakistani side; one of them attacked at the base and other teams are still looking for soft targets. (though later Pakistani DGMO talking on hotline with his Indian counterpart rejected all notions of militants crossing from Pakistani side and demanded Indians to share actionable intelligence if any)
Indian Interior Minister, Rajnath Singh, cancelled his five days’ trip to Russia and made several policy tweets calling Pakistan a terrorist state and expressed deep disappointment. Indian PM, Narendra Modi’s reaction – that severe punishment will be meted out to whoever is responsible – was reported in Indian media, though his official twitter account, which is the norm of announcing positions these days remained silent, till midnight. No one expects Modi to behave like the pacifist Manmohan Singh, so it can be safely concluded that he is letting the reactions build up and will then react as per the piled up emotions or rhetoric. And these reactions are definitely building up; his right wing Hindutva supporters are calling for befitting reply, a painful hit at Pakistani military and its installations (so conclusions have been drawn that only Pakistani military can be responsible), most interesting is the response of his supporter, former TV star (famous for popular tv serial, ‘Kabhi Sas bhi Bahoo thi’ turned BJP politician, Smriti Irani, who is offering her famous ‘bangles’ to PM Modi, for wearing; accusing him of being effeminate; this is an insult that can only be understood in South Asian context, otherwise world – I am sorry! Americans – is about to elect – Hillary Clinton as its emperor soon.
What makes the whole situation a bit funny is that Indian strategic commentators – who should have known better – are asking or considering the option of hitting the ‘militant training camps’ inside the Pakistani Kashmir, which Pakistanis call, Azad Kashmir and Indians refer to as ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). What is being discussed is that: Has the time arrived for us to hit such camps? Should we hit them? How? What are the risks? Can such attacks be launched without boots on ground, from our own controlled territory and so on. This is classic example of unnecessary rhetoric, not because India – if it really wants, cannot hit inside Azad Kashmir – but because no such camps exist there. Such camps might have existed for the genuine Kashmiri boys who ran from valley looking for guns and training in the early few years of 1989 insurgency, (the generation of Yasin Malik & JKLF) say till middle to late 1990’s but as the nature of Kashmiri struggle changed along with the changing Indian strategic responses such camps lost all their relevance. These camps belonged to a bygone era when all states across the world in disputes openly harbored such specimens. Later with 9/11, and Indian ability to define the Kashmiri insurgency and its militant resistance as terrorism the nature of intervention – whatever was left of it – took different forms. Whatever form it took, geographically defined camps in Azad Kashmir were hardly a part of it. This futile discussion also reminds one of the cruise missiles Americans launched against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan after the 1998 attacks in Tanzania and Kenya.
Indian debate misses out on one crucial, one fundamental question: What had Pakistan or its military institutions to gain from such an attack at the Uri base? Especially at this moment, 3 days before the United Nations General Assembly session of 21st September, where Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was set, though willy-nilly forced by the circumstances, to raise the Kashmir issue in the most forceful fashion? For Pakistanis this is the single most important question, key to understanding and unravelling what might have happened in the early hours of Sunday, 18th September, at the Uri base in Kashmir.
To the last man in Pakistan, even to school children, this much is pretty clear that any attack in India, of any significance will be immediately blamed on Pakistan and its institutions. And the whole spectrum of western political establishments – governments from Washington to London to Brussels, media outlets, think tanks and academics – will stand by India, without raising any doubts on the nature of evidence presented by the Indian government, however unconvincing it might be.
Recent attacks on AFS (Airforce Base) Pathankot in Jan 2016 and the western reaction only reinforced these impressions. According to the Indian authorities the attackers, crossing over from Pakistan, allegedly called their handlers and chit chatted with their family members on phones announcing their pious intentions of dying for Jihad etc sounded quiet ridiculous to most Pakistanis given that these days ordinary civil servants, politicians and media people even college lovers also avoid declaring their intentions on cell phones realizing the potential of being overheard or taped and hard core ‘Fedayeen’ smart enough to dodge Indian border fortifications – with patrols, electronic surveillance, laser cameras etc – suddenly become callous to talk on phone planting easiest available evidence against themselves. And then despite all claims of intruders coming from across the border the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) that submitted its report to the Indian Ministry of Interior in the first 10 days of Jan 2016 failed to find any evidence of border penetration. Indian authorities – later when PM Nawaz sent a Pakistani investigative team – could not take the visiting Pakistani team to the alleged border crossing. Most in Pakistan believed that PM Nawaz was acting under the US pressure when he forced his CTD and Intelligence to file an FIR against the alleged attackers of Pathankot – and their handlers. Issue created lot of resentment against PM Nawaz Sharif, but its obvious to all that in the event of any such attack in India or against Indian interests, Pakistan and its institutions will come under tremendous pressure – from international community lead by the United States – however flimsy the evidence might be.
So how does Pakistan or its institutions benefit from an attack on Army base in Uri in the morning of 18th September, which will be immediately blamed on Pakistan, just three days before the UN General Assembly speech of Pakistani Prime Minister where he was supposed to raise Kashmir and the continuous humanitarian violations by the Indian government?
This question become all the more important in the context of what has been happening in the Indian occupied and administered Kashmir over the past 70 plus days. India was faced, after many years, with a genuinely popular civil uprising with crowds of hundreds of thousands materializing for the last rituals of slain Kashmiri freedom fighter, Burhan Wani; a situation that never subsided, with crowds of young boys challenging Indian authorities on daily basis, with India forced to continue with curfew for almost 70 days. Almost 100 protesters, both men and women have been shot, around 15000 are injured and Indian security apparatus ended up creating more than 500 blinds by the use of bird shot pellets. International media which generally avoids focusing too sharply on events inside the Indian controlled Kashmir started reporting on the human tragedy on daily basis, Office of UN Human Rights Commissioner was forced to take notice. UN wanted to send its monitoring team – which Pakistan accepted but India refused. India suspected and blamed, and perhaps rightly, that Pakistan is encouraging and internationalizing the Kashmir situation. It was obvious that Pakistan’s strategic interest remained in benefitting from peaceful public demonstrations. Whereas India wanted to define Kashmir as a ‘cross-border terrorism’ issue, Pakistan benefitted from the continuous appearance of unarmed crowds that did not carry any weapons or petrol bombs, crowds that waved Pakistani flags and burnt Indian, crowds that were ready to die as victims of Indian aggression creating a growing moral crisis for Indian intelligentsia and India’s global prestige and its yearning for a bigger position. Crowds that forced the need for a political solution from new Delhi.
However, nothing emerged from Delhi in the form of a real political initiative. Whereas Indian intellectuals and media pundits kept emphasizing the need for finding a solution within the broader ambit of Indian constitution, the need to go back toward the 1952 treaty through which Kashmir joined India, original understandings between Pundit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, the real implementation of Article 370 and so on but Delhi, and its most powerful man, right wing Hindutva Prime Minister, Narendra Modi remained quiet on Kashmir. The contrast with his knee jerk reaction to a violent situation in Karnataka, on river water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu was classic. He did not waste a moment in devoting his prime ministerial attention to the resolution of conflict. However, on Kashmir, he had nothing to offer in terms of his labors, his initiatives.
Then it was revealed, that he is following what can be defined as ‘Doval Doctrine’; a new paradigm presented by his National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval that argues that Kashmiris should be totally ignored, let them drain their energies in protests, let them be dealt with the security apparatus. They and their Pakistani supporters will soon loose energies and stamina, will collapse and realize and accept the futility of challenging the power of the Indian state. The second aspect of the paradigm got the nick name of ‘Offensive-Defensive Strategy’; it argued that instead of the strategic restraint which India has always shown, it needs to take the war, the conflict to Pakistan; it needs to be offensive and aggressive with Pakistan; it needs to put Pakistan on defensive.
Narendra Modi’s discovery of Pakistani Baluchistan, his advocacy of Baluch rights, granting of political asylum to Baluch insurgent leaders like Brahmdagh Bugti was all part of the ‘Offensive-Defense’. Though Indian agencies have been busy investing into the Baluch assets, promoting one or the other kind of insurgency, ever since, and more aggressively since 2004-5, when they gained more and more strategic space inside the US controlled Afghanistan but India, being the cautious power, had always maintained ‘plausible deniability’ about its support and intentions on Baluchistan. Even when Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) senior official, Commander Kulbhashan Yadav was seized by Pakistani intelligence from Baluchistan where he had entered from Iran, Indian government decided to play cool as per policy. But forced by the circumstances in Kashmir, Modi and Doval duo, under the new paradigm finally decided to drop the curtain. This situation is still developing – and Indian Foreign Minister, Sushma Sawaraj, was set to raise the issue of Baluchistan at the United Nations General Assembly in response to Pakistani positioning on Kashmir. PM Narendra Modi, meanwhile, for the second straight year, is avoiding UN Gen Assembly because of Kashmir situation. FM Sushma has been tasked to respond to Pakistani positions at the UN.
But while initiating his support to insurgents in Pakistani Baluchistan, Narendra Modi’s thrust in his “Offensive-Defensive Strategy” remained focused on developing a ‘web of international isolation’ around Pakistan. So in the first week of September, in the G-20 summit in Chinese city of Hongzhou, surrounded by the likes of Obama and Putin he was advocating the isolation of countries supporting terrorism. Something which he stressed forcefully in the informal meeting of ‘Brics leaders’ at the same place. And this is a theme he wants to develop further at the October summit of BRICS at Goa. Interior Minister, Rajnath Singh, who was set to reach Moscow on 18th September was going there with the express objective of briefing Russian leadership of the threats of terrorism emanating into India from Pakistan, how Indian Kashmir – facing the unprecedented popular uprising – is being terrorized and destabilized by Pakistan and how Russia, the old friend, strategic ally and arm seller of India should reconsider its growing developing military relationship with Pakistan. At the root lied Indian worry on the first ever joint military exercise between Russia and Pakistan and the Pakistani desire to purchase SU-35 fighter planes from Russia – something totally unacceptable to India. But the thrust of Indian argument remained focused on ‘Pakistan being the terrorist state’. From Moscow, Rajnath Singh had to reach Washington – India’s new ally – on 23rd or 24th Sept where in his meetings with Home Land Security and other officials he had to again brief them on the Indian concerns on Pakistani terrorism and the measures India was taking or proposing in this context. Foreign Minister, Swaraj, had to be in New York, once again harping the theme of ‘Pakistani terrorism’ to the world community.
Looking at this larger, yet interconnected thrust of Indian strategy, to weave a web of international isolation around Pakistan, something watched very carefully from Islamabad and Rawalpindi, it becomes pertinent to ask: Why will Pakistan be sending its ‘terrorists’ to strike at Indian camp at Uri, at the most precise moment to help Indian strategy? This reminds me of the old latin phrase, to which every criminal lawyer is familiar; Cui Bono; Who benefitted?
And it brings us to the million-dollar question: Whose men were they? On whose instructions these proxies were acting? Region over the last 25 years has seen layers and layers of militant organizations, often intertwined with each other, including the ‘Kashmiri renegades’ and ‘Ikhwanis’ and men crossing from one side to the other, as fortune hunters changing loyalties for greater profits, but ultimately all proxies work for some ‘master’; proxies are not hanging in air, they don’t operate in a vacuum, this is a fiction developed by all sides for the purpose of plausible deniability, otherwise world has to explain who owns ISIS? Or did before it went totally berserk? so whose proxies were they who attacked the Indian camp at Uri? and what was the purpose? This will start to become clear as we see how Narendra Modi builds upon this, how United States responds, will the United States be asking the basic ‘common sense’ questions or will it just be ready to stand with Indian leadership demanding Pakistan to ‘do more’ to assuage Indian concerns? How will Pakistan’s paranoid embattled Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, react? What will Indians convey to him in New York? (knowing his civil-military fault lines and his perennial fears that somehow his military is failing his great vision of South Asia, something effectively being exploited by Modi/Doval duo ever since they came to power in 2014). These are really interesting questions; their answers will start to become clear over the next few days to weeks and they will decide the future of the new ‘great game’ being played in the region – gradually but inexorably pushing Pakistan into the Chinese and soon Russian camp.
[Moeed Pirzada, is Editor Strategic Affairs and lead Anchor with Dunya News TV Network. He studied International Relations at Columbia University, New York and Law at London School of Economics; he tweets at: MoeedNj ]