THE recent military crisis with India was a baptism of fire for Prime Minister Imran Khan and the PTI government. In the event, the Pakistani leader emerged as a responsible statesman while Modi exposed himself as a rash warmonger.
The Pakistani prime minister has expressed the hope that after his anticipated re-election, Prime Minister Modi will be strong enough to politically to engage in a dialogue for peace with Pakistan. He has similarly expressed hope for peace in Afghanistan through the US-Afghan Taliban talks which Pakistan has facilitated.
Unfortunately, peace is difficult to achieve in the present global environment. A new Cold War is under way between the US and China. The Washington ‘establishment’ views India as an essential ally in its global competition with China. After the Pulwama suicide attack, US National Security Adviser John Bolton immediately proclaimed India’s “right to self-defence”, providing New Delhi a virtual “carte blanche” to proceed with its threatened military action, irrespective of the inherent risk of a wider Pakistan-India war. Responsibility to avoid a conflict — by acting against Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) — was placed on Pakistan.
US mediation to prevent a wider war was activated only after Pakistan retaliated against India’s incursion, downed two Indian aircraft, captured an Indian pilot and, reportedly, ‘locked’ its missiles on to several Indian targets in response to similar Indian action. Pakistan’s foreign minister was gracious in acknowledging US mediation. Yet, the lesson from the episode is clear: strength is the only sure way to deter an aggressive adversary and secure even-handed outcomes.
India is unlikely to offer any meaningful compromises to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
It remains to be seen if after their anticipated re-election, Modi and the BJP agree to resume a dialogue with Pakistan. But, even if talks resume, India is unlikely to offer any meaningful compromises to resolve the Kashmir dispute or move away from the aim of imposing an India-dominated ‘order’ in South Asia and beyond.
This presumption is reinforced by the BJP’s electoral manifesto, which promises to transform India into a ‘Hindu rashtra’ (state), build a Hindu temple on the site of the destroyed Babri Masjid and strip Kashmir’s special and autonomous status under the Indian constitution.
What India desires is that Pakistan accept India’s rule in India-occupied Kashmir, much as Israel’s Arab neighbours are being asked to accept the ‘reality’ of Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem, the Golan and most of the West Bank. But, unlike Israel’s neighbours, Pakistan has not been militarily defeated by India. Even if Pakistan were to set aside its strategic stakes in Kashmir (territory, affiliated people, water, China access), it will continue to be drawn into supporting the resilient 70-year struggle of the Kashmiri people for self-determination and freedom (azadi) from India.
Peace with India will have to be promoted the hard way, through possession of the capability to deter and defeat Indian aggression or ‘diktat’ and insistence on equitable negotiated solutions to outstanding disputes.
Likewise, building peace in Afghanistan remains an imposing challenge.
Pakistan’s facilitation of the US-Taliban talks appears to have been quietly ‘pocketed’ by Washington without offering anything tangible in return. The IMF has insisted on onerous conditions for financial support. The threat of the FATF ‘black list’ has not been lifted. Pakistan’s blocked CSF funds have not been released. No concern has been voiced by the US regarding India’s UN-documented human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. Far from censuring India’s military aggression of Feb 26, the US, together with the UK and France, has moved a resolution in the Security Council to place JeM’s Maulana Azhar on the terrorism ‘list’.
The unfortunate reality is that Pakistan has been categorised as an adversary by the US ‘establishment’, due to: America’s ‘strategic partnership’ with India against China and ‘radical Islamic terrorism’; the blame assigned to Pakistan for the US military failure in Afghanistan; Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability, and the considerable influence in Washington of the Indian-American expatriate community, the Israeli lobby and Christian ‘fundamentalists’.
At present, this hostility towards Pakistan is tempered by Washington’s need for Pakistan’s support to US-Taliban dialogue. Yet, here too, Islamabad’s help is perhaps being taken for granted. Not only have no concessions been extended to Pakistan, but US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad and the US ambassador in Kabul have felt free to publicly criticise the Pakistani prime minister’s reference to the anticipated future interim government in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to retain continuing leverage in the Afghan peace process and secure concrete US concessions to reciprocate its help in this process.
Khalilzad has played his cards well so far, outlining the US withdrawal structure and the Taliban’s anti-terrorism commitments before turning to an intra-Afghan dialogue in which representatives of the Ashraf Ghani government can be incorporated.
Yet, despite his diplomatic skills, there is no assurance that Khalilzad’s process will yield peace in Afghanistan. Afghan warlords, such as Dostum, are unlikely to reconcile with the Taliban. Sooner or later, Iran is likely to retaliate in Afghanistan and elsewhere against US sanctions, especially after the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards as a “terrorist” organisation. This could disrupt the Afghan peace process. Moreover, time may run out on Khalilzad. The Taliban’s gains in the coming ‘fighting season’ may settle Afghanistan’s future on the battlefield.
Khalilzad recently briefed the envoys of China, Russia and the EU to build wider support for his process. China can help by investing generously in Afghanistan and building its regional connectivity. Russia’s role may be critical in defeating the Islamic State-Khorasan. Both powers can help to build a consensus for peace within Afghanistan and among its neighbours.
China and Russia may also hold the key to peace in South Asia. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have sought to halt India’s rush into America’s strategic embrace, emphasising the enormous benefits of trans-Asian cooperation and the high costs of confrontation.
Peace could come to the entire region if India decides to become a part of the Asian ‘order’ being created under the Belt and Road Initiative and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Unfortunately, Modi and the BJP’s obsessive ambition to emerge as China’s ‘equal’ has propelled them towards an alliance with America and may consign South Asia to remain a ‘zone of crisis’ in the New Cold War.