Pulwama terror attack: The geopolitics of India-Pak relations

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 19, 2019 13:21 hrs
Pulwama terror attack

The ramifications of the Pulwama terror attack carries out by the Jaish-e-Mohammed are still being felt and the coming days and weeks will give us a clearer picture on India’s relationship with Pakistan in the aftermath. The immediate reaction was swift – withdrawal of the Pakistan’s ‘most-favoured nation’ status and hiking of customs duty to 200% on all imports; aimed at putting a squeeze on the country’s economy.

India – Pakistan relations have another dimension to it; yesterday India made its case for Kulbhushan Jadhav and attacked his trial by a military court in Pakistan as a propaganda tool. Lawyer Harish Salve said in part, “Pakistan's story is solely based on rhetoric and not facts” and said that they knowingly broke the law. Jadhav was sentenced to death on charges of espionage and terrorism in 2017. Amid rising tensions after the attack, the Indian delegation at the ICJ refused to shake hands with their Pakistani counterparts.

India’s POV and response

Combining these two events, its clear that relations have weakened between the two countries. From India’s standpoint, they have been clear on the message of state sponsored terrorism in Pakistan. Past events haven’t been forgotten - hijack of the IC 814, 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and the attacks on the Indian parliament. Anil Padmanabhan, in a column for Mint, writes on India’s response to terrorism –

PM Modi signalled as much to our neighbour when he said this was a new India: defined by nayi neeti (new policy) and nayi reeti (new convention). the Indian establishment threatened war together with diplomatic engagement; this was replaced with surgical strikes, both overt and covert.

In 2016, the surgical strikes in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) which took place a little over a week after attacks in Uri claimed the lives of 10 Jawans was a direct military response. Another reason for this was increasing infiltration bids where terrorists had begun gathering along the Line of Control (LoC). While this wasn’t a declaration of war, it was a targeted operation. As Anil notes in his column the nature of response to provocations and attacks has escalated under this government.

The nature of the response apart from diplomatic hasn’t been seen yet. The mastermind of the Pulwama attack was killed after a 12-hour encounter following the attack. Whether it remains putting diplomatic and economic pressure alone or if a military response in the vein of the surgical strike takes place remains to be seen. Retired Lt. General DS Hooda of northern command who oversaw the surgical strikes, in an interview said the response should from all corners. He said in part, “I would say the amount of pressure India has put on Pakistan till now has not been consistent. I don’t think it’s time for an all-out war. I think the response has to be in all fields.”

Pakistan and its allies

For Pakistan, it has a relatively new leader in Imran Khan who came to power with the support of the country’s military establishment. Terrorist groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba have been provided a safe haven in the country thanks in part to the military. They have benefited from national security establishment of the country. Skirmishes and attacks are commonplace and there isn’t any concrete evidence to suggest that Pakistan ahs begun to dismantle these terrorist outfits. Dhruva Jaishankar, a Fellow at Brookings India and US, in a column for Foreign Policy magazine, writes on why Pakistan has run out of excuses in supporting terrorism –

In Jammu and Kashmir, cross-border infiltration has been facilitated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate—its primary external intelligence agency, run by the military. Pakistan cannot rely, as it has in the past, on ambiguity and plausible deniability to deflect responsibility for this attack.

A relatively strong ally of Pakistan, China has condemned the attacks but it isn’t that simple with this trio of nations. India has been adamant in wanting Masood Azhar, the leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed to be listed as an international terrorist by the United Nations. Its received support from western countries such as USA, France and UK but this effort has been blocked by China.

Six months back, China stated that its willing to play a constructive role in Indo-Pak relations as their Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in part, “China firmly supports the two sides to enhance dialogue increase mutual trust, properly handle and solve their differences.” Chinese state media, in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack blamed “India’s failed anti-terrorism policy”. A Global Times column stated that India hadn’t provided sufficient evidence of Azhar’s involvement in the attack.

The Saudi Arabian government recently announced deals with Pakistan worth $20 billion as part of the new crown prince Mohammad bin Salman’s first visit to the country. India objected to his direct arrival from Pakistan hence bin Salman will fly in from Riyadh where India is expected to raise the issue of cross-border terrorism with the Saudi leader.

While the government will face voters in a couple of months, it has struggled like past government in tackling terrorism particularly with Pakistan. It undertook a major military operation in 2016 and Modi’s counterpart in Pakistan is open to dialogue. It may not be wise to predict the course of action or the twists and turns that Indo-Pak relations will undoubtedly face going forward.

More columns by Varun Sukumar

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