A Peace-loving Indian
New Delhi 2 September 2019
After Imran Khan was elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan last August (many Pakistanis say he was ‘selected’ by Pakistan’s all powerful Army), one of his first priorities was to create a façade of peace gestures with India and Afghanistan, to recoup and reorganise an old well-oiled system that has supported organised terrorism across its eastern and western borders. The common challenges of poverty, illiteracy and climate change confronting India and Pakistan were last on his mind, as he began to measure up to the expectations of his masters at General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi.
While India continued to accord Pakistan the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for trade and commerce, as per WTO norms, Pakistan refused to do so due to the fear that increase in trading interests could result in more people-to-people contact, better appreciation of India among common Pakistanis and erosion of the military’s propaganda.
An appealing personality complemented by confident expression has often done the trick of convincing for this star cricketer-turned-politician in personal and political life. Therefore, when he appeared on the television articulating the importance of dialogue and peace, following up with letters to the Indian Prime Minister professing the same, many unsuspecting optimists fell for the bait. Fortunately, in New Delhi, the game of shadows was seen through by clear-eyed professionals. For seasoned observers, the unabating violence by terrorist proxies in Jammu and Kashmir, abetted and sponsored by Pakistan, was a clear giveaway of Khan’s real intentions. “Talks and terror cannot go together” was not just a refrain but a scale of common sense adopted by India to measure the honesty of Khan’s proclamations. The absurdity of Islamabad’s insincere moralising was revealed with the staged apprehension and illegal incarceration of an Indian businessman, Kulbhushan Jadhav, from the port town of Chabahar in Iran. Whisked away by sleuths of Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Jadhav was tortured in ISI safehouses, forced to confess on camera, under duress, and later sentenced to death by a kangaroo military court on trumped up charged of spying. Timely intervention of the International Court of Justice has since suspended the sentence.
The sophisticated subterfuge of peace gestures was also well timed to conceal the sinister agenda of the K-2 policy (denoting Khalistan and Kashmir) aimed at reviving and promoting separatism on communal lines in India. India’s prompt reciprocation to the idea of developing a corridor for pilgrims to access the revered Sikh shrine of Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab neutralised the subversive agenda of Khan’s administration to polarise the Sikh community using an emotive issue. Months after India and Pakistan agreed to develop the corridor across the international boundary, the progress on ground is visible only on the Indian side of the border.
The narrative of ‘peace for change’, cleverly packaged by Khan’s backers at GHQ, finally gave the plot away on February 14, 2019 when a suicide bomber swearing allegiance to Jaish e-Mohammad (JeM), a U.N. proscribed terror group, rammed an explosive-laden vehicle in a convoy of buses carrying Indian paramilitary troops, killing over 40 and maiming scores more near the town of Pulwama in the Kashmir valley. “Ghazwa-e-Hind” meaning “The Final Battle of India” is an abiding ideological belief of ISI-nurtured terror groups like JeM, which is headquartered at Bahawalpur, in Pakistan. Its leader Maulana Masood Azhar was later unanimously designated by the UN Security Council as a terrorist, needing intense diplomatic efforts by India to bring around a reluctant China.
To deter further violence by this state-sheltered jihadi terror enterprise with history of well-planned terrorist attacks on Indian soil, India carried our pre-emptive air strikes on a JeM terrorist training centre at Balakot, Pakistan, in a deep-penetration raid by its fighter jets on February 26, 2019. To save face, the next morning, Khan’s air force retaliated with a massive attack on Indian military targets in Kashmir, in which nearly 30 aircraft participated. Indian response was swift. In the air battle that was fought in the skies straddling the Line of Control, India and Pakistan lost one fighter jet each. India was quick to accept its loss of a MiG-21 fighter jet and secured the release of its pilot who had parachuted into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). In contrast, Pakistan has continued to remain in a state of denial about the loss of its F-16 aircraft, and its pilot, who later succumbed to injuries at a military hospital in Pakistan. Admission of the losses will dent the cultivated image of invincibility peddled by the Pak military and may invite the threat of punitive action from USA, which has sold the F-16 aircraft to Islamabad only for counter-terror role, under strict end-use conditions.
The Bharatiya Janata Party won a majority with a decisive mandate in the Indian general elections that concluded in May 2019, giving Prime Minister Narendra Modi a second term in office. Modi responded to Khan’s congratulatory message on Twitter by writing that “I have always given primacy to peace and development in our region”. Khan and his handlers, however, had different plans. The Deep State steadily began to undermine the semi-provincial status of Gilgit Baltistan in PoK, strengthening the grip of security forces, suppressing dissent and curbing the rights of its native residents. Khan’s government also made administrative changes at Gwadar, in the restive province of Balochistan, to permit China to establish a port-led Special Economic Zone, as the coastal terminus of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The CPEC, touted as the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, connects the two countries by a modern highway traversing the Shaksgam Valley—a territory belonging to the state of Jammu and Kashmir occupied by Pakistan and illegally ceded to China in 1963.
Khan’s obsession with Islamic puritanism and piety, reflected in his repeated populist allusion to a Medina-like welfare state, has not come in the way of ISI in enforcing thousands of ‘disappearances’ of dissenting journalists, writers and activists of various political movements, particularly in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The disproportionate force used by Pakistan Army has killed many activists of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement led by Manzoor Pashteen, which has steadily gained large following in the troubled border region with Afghanistan. Pashteen’s repeated appeals to the Pakistan military to cease terrorising innocent people in the border areas have fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, Khan’s latest strategy of linking the leadership of Modi to ‘fascist’ forces and drawing a tenuous link of Nazi ideology with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an Indian non-governmental organisation, is a clever diversionary tactic, aimed at exacerbating domestic Indian political divisions. Khan’s personal attacks on Modi belie deep insecurity in the Pakistan establishment of its own brotherly ties with the fundamentalist, obscurantist ideology of Afghan Taliban, which has vowed to establish an Islamic Sharia state in Afghanistan, upon gaining power.
The Indian government’s decision to repeal certain provisions of Article 370 and abrogation of Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, announced on August 5, 2019, was an internal step aimed at facilitating development and integration of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Khan’s cover of pretensions was completely blown off with this decision, which caught him, and his cohort, off-guard and slow realisation dawned upon them that the assimilation of Kashmiris with the Indian nation was seriously being put back on track. Out came then the quiver of familiar arrows, comprising veiled nuclear threats, war mongering, ad nauseum repetition of outdated UNSC Resolutions (which stipulate military withdrawal by Pakistan as the first condition), cries for U.S. intervention and mediation and personal attacks on Modi.
Khan and his backers know it very well that any political dialogue between India and Pakistan can be meaningful only when the terror enterprise operating from territory under Pakistan’s control, against India and other neighbours is shut down permanently. Afghanistan and Iran, who too have long suffered from Pakistan-based terrorism, insist upon the same. It is also the outcome expected by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which will be soon finely scrutinising actions taken by Pakistan to unravel the web of money laundering and financing by terrorist groups based in the country. Come October this year, if Khan does not put his house in order, potential ‘blacklisting’ by FATF will firmly place Pakistan on the road to ruin. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Khan’s real benefactor, who has recently been given a three-year extension as the Army Chief, knows that financial bankruptcy is not the only bankruptcy Pakistan is staring at. Bankruptcy of ideas, and will, to realise the spirit behind the words of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, of “inclusive and impartial government, religious freedom, rule of law and equality for all”, is a much bigger challenge, which cannot be solved by organising crocodile tear-shedding demonstrations for Kashmiris. As Pakistan, once described by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as an ‘international migraine’, totters from one challenge to another in search of an identity, there are questions to which Imran Khan and his compatriots simply have no answers. Pakistan’s elusive quest for parity with India and fanatic obsession with Kashmir has imperilled the security of not only South Asia but also the entire world.