Pakistan is trying to bite off much with a single byte
If Mufti and others tilted towards Pakistan endorse Bajwa’s statement, the license for Pakistan being a stakeholder in Kashmir is renewed. The endorsement is an attempt to refute and negate India’s stand that Kashmir is an internal matter. For the second time in one year, the Pakistan Army Chief has used the Islamabad Security Dialogue (ISD) to express Pakistan’s willingness for constructive engagement with India.
The second edition of ISD was organized in early April and was attended by global policy experts. While wrapping up the two-day event, Bajwa said that Islamabad wants to use diplomacy and dialogue with India to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, to keep the “flames of fire away from our region”. The Pakistan Army Chief had made these same comments at ISD last year. We saw how Pakistan continued with business as usual on cross-border terrorism after these lofty comments by the Army chief.
Indian security experts have learned to take all that Pakistan says with more than a pinch of salt. Bajwa’s comments again triggered analysis in India, and the domain experts analyzed the offer of dialogue meticulously. There was no quick official response to Gen Bajwa’s assertions. His comments have generated a debate though. Military and defense experts are busy analyzing the merits of the statement and trying to contextualize it. A new element in Bajwa’s statement was his comment on the India-China border dispute. He said the matter is of great concern for Pakistan, and “we want it to be settled quickly through dialogue and diplomacy”. The question that is oft-posed to Pakistan’s claims is this. Is the Pakistan state or the Army really serious about moving towards shared progress and development in the region? Can Pakistan be trusted? India has bitter experience of reposing trust in Pakistan. Over the years, it has been observed that Pakistan has a history of talking sweet when it is up to something dangerous from India’s perspective. Hence, it is important to analyze Bajwa’s statements critically.
PAKISTAN’S PLANS FOR HOT SUMMER FOR KASHMIR
KASHMIR CENTRAL had reported in an earlier edition about credible intelligence inputs that Pakistan has tasked its mercenaries to raise the level of violence in Kashmir. The militants have made their intentions clear by hitting soft targets. In addition, non-locals and people belonging to minority communities are being targeted to spike panic in Kashmir. Intelligence agencies have learnt that pistols are being supplied in large numbers to youth trained as hybrid militants who otherwise lead normal lives. They emerge only for targeting killings of political workers, policemen and media persons, or for grenade blasts. After the terror attacks, these foot soldiers for Pakistan go back into hiding. After General Bajwa’s grandstanding at the Islamabad Security Dialogue last year, this remained the template. If Pakistan’s game plan for 2022 is the same, India will make diplomatic outreach to the international community to denounce cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
It is in this context that Gen Bajwa chose to speak to the readily available audience – the international security experts at ISD. This is the Bajwa Bluff. It is Pakistan’s preemptive effort to ensure that it does not face international censure when a terror attack against India is launched by its trained mercenaries. Through such grand statements, Pakistan seeks the cloak of deniability regarding its terror acts. Many security and defense experts miss this point and try to contextualize the statements made by the Pakistan Army Chief. They analyze it in view of Pakistan’s internal problems on socio-economic and political fronts. Some even attribute the assertions to the emerging imbalances in the world order. All these arguments are valid. But given the kind of machinations that Pakistan indulges in, there is more to the statement than meets the eye.
WHY BAJWA’S STATEMENT MAY BE SEEN AS A PREEMPTIVE EFFORT
The number of Pakistani terrorists who have returned from Afghanistan are swelling on the terror launch pads along LoC on the Pakistani side. Pakistan is ready to pump into Indian territory more and more terrorists who have returned from Afghanistan after it was taken over by Taliban. Pakistan cannot afford to have such a huge number of radicalized war mongers sitting idle on its soil. It wants to engage them in its proxy war against India. Otherwise, these fighters shall engage in misadventures within Pakistan, deteriorating the law and order situation there further. Pakistan’s internal security situation is steadily worsening. Sending the Afghan-returned terrorists to Kashmir also fits with Pakistan’s long-term project to keep Kashmir on the boil. Security agencies have learnt that over the last few months, the number of foreign terrorists (Pakistanis) in Kashmir has gone up. By choosing to make grand claims vis-à-vis India at Islamabad Security Dialogue, Gen Bajwa is killing two birds with one stone. He is trying to convince the international audience that Pakistan is a peace-loving country. He is also washing his hands off subsequent terrorist misadventures on Indian soil.
WHAT DOES GEN BAJWA’S OFFER OF DIALOGUE MEAN FOR KASHMIRIS?
Here is another point which is being overlooked while interpreting Gen Bajwa’s statement. What does his offer of dialogue with India mean for Kashmiris? This statement from the Pakistan Army Chief has many connotations for Kashmir. For some time now, there has been silence on Pakistan being a stakeholder in Kashmir. Bajwa’s statement regarding dialogue with India is revivalist in the sense that the political leaders in Kashmir will endorse and welcome it. The moment politicians like Mehbooba Mufti and others tilted towards Pakistan welcome the statement, the license for Pakistan of being a stakeholder in Kashmir is renewed. Such an endorsement is an attempt to refute and negate India’s stand that Kashmir is an internal matter. This too is politics. It is politics that benefit Pakistan. When General Bajwa’s statement is analyzed taking into consideration the arguments made above, it is evident that Pakistan is trying to bite off much with a single byte. Bajwa’s claim has the potential to ignite and explode that which has been contained for quite some time.
BAJWA’S STATEMENT STRENGTHENS PAKISTAN’S IDEOLOGICAL PARTNERS IN KASHMIR
Bajwa’s statement strengthens Pakistan’s ideological partners in Kashmir. They get a chance to talk about Pakistan. Pakistan is accorded so-called legitimacy to be a stakeholder on Kashmir. It turns out that with Gen Bajwa’s statement, Pakistan is seeking to kill more birds with one stone than one may correctly count. The dominant narrative since the gruesome attack of February 2019 has been cross-border terrorism. It was a Pakistan-engineered suicide bombing, and 45 paramilitary troopers were killed. After that attack, nobody including Pakistan’s ideological partners in Kashmir spoke of the enemy nation as a “legitimate stakeholder”. Bajwa’s statement needs to be seen in this context too. General Bajwa’s first speech at Islamabad Security Dialogue last year came with similar ramifications. We must not forget that. India can never every take any statement from Pakistan at face value – be it the military or the political class. Bajwa’s grand claims notwithstanding, the vigil on the borders and the hinterland must be enhanced to avert any tragedy. India must keep clear focus on the terror, narcotics and disinformation war unleashed by Pakistan. Simultaneously, in order to be politically and diplomatically correct, India may officially respond with cautious optimism to the statement. As things stand, it’s business as usual.