Opinion Columnists 04 May 2020 Despite Covid, no ha ...
Syed Ata Hasnain, a retired lieutenant-general, is a former commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps. He is also associated with the Vivekananda International Foundation and the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

Despite Covid, no halt in Pak’s J&K mischief

Published May 4, 2020, 6:54 pm IST
Updated May 6, 2020, 6:15 pm IST
Pakistan claimed an OIC foreign ministers’ meeting in April 2020 in Islamabad to discuss J&K had been promised
Representational image (AFP)
 Representational image (AFP)

The Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) wing has long been the entity which has subtly and often brazenly attempted to destroy any flavour for peace gathering in the subcontinent.

Along with its cousin the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), it thinks it serves Pakistan’s interests and they no spare no effort to secure those interests by any means.

 

The perception of what constitutes interests may not always be in sync with reality and neither of them ever seem to correctly identify these either. I say this as I am particularly honoured to find a place in the new Pakistan Army Green Book with a contrived statement ascribed to me: the lauding of ISPR for defeating India in a hybrid war.

It goes back to my talk at London’s International Institute of Strategic Studies a year ago when I ascribed to the ISPR a better understanding of the information domain of hybrid war. Hijacking that statement, ISPR, obviously delusional with an apparently oblique compliment from a senior Indian Army general, claims victory in the hybrid war without perhaps understanding what that term really means.

 

The flaw in strategic understanding of issues is a serious challenge within the Pakistan Army, which is why many times in the past 73 years Pakistan has been led by its Army and agencies into impossible situations of their own making. 1965 saw the initiation of Operation Gibraltar with grandiose designs of emplacing the Pakistan flag in Srinagar; it fizzled out with major embarrassment.

Of 1971, nothing needs to be said, and the initiation of a low-intensity war through the Kargil intrusion in 1999 only needs a reminder of the inability to see conflict initiation lead to conflict termination on its terms. 

 

Even in Siachen, the perfectly still icicles of the glaciated wasteland were disturbed by the Pakistan Army in 1978 through the launch of expeditions that triggered an Indian response, culminating in India occupying the glacier in April 1984.

Little is realised in India on how embarrassed the Pakistan Army remains of admitting that it was outwitted and beaten in the race for occupation of the glacier. It continues to claim having its troops in Siachen, when reality doesn’t bestow on it the pleasure of even getting a glimpse of the famous glacier.

 

The Pakistan Army thus remains unable to come to terms with a basic fact: that the August 5, 2019 constitutional and administrative decisions taken by India have effectively neutralised Pakistan’s options in the low-cost J&K hybrid proxy war.

Despite its consistent efforts to destabilise J&K through sponsored violence and influence operations, it couldn’t contemplate the possibility of a strong Indian political response, in fact an initiative which is a virtual game-changer.

What it is trying to do in J&K at the beginning of the 2020 campaign season is a bid to revive a dead and buried campaign. However, India can’t be content with the efforts to neutralise the networks of finance and overground workers.

 

Somewhere we must keep in mind that this proxy war began in 1989 as part of a retribution plan for 1971; and it was incidental that Kashmir developed as a narrative for exploitation. The grandiose plan of Zia-ul Haq and his ilk was all about exploiting India’s faultlines, of which there are many.

The plethora of awkward incidents and the sudden breakdown of the traditional communal harmony in India can reasonably be attributed partially to the Zia doctrine and its effects.

As the world battles the Covid-19 scourge, the worst in a century, and Pakistan finds itself slipping further into the abyss of economic doom, its leadership and its “Deep State” is less concerned about the people’s misery. It is more concerned about three things.

 

First, the restoration of the status quo in the security environment in Kashmir through infiltration in the season when the terrain and climate offer the most viable conditions. Second, it is hoping for restoration of full spectrum digital connectivity in J&K by the Indian authorities, through which it can launch a campaign of fake information and propaganda.

Third, it has remained observant about potential contingencies in the diplomatic sphere. In the last six months ardent efforts to cultivate the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are on, the intent being to reactivate the Kashmir issue internationally. What particularly irked Pakistan was the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to strengthen his outreach in the Gulf region even after the revocation of Article 370.

 

Pakistan tried to support an alternative Islamic combine of Malaysia, Turkey and Iran which sponsored an Islamic conference in Kuala Lumpur outside the scope of the Saudi-led OIC. Last-minute threats from the Saudis forced Pakistan PM Imran Khan to back out. Pakistan claimed an OIC foreign ministers’ meeting in April 2020 in Islamabad to discuss J&K had been promised.

True or not, Covid-19 put paid to that. In recent days, Pakistan has been making ardent efforts to create a dent in India’s relations with GCC countries. Pakistan doesn’t have the economic or political status to sustain long-term change in the Gulf nations’ attitude, but retains sufficient nuisance potential at a time when the world is battling the pandemic.

 

India has already countered this with its top leadership engaging with the Gulf leaders and through cooperation in pandemic control, but this energetic diplomacy may need to be kept up.

The ham-handed effort by Pakistan’s health minister to raise the J&K issue during a video conference of Saarc leaders indicated the desperation in the “no holds barred” strategy.

While India prepares to neutralise all Pakistan-sponsored fronts and domains involving J&K’s security in the near future, what is becoming increasingly clear in the period of the pandemic and beyond is the sudden increase in viability of non-traditional threats.

 

Issues like food, water and climate will definitely threaten Pakistan to a greater extent but its proactivity against India will see enhanced cooperation with China in cyber-warfare and increasingly in the information domain.

That is what we need to be cautious about, but still focus our strategic orientation towards the domains which threaten Pakistan the most.

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