Indian threats endanger peace
The suicide attack on a convoy of Indian paramilitary forces in Kashmir that killed more than 40 soldiers has brought the two nuclear-armed nations on the brink of conflagration. Blaming Pakistan for sponsoring the attack, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to retaliate with full force.
“We will give a befitting reply; our neighbor will not be allowed to destabilize us,” the Indian PM said after an emergency meeting with security advisers on Friday. “Our security forces are given full freedom,” he added.
Evidently, Modi is pursuing a policy that some analysts describe as ‘vertical and horizontal escalation’ against Pakistan. While keeping the option of military strikes open, he vows to internationally isolate Pakistan and cripple it economically. A day after the attack, the Indian government announced it was withdrawing the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan.
Modi feels that deepening India’s strategic collaboration with other countries in the region could bring Islamabad to its knees. As yet however, Modi’s belligerent policies and his attempts to isolate Pakistan among the international community have failed.
Military adventurism will be a costly gamble by the Indian leader who is known for his huge appetite for risk. Such reckless action could easily spiral out of control and turn into a full-blown military confrontation.
In 2016, after a devastating attack in the Uri district of Kashmir that killed 19 soldiers, Indian forces claimed to have carried out so-called “surgical operations” across the Line of Control (LOC), destroying ‘terrorist camps’ a few kilometers inside Azad Kashmir and killing dozens of militants. The claim was dismissed by Pakistan and many in India were skeptical.
Military adventurism will be a costly gamble by the Indian leader who is known for his huge appetite for risk. Such reckless action could easily spiral out of control and turn into a full-blown military confrontation. The underlying calculation of Modi’s escalation is that India can afford this brinkmanship given the country’s growing global influence. But cross-border Indian military strikes could have serious ramifications for the region and beyond, and a firestorm such as this in one of the world’s most combustible regions will be unacceptable to the international community.
The timing of the attack, the worst in the last four decades, is ominous. With Indian general elections only months away, the response from the Modi government has been predictable. There have already been indications of them ratcheting military maneuvering along the LOC in order to garner support in the Hindi belt where Modi’s party is facing formidable challenges from the opposition alliance.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Jaish-e-Muhammad, an outlawed militant group that began in Pakistan, and so the finger is being pointed outwards despite the fact that the attacker is, in fact, a homegrown militant. The Indian government has yet failed to give any evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the attack.
Led by Maulana Masood Azhar, the Jaish has splintered into several small groups operating secretly after Pakistan outlawed it in 2002. Its militants have also been involved in many terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including two assassination attempts on former president General Pervez Musharraf in 2003.
There is also a question about the militant group having the capacity to launch cross-border attacks of such magnitude. Even some Indian security experts believe that it could not be possible to bring such massive amounts of explosives by infiltrating the border.
It is evident that most Kashmiris involved in militant attacks are not slipping across the border from Pakistan. It may be true that the Jaish has developed a strong network inside Kashmir that has turned into a political pressure cooker. And according to Indian media reports, more and more Kashmiris are turning to militancy because of suppression of democratic rights and growing state brutality. Hundreds of young Kashmiris have been killed in the last four years since the Modi government came to power in 2014.
The Pulwama attack has brought into question the tenability of Modi’s policy of use of brute military force to suppress the Kashmiri struggle. Despite deploying 250,000 members of armed forces and making this one of the most militarized corners of the world, the Indians have failed to crush the movement in Kashmir. What the Indian government refuses to accept is that it is an internal rather than an external problem — and one that it needs to deal with by looking inwards.
— Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC.