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August 5, 2019

IOK — India to offset isolation on Afghanistan


August 5, 2019

Many wonder if almost a million Indian army couldn’t handle 100 Kashmir militants in three decades, Delhi’s 10,000 Additional soldiers and Lt Col MS Dhoni could make a difference? Is latest surge in militarisation of IOK is a strategic shift in India’s policy, or a routine tactical inflection point?

In Pakistan, many view the latest Indian move as a continuation of normal but a ruthless pursuit of scorched earth policy to quell the indigenous movement through the barrel of gun.

However, Prime Minister Modi’s Kashmir policy was already a failure.

Things suddenly looked different when President Trump offered facilitation or mediation on Kashmir while meeting Prime Minister Imran Khan. President Trump said: he was told by PM Modi to play a go between; then, apart from some disclaimers by the Indian government, PM Modi himself did not clarify his position invoking the ire of Indian media and Opposition. Indian establishment and bureaucracy hate the word “M” on IOK. The broad brush of Indian thought process is that since the power differential with Pakistan is exponentially widening, it can afford not to talk to Pakistan for any bilateral resolution of IOK. Delhi’s rant in all talking points is: it is Islamabad which has kept Kashmir on the boil allegedly through-cross-border terrorism.

Fast forward to current situation, there is a method in the madness: here is a conceivable strategic situation that has lent India to take counter measures and Kashmir is one manifestation.

Let us recap where India stands?

After the convergence of the US, Pakistan, China and Russian, Delhi has been left out of Afghanistan. With Taliban coming into play, India’s leverage in Afghanistan will be dramatically reduced--a huge setback India needs to counteract. Following sanctions on Iran, India lost an allay in Tehran by refusing to import oil succumbing to the US pressure, and was also forced to drastically reduce investment in Chabahar Port to, the chagrin of Iran and his proxy allay in Kabul (i.e. Ashraf Ghani).Suddenly, Kashmir was again in the headlines when Imran Khan met President Trump with the understanding Pakistan will help the US in Afghanistan, and Washington in return will push India to back off on IOK from its usual intransigent stance. The hurt was even more acute when President Trump mentioned brutalities in IOK. With the acknowledgement by the world’s super power, Pakistan was applauded to play multi-frontal role on Afghanistan, post- Taliban settlement and regional stability with global implications. A betrayal was felt by Delhi as its strategic partner, (i.e., the US) was bartering away its pro-Indian South Asian policy of the recent past.

Against the background, India needed a counter strategy, a new window of opportunity, a counter-balancing act, to play spoiler, create problems for Pakistan in fulfilling its new found role in the region and limit its isolation.

The first instance comes in IOK. Here, India creates a new “normal”. Delhi seeks to offset for loss in Afghanistan by creating new realities in Kashmir:

One strong eventuality is to alter the status of IOK possibly bringing in Ladakh and Jammu under the direct rule of Delhi by doing away with Article 35A.Through re-engineering in IOK, it would put pressure on Pakistan and by extension on the US to guarantee restraining proxy militants allegedly sent by Islamabad (partly to appease domestic audience that Kashmir uprising is of Pakistan’s creation as per India’s usual talking point).Since snow is above to set, August and September are only two months left for heavy deployment in IOK, Delhi is utilising the limited time frame. LoC exchanges will likely to continue as partly they are part of pressuring Pakistan and partly they are meant for domestic constituencies (ie, Look, we are restraining militants infiltration into IOK by keeping LoC boiling).

Implications for India of its new move on IOK:

Delhi is trying to test patience of all parties concerned: Pakistan, Kashmiris, and the concerned international community. It is a good move, but carries a lot of risks.

First, Kashmir can go out of control: It will create a do or die scenario for Kashmiris; gun totting new generation does not listen to old political generation who believed in moderation in pursuit of political objectives.

Second, India will face a serious prospect of guerrilla warfare; the simple logic of terrain can support and sustain such force. Third, with the eventual post-Taliban settlement in Afghanistan, Delhi will face the Taliban which will naturally put a limit on Delhi’s proxy influence and hence its maneuverability vs Afghanistan and Pakistan through Durand Line. A loss situation in strategic terms for India after almost 18 years. Fourth, with ISIS local, organically linked with ISIS regional and international, India will risk a spillover of the outfit into IOK if the situation goes south. Fifth, last but not the least, India risks strike with Pakistan as Islamabad will not set in the fence if India plays out new strategy in IOK.

Pakistan’s options:

India’s offensive move has set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad. Pakistan has expressed grave concern and is weighing its options carefully. Escalation is now a really possibility. Pakistan will unlikely bear any change in the statuesque, (reg 35A, militarisation; new deterrence on LOC).

Islamabad is rightly alarmed: it is facing a new level of intensity of boil on LoC (e.g., use of cluster bombs by India) and proxy terror on its western border as the situation in Afghanistan will likely be in the flex during the next two years--as Delhi will likely to accelerate proxy terrorism on the west of Durand Line against the residual Nato forces and, on one hand, and on the East against the Pakistani state, on the other, to spoil events in Kabul and prevent stability in Pakistan, respectively.

Pakistan already expected of Delhi to come up with its own strategy as it felt victim of “regional left out”

However, Islamabad can hardly focus on regional heavy agenda which has consequences globally--while being embroiled with Delhi in IOK and squeezed on two borders.

Against the context, here are few choices for Pakistan to evaluate and pursue:

First, Pakistan should reach out to the US to find out if what Modi is doing (ie play spoiler) is with the knowledge of Washington or is DC complicit or has it any nod for Delhi? Secondly, Islamabad should underline to the US, it can hardly be a willing facilitator if Washington’s strategic allay (ie India) wants to undermine its efforts in the region by diversions. Third, Pakistan will be fulfilling a bad bargain in Afghanistan if the US is not prepared even to restrain India either in IOK or creating instability within Pakistan and Afghanistan. In other words, Islamabad must correlate negative or positive change on IOK, and its stability with its role on Afghanistan.

Fact remains, Afghanistan cannot be isolated from what is going on in IOK by India and its stability is directly linked with stability in Pakistan and vice versa, which Delhi is hell bent to undermine. This is why what India is up to at the moment, has direct bearing on Afghan situation. No stability in IOK and Pakistan means no stability in the Afghanistan region. So the old adage in diplomacy of South Asia is even true today: road to sustainable peace in Afghanistan goes through Srinagar--IOK.

--Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan.