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September 3, 2019

Pakistan’s second chance for Kashmir


September 3, 2019

Pakistan’s history is replete with second chances. On August 5, Narendra Modi and the network of Hindu extremists that now run India might have gifted Pakistan its latest version of a national second chance.

First, let’s understand the problem fully. There are three India problems that Pakistan must contend with.

Also read: Indian troops beat Kashmiri youths 'black and blue'

The first is the Godzilla problem. Size matters. 900 million voters. 1.34 billion consumers. A GDP that is almost ten times the size of Pakistan’s. In any dispute that Pakistan has with India, it is at a disadvantage. It used to be just size, in terms of population. But in the last two decades, India has developed a swagger commensurate with its size. When Godzilla gets mad, she’s gonna hurt you. Because size matters.

The second is the grievous injury problem. In the penal code, grievous injury is defined as “An injury which is extensive or serious, does not heal rapidly and causes permanent disfigurement and deformity”. From the Kargil fiasco to the Indian parliament attack around the turn of the century, and from the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, to the Pathankot and Uri attacks over the last decade or so, incidents or episodes of violence that are attributed to Pakistan have caused a permanent disfigurement and deformity of the Indian discourse. Godzilla isn’t just big. It is very, very angry.

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The third is the Hindutva problem. India has always had an ugly underbelly of religious extremists that have sought a cleansing of India, so that it can be made purely in the image of Hindutva – despite India never having been purely Hindu, and despite mainstream Hinduism being among the largest-tent religions on the planet, one that is least vulnerable to the concept of such ‘purity’.

PM Khan and COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa have found a formula to disarm Godzilla, neutralize a nation’s sense of grievous injury and expose the violence and hatred of Hindutva. They must not waver from it. The next two months will test their resolve in a manner that is hard to put into words. They must stay the course.

Since 2014 (and remember this year, because it is a really big one for the region), India has allowed the dark and ugly underbelly of Hindu extremism to become its face. The laundering and mainstreaming of the Narendra Modi generation of Hindu extremists in India in the run up to the 2014 general election in India represented the radicalization of all of India. But it has taken over five years, as well as the Balakot attack of February 2019 and the August 5 attempt to annex Occupied Kashmir to register this radicalization.

Of the three India problems Pakistan has, two are actually Pakistan problems. Pakistan is vulnerable to a Godzilla-esque India only because it refuses to acknowledge the centrality of economics to the wellbeing of its people, and the wellbeing of its people to its national security.

Pakistan is vulnerable to allegations of tolerating non state actors (NSAs) on its soil because it has failed to properly prepare and contend with a post September 11 world (one that is now 18 years old!) in which political violence enacted in a manner even remotely associated with ‘Islam’ is certain to be met with universal global outrage.

India has figured out how to deploy the Godzilla problem and the grievous injury problem – both fundamentally Pakistani problems – against Pakistan itself. But the other India problem, the problem of Hindutva, is an exclusively India problem. Until August 5, Pakistan and the rest of the world had given India a pass on this problem.

By turning Occupied Kashmir into the world’s largest jail cell on August 5, the Hindutva extremists running India essentially did more to neutralize Pakistan’s weaknesses (and India’s strengths) than Pakistan ever could have.

Perhaps more importantly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a stark reminder to Pakistan, and to the rest of the world, that he is not the yoga-practising, business-first international statesman that Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and other non-extremist collaborators of the Hindutva killing machine have worked so hard to project to the world.

PM Modi is the mass murdering planner, aider and abettor of the Gujarat massacre. The BJP is the party that promised to turn Occupied Kashmir into a jail. It is also the party that once promised to raze Babri Masjid in Ayodhya to the ground (it delivered on that promise too). Hatred for Muslims, and for other non-Hindu citizens of India, is at the heart of Modi and the BJP’s politics. The August 5 removal of India’s fig leaf of legitimacy in Occupied Kashmir is Pakistan’s second chance at recognizing this reality and taking appropriate measures to protect its citizens from the toxicity of India under such an extremist regime.

The last time Pakistan was gifted a second chance was 2014. Supporters of the PTI will recall 2014 as being the year of Imran Khan’s ill-advised and disastrous more than four months long ‘dharna’. But that is not what made 2014 a seminal year. Instead, it was the military’s decision to re-establish national sovereignty, not only over the territory of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, but also over the idea of Pakistani nationhood. The relentless onslaught of the TTP and LeJ’s terrorism in Pakistan since 2007 had rendered Pakistani identity broken, confused and lacking in confidence. For almost seven years, every day had become a day of dread – when would the terrorists strike next? Who would they kill next?

The Zarb-e-Azb military operations that began in June 2014 began a process of picking up the broken pieces of Pakistani consciousness. By mid-2015, the ferocity and precision of the Pakistani military’s onslaught against terrorists helped turn the tide. The economic growth and infrastructure development that the PML-N delivered to Pakistan during its 2013-2018 term would not have been possible without the national renewal that Zarb-e-Azb helped deliver.

Pakistani strategists – both elected civilians as well as those in the intelligence and military services – have been preoccupied with the western border for the better part of two decades, but especially since 2014. The array of challenges that Pakistan has managed during this time is staggering, but perhaps the crowning achievement during this period has been the normalization of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), capped this year with the first-ever elections for the provincial assembly in the newly merged tribal districts.

But this strategic attention to Afghanistan and the western border has come at a price. For the last two decades, but especially since 2014, Pakistan and Pakistani strategists have underestimated the toxicity of India’s Hindutva problem – and this massively exacerbates Pakistan’s India problem.

Pakistan’s initial response to August 5th has been remarkably conscious of this strategic gap. Prime Minister Imran Khan has focused on exactly the two vulnerabilities of India that require constant attention. The first being the oppression and brutality of India in Occupied Kashmir. The second being the ugliness of the RSS project and Hindutva extremism at large.

What many Pakistanis will forget to note however is why Pakistan’s story has managed to generate unprecedented (at least since 1999) traction in the international diplomatic and media arenas.

It is not the presence of Indian brutality or the ugliness of the RSS and its extremist mindset. It is the absence of Non State Actors on the streets, or the television screens. It is the absence of acts of political violence in India or Occupied Kashmir that can be blamed on those Non State Actors.

The loudest and most potent deployment of the word Kashmir in the last two decades (if not more), without any concurrent negativity or condemnation of Pakistan, has been under these very specific conditions.

There are potentially unlimited benefits to the continuation and deepening of the resolve of the Pakistani leadership – including those in the military and in the opposition. The voice of people of Occupied Kashmir may be muted, and India’s extremist regime will not cease attempting to asphyxiate their voice. But the only instance in living memory in which Pakistan has been able to successfully project the cause of Kashmiri self determination has been in the absence of the political violence or extremist rhetoric of NSAs.

PM Khan and COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa have found a formula to disarm Godzilla, neutralize a nation’s sense of grievous injury and expose the violence and hatred of Hindutva. They must not waver from it. The next two months will test their resolve in a manner that is hard to put into words. They must stay the course.

The writer is an analyst and commentator.