x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

India has reasons for raising tension along the border

Problems between Pakistan and India are not restricted to the situation in Kashmir.

When I was an officer in Pakistan’s army, for a time I commanded a brigade on the Line of Control (LOC) with India. So it is not without experience that I say that over the years Indian and Pakistani forces have both exploited opportunities to create problems for each other in Kashmir.

I believe that the two sides are equally capable of duplicity. If I refer below to the Indians alone, it is because I know of no parallel example indicting Pakistan – which does not mean that there aren’t any – that is germane to what I have to say here.

The latest round of tension between India and Pakistan on the LOC dates back to August 8, when India accused Pakistani forces of having killed five Indian soldiers in a raid across the LOC.

That this happened as the Indians claim is certainly not impossible, but circumstances make it very unlikely.

Let us review the situation in Pakistan. After a peaceful transition to a second consecutive elected government, the country has a new president, an activist Supreme Court, a central government with right-wing leanings, an even more Taliban-apologist government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a crumbling economy, a growing threat from terrorists and a new army chief due in a month.

Despite differences of opinion on how to deal with terrorists, the army, accepting the principle of civilian supremacy, has agreed to support an attempt to find a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. What is more, for almost the first time in Pakistan’s chequered history the main political parties and the military find themselves on the same page: all acknowledge that the foremost threat posed to Pakistan, an existential one, is from domestic terrorists, and not from India.

In all those circumstances, it is almost impossible that Pakistan’s military would undertake or support a misadventure such as the one India has reported.

True, non-state actors from Pakistan could have carried out this act, with or without army support or awareness. However, that is not the accusation made by India. Nor is it a likely possibility; this is not the 1990s, when non-state actors ran free in Azad Kashmir. Today, the army has a far tighter hold on things.

Since that reported August incident, matters have continued to deteriorate. Fed by the Indian military and media, anti-Pakistan sentiment is rising in India.

Most objective observers accept that the Indian media is more “loyal” than the Pakistani media (or more prejudiced, depending on one’s perspective). For example, in a widely reprinted 2010 article, War or Peace on the Indus, South African water expert John Briscoe noted that the Pakistani media, even under a dictatorship, had long presented both points of view on water-sharing issues, while the “other perspective” was missing from the Indian media.

But there has to be a powerful motive for aggression. While “false flag” incidents are not unprecedented, these too require motives.

In my view those motives are multiple. India always has an interest in raising the old spectre of a “rogue military” in Pakistan, but India too is suffering from a weakened economy and from corruption. Incidents of domestic insecurity are on the rise. In the elections looming for next spring, the ruling Congress Party seems to be losing more and more ground to the hard-line BJP.

Further, there are reports that the Indian military is becoming increasingly demoralised. Despite a large variety of welfare measures in the military – some of which emulate Pakistani practices – and a pay package healthier than the one Pakistan offers, the Indian military is increasingly hard-put to find officers.

But the worst part is that since 2007 India has had a succession of controversial military chiefs. Infighting among ambitious Indian army officers has become public knowledge, and increasingly, officers are known to be allying themselves to mutually wary camps. The current chief of army staff, Gen Bikram Singh, is said to be seeking evidence to court martial his predecessor.

This last matter, disunity in the army, might be the most powerful reason for some in the military to attempt to create cohesion by reminding all ranks that they must make common cause against a common enemy.

Add to that the possibility that the media is succumbing to its loyalty at the same time as Indian politicians might be looking for mileage in next year’s elections.

And yet there are still some voices of calm and reason in India, though they are not very audible.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has its share of anti-India hawks, but it also has more than its fair share of peaceniks. Best of all, it has a balanced media, and a government that seems committed to finding a way to improve relations with India.

It is impossible to predict where all this might end. My considered view, however, is that India will not let the situation reach a state that could raise a serious risk of another war.

Nonetheless, Pakistan will be under considerable pressure as long as this state of “controlled hostility” lasts.

Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer