The report, in many Indian newspapers, of Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa’s speech of September 6 to commemorate Pakistan Defence Day, was somewhat distorted. Several, basing themselves on a news agency report, noted that the Pakistan Army chief called for “political and diplomatic solutions” to resolve the Kashmir issue, which should be settled through dialogue and that permanent peace would benefit millions. Pakistan, however, would continue to extend “political, moral and diplomatic support” to the Kashmiris. This was given a positive spin, though in context they were merely old nostrums.
There is not much new in Bajwa’s speech. It is worth recalling that following the Indian Army mobilisation in January 2002 in the wake of the attack on Parliament, President Pervez Musharraf, concurrently the Army chief, also spoke of the need to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue, declaring that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used for terrorist activity anywhere in the world, even while extending “moral, political and diplomatic support to Kashmiris”.
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Pakistan’s claim that all it does is to provide “political, moral and diplomatic” support to Kashmiris is a standard Pakistani template. In a quarter century of insurgency, they have sent across over 30,000 AK-47 type assault rifles, 15,000 pistols, light machine guns, explosives and material that can equip a small army. They have trained thousands of Kashmiri and Pakistani insurgents, even while claiming that all they do is to back the “peaceful struggle of the Kashmiris for self-determination”.
In the case of Afghanistan, the long logistical trail of Taliban fighters to Pakistan can hardly be hidden. Yet it is Pakistan that has been the loser through its overreach. By backing jehadist elements, Islamabad has undermined the legitimacy of its own case in Jammu & Kashmir, just as it is unable to convince anyone that it has genuine stakes in promoting peace in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan Army chief’s speech was as deceitful as the day it was meant to commemorate. The Defence of Pakistan Day is based on fake history, which claims that India attacked Pakistan on that day, triggering the India-Pakistan war of 1965. The facts are considerably at variance. At the beginning of August 1965, Pakistan sent tens of thousands of armed invaders into Jammu & Kashmir with the delusional hope that they would trigger a rebellion. When they were detected and rounded up in quick time, and India launched counter-infiltration operations, Pakistan sent in its regular army, spearheaded by two armoured regiments to cut the Jammu-Poonch highway. This attack took Indians by surprise and came within an ace of succeeding. Efforts by the UN for a ceasefire did not work and eventually, prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri ordered Indian forces to cross the international border at Punjab towards Lahore on September 6.
It is this capacity for self-delusion, especially in relation to India, that marks out the Pakistani elite from those elsewhere. Bajwa claimed that the world community was aware of India’s ‘excesses’ in J&K, as well as its role in disintegrating Pakistan. “India’s plans,” he declared, “include openly supporting terrorists and usurping our water resources”. So, contrary to the record which is available for all to see, India is the one threatening Pakistan; as for the water theft, one doesn’t know what to say.
India’s best option is to adopt as forward a posture as it can in Afghanistan as long as the US is there.
China has been the big beneficiary of the US failure in Afghanistan. The US has done all the fighting, while China is hoping to reap the benefits, especially the lucrative mining contracts in Afghanistan. But Beijing must square the circle on terrorism. On one hand, it denounces terrorism, as it did in the BRICS declaration of September 4, calling out a slew of Islamist groups for fomenting violence, included three which are nurtured by the Pakistan Army. On the other, it criticises the Trump administration for escalating the conflict. Walking on the razor’s edge, they have begun a limited military commitment in Afghanistan by patrolling the Wakhan Corridor. If things slide in the AfPak region, the Chinese could be big losers, because of the terrorist threat to Xinjiang, as well as their ongoing investments in Pakistan.
There is, of course, an alternate future, but only if Pakistan makes that strategic shift—abandon the use of jehadi terrorism against India and Afghanistan. This would have a cascading effect on the economic and political future of the region. Military expenditure would come down, militias dismantled, road and rail traffic would open up and the CPEC could be integrated with India, Iran and Afghanistan, opening up the prospect for regional prosperity.
Unfortunately, for the present, we seem condemned to another round of the Great Game. In this, thanks to the Indian Army and our geography, Kashmir is a side-show. Given the circumstances, the best option for New Delhi is to adopt as forward a posture as it can afford to in Afghanistan, as long as the Americans are there. Pakistan and China understand the logic of realpolitik and force. India may lack boots on ground, but it has important soft-power equities in the country which, to put it politely, detests Pakistan.
Outlook Magazine September 25, 2017