The Options Before Pakistan
Afghanistan remains the pressure point
Pakistan has three options as its response to India’s dramatic moves on Kashmir. Interestingly Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan touched on all three options, with varying degress of sharpness, in his joint address to Parliament. And while the Indian media struts around with puffed up chests, the strategic establishment here is clearly not taking any of this lightly. More so with China having entered the picture almost immediately with a warning to India not to convert Ladakh into a Union Territory. China is the third country with interests in the Kashmir zone via Aksai Chin and the disputes over the Line of Actual Control.
Khan and the military are under tremendous pressure to act with both being ridiculed by the Pakistani Twitterati for “wearing bangles”. The government will fall, and the Pakistan Army will be back under the control of hardliners who remain in existence, though presently sidelined, if the response is not adequate and as Pakistani newspaper editorials have said “meaningful.”
Khan did an adequate job of wading through the emotional reactions, with a speech that did not promise war, but made it clear that it would become the choice if the world did not respond to his pleas. That Pakistan’s more sober newspaper Dawn is rooting for peace and diplomacy is significant.
The one option for Pakistan is diplomacy that Khan spoke of at some length, and that Islamabad has started implementing almost immediately. It is working the wires to get a response from the seemingly reluctant world, and mediation from key countries like the United States before, as he put it, the situation gets out of hand. Pakistan has stopped trade with India, closed access to Afghanistan through the Wagah border, and is again placing restrictions on the air space. It has expelled the Indian envoy, snapping diplomatic ties though New Delhi for once has not responded in a tit for tat fashion. At least so far, that is 24 hours after Pakistan’s decisions.
Pakistans commentators have made it very clear, as did Imran Khan in his first responses on the social media after the Kashmir action, that the Americans Afghan plan could be impacted because of the consequences. As if on cue, a blast in Kabul yesterday has made world headlines as the US-Taliban talks are on. 14 persons were killed and 145 wounded. Hints and more that Pakistan will not be able to help Washington on Afghanistan must have reached the ears of the US President who is hopeful of using the last as his election card.
The second option is military action. Despite the necessary statement from the Army Chief of doing all that is required on Kashmir, it was very clear from Imran Khan’s speech that this is not what he would like to exercise. But as he put it, would have to if diplomacy failed on Kashmir. “We take action, India retaliates, we retaliate, what happens? It becomes a conventional war. Then what? We could win, or lose. If we lose…. Even then we will not give up, and fight till our last breath,” he said. Inherent in the ‘then what’ according to a retired military officer here was a pointer towards the dangers inherent in a war between two nuclear armed neighbours.
In short Imran Khan, in a speech directed really towards the US and the international community made it apparent that he had no choice but to act. And that it would be far better if the world leaders realised this now rather than later when the situation would have deteriorated further. He spoke soberly, and without the bombast of a Nawaz Sharif, that made him a little more believable with the Pakistani media reacting positively.
The third option is of terrorism, and re-activating organisations that have been made dormant under global pressure. Khan did not speak on this of course, beyond a fleeting mention of ‘Pulwama’ where he insisted that this was not executed by Pakistan. It clearly remains an option.
The world -- at least the countries that have reacted so far including the US and China -- has said it is monitoring the developments, and watching the situation closely. They have urged India and Pakistan to maintain peace. Khan has basically said that he would like to keep peace, but needs the support of the world insofar as India’s moves on Kashmir are concerned. It is also clear that he has little room to manouvere given the pressure on him at home.