Analysis by Jay Tharappel –
Pakistani PM Imran Khan has announced that he will release the captured Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, as a “peace gesture”, and he even wants to have direct talks with Modi over the phone. Objectively, Imran Khan is perhaps the most conciliatory Pakistani PM in a long time for a variety of possible reasons.
Pakistan has lost tens of thousands of their own soldiers plus civilians because of Islamic extremists, and although it’s a Frankenstein they created, they are nonetheless war-weary as a consequence, their economic situation is extremely weak with dwindling foreign exchange reserves, they want the US to leave Afghanistan and thus are prioritising their western front, and over the long term their geopolitical alliances have shifted significantly since the cold war days of the India-Soviet alliance against the Pakistani-USA alliance. Despite Pakistan being responsible for the deaths of some 15 thousand Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan who were defending a government in Kabul that India was allied to, now they’re making peace with Russia who also want to see a US exit from Afghanistan.
Given the division in Pakistan between the pro Islamist Army-ISI and the more internally focused civilian political apparatus, the calculations behind Indian actions have to take into consideration which side in Pakistan they’re strengthening, because the natural consequence of India acting needlessly hostile to Pakistan is to strengthen, their Sunni Islamic extremists, and by extension their dependence on Saudi Arabia, the latter especially given their desperate economic problems, so which version of Pakistan is India strengthening? Again this is about consequences.
Yesterday Imran Khan called for a joint-investigation into Pulwama, presumably because he wants to “prove” that it was entirely planned inside Indian J&K, which means one of two things a) Pakistan is sure of its plausible deniability, or b) they actually had no involvement, whereas India’s position is that regardless of the specific details of Pulwama, the terrorist group responsible, JeM, is based in Pakistan and backed by their Army-ISI and thus must be dismantled.
Ultimately all roads lead back to Pakistan’s basic position on Kashmir which demands a plebiscite, whereas India argues that J&K acceded to the union democratically via the state’s parliament after the Dogra monarchy was abolished, but the problem now is that Pakistan’s basic assumption, namely that Kashmiri Muslims are essentially Pakistanis occupied by India (and not as Indians held hostage by Pakistani backed terrorists) has also become the basic assumption of BJP-RSS propaganda.
India should be trying to get itself to a point in the next 15-20 years where a plebiscite would result in Jammu & Kashmir choosing to stay with India (I firmly believe this is achievable), but instead of a proactive strategy for resolution, the only approach is reactive conflict suppression.
India could use this opportunity to diplomatically engage Imran Khan now that he’s made the offer, and make India’s case to a Pakistani audience about how they will benefit from ending support to Kashmiri separatist militias, but if all Modi wanted was to act tough for an election, then there’s no doubt he’s been embarrassingly outmaneuvered here. He’s perhaps the first Indian leader to look strictly less reasonable than his Pakistani counterpart.