By Sabtain Ahmed Dar, exclusively for FRN
Sabtain Ahmed Dar is a Pakistan-based political analyst and a research fellow at the Department of Political Science, Punjab University. He specializes in Pakistan affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in the Middle East and South Asia. He also writes for Fort Russ News and his analysis can also be found at the public portal of the Belgrade based Center for Syncretic Studies
Introduction to the Current Escalation Ladder
In order to understand the current level of escalation ladder in between Pakistan and India it is very important to empirically study the developments which took place in between the two since 14th February Pulwama attack. To analyse the current situation, it is important to divide these developments in to two timelines. One timeline starts from 14th February to 26th February when India conducted airstrikes in Pakistan and second from Pakistan airstrikes on 27th February to the present.
On 14th February, hardly few hours had passed since the Pulwama attack and no thorough investigation had been done by India and yet they resorted to blame Pakistan without any evidence. On the very next morning The Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the attack was a matter of “grave concern” and it had been condemning “heightened acts of violence in the (Kashmir) Valley… we strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to the State of Pakistan without investigations”. On the same day Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said; “Putting the blame on Pakistan for everything is wrong, the normalisation process with India is our top most priority.” Pakistan’s information minister further said; “JeM is a banned organisation in Pakistan, we are taking action against it and will do whatever is required,” the information minister told India Today TV. The minister even offered Pakistan’s assistance in investigating the attack and seeks a dossier from India on 15th February which was not provided until 28th February. Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan clearly said; “We had such an important visit of the Saudi crown prince coming up on 16th February. We knew that they would invest, there were contracts. Which country would sabotage such an important event by conducting a terror attack?”
During this time, Indian media was seen clearly beating the drums of surgical strike against Pakistan. Indian media was using tickers such as “we will not let Pakistan go scot-free”, “Pakistan has started an un-declared war on India” and “Pakistan’s defeat is inevitable” etc. This Indian media framing clearly suggests that Modi had intentions of the surgical strike against Pakistan after the Pulwama attack. In the midst of this crisis Pakistani sportspersons and actors were denied visas. Even within India anyone who tried to reject the notion of BJP and mainstream media about a possible surgical strike against Pakistan was condemned vehemently, a famous Indian cricketing legend and a host to a popular comedy show in India Navjot Singh Sidhu was ousted from “The Kapil Sharma Show” after he refused to sit on the India-Pakistan war bandwagon.
To Pakistan’s media and political analysts, Modi’s true intentions were plain and clear since the 14th February that Modi is intentionally trying to politicize the Pulwama attack to win the up-coming elections in May, 2019 through an all-time feasible tactic of framing Pakistan into every terrorist act inside India. To Pakistan it was “not pre-emptive but pre-election”. As far as Kashmiris are related Indian media have been doing a significant job since 2001 to frame every effort of the Kashmiri freedom fighters as “acts of terrorism assisted by Pakistan”. Same scenario can be easily assessed if we talk in the context of Pulwama attack. In addition to that, no main stream media and defence analyst in Pakistan was expecting that India would dare to come inside Pakistan for a surgical strike.
However, in the early morning of 26th February India Air Force violated the UN article 34 and 35 and intervened in Pakistan’s airspace. India claimed that it had conducted airstrike on terrorist camps in Balakot, Pakistan and killed 300 terrorists. The Indian Air Force violated the LoC for the first time since 1971; Pakistan in response proved that only a few trees were destroyed and no infrastructure damaged or people being killed. Pakistan asked India to show proofs on their claim of numerous terrorists being killed. The Indian Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa in a statement said; “We don’t count human casualties. We count what targets we have hit or not hit.” India was not able to provide any details of such number of causalities which means India was only doing an “information war coup” against Pakistan.
At the same time on the other side in Pakistan, with the Indian Air Force intervention the morale of the whole Pakistani nation went down and serious questions were being raised on the effectiveness of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) defence capability. The first two government officials to address the nation after the Indian violation of LoC were Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the spokesman of Pakistan Army Major General Asif Ghafoor who said it plain and clear that India had violated our airspace and Pakistan has the right to retorsion and will surely give a reply to India.
A day after India violated LoC, in the morning of 27th February Pakistan Air Force undertook strikes across the LoC from Pakistani airspace and shot down two Indian jets. During the dogfight in between Pakistan and Indian jets, one Indian jet with one pilot who ejected fell into Pakistan’s territory while the other fell into Indian occupied Kashmir. Pakistan Army and other security agencies were on high alert; Pakistan closed its airspace for any domestic and international flight. The Indian pilot “Abhinandan” was arrested by Pakistan Army on ground.
Indian Air Force was in such shock after the Pakistan Air Force strikes that it took them almost two days to hold a press conference. Foreign minister of India Sushma Swaraj instantly made a statement that “India does not want any further escalation with Pakistan”. Later, India accepted that their pilot is currently in the hands of Pakistan. Abhinandan remained into the custody of Pakistan security agencies for 40 hours until PM Imran Khan announced that he will release him as a goodwill gesture and for the sake of the overall peace of the entire region. His goodwill gesture was praised by everyone internationally that even the opposition of the Indian government welcomed his move. However, the BJP government and the Indian media refrained from accepting this development as a goodwill gesture on the part of Pakistan.
Now if we talk about the current ladder of escalation in between Pakistan and India, both India and Pakistan are currently engaged in cross border shelling since 26th February. Many soldiers and other civilians have been martyred and wounded as a result of this. Pakistan on 1st March told USCENTCOM, CDS UK, CDF Australia and Ambassadors of US, UK, China in Pakistan that “Pakistan shall surely respond to any aggression in self-defence”. Three days later we witnessed a strange phenomenon in the Arabian Sea when in the morning of 5th March, a Pakistani naval spokesman said; “Pakistan navy stopped an Indian submarine from entering our territorial waters, the Indian submarine was not targeted in line with the government’s policy of maintaining peace”. It was for the first time since 2016 Indian submarine was intercepted by Pakistan Navy.
It clearly shows that India through its private diplomacy with great powers such as US, UK, Russia and China is trying to imply that it does not want any further escalation but its unusual military movements being observed by Pakistan Army suggest that Indian Army is not in a mood for any de-escalation process with Pakistan. Security officials of both countries are in contact with each other however, PM Imran Khan had tried to call Narendra Modi for two times in the last week but he did not respond to the call to initiate peace talks. I am of the opinion that direct communication in between the government officials is essential for easing out the tensions, but I do not see it coming until the next Indian government in May/June. It makes sense why India is not willing for peace talks, firstly the kind of embarrassment Indian Air Force faced against a comparatively small Pakistan Air Force is somehow not been digested fully by the Indian establishment. Major western news outlets such as New York Times raised questions about the efficacy of Indian Air Force which lost a dogfight to Pakistan, resulting into more embarrassment and demoralization in the Indian Army.
I believe that Indian establishment is divided over further escalation against Pakistan. But there is going to be a significant number of officials in the Indian Army who are considering further escalation against Pakistan in an attempt to balance what happened with their Air Force. This is why after losing strategic advantage against Pakistan in the air they have changed their venue and now moved to the Arabian Sea to engage Pakistan in the waters. Pakistan wants peace not for itself but for the whole region, but if Indian Military continued like this then the current escalation ladder will surely increase in between in the coming days. A ground breaking recent intelligence report is being made public by Pakistan’s government which states that India is not the only country who is solely acting against Pakistan but Israel’s role and assistance is also evident behind the current India-Pakistan tensions. The government sources have recently handed over an intelligence report to a senior Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir from GEO News that; “Indian Military assisted by Israel had a plan for the missile attack on Pakistan, India had planned missile attack to various places in Pakistan including Karachi and Bahawalpur by using the Army base in Rajasthan, India. In the foiled missile master plan; Israel and another country (name not made public) were assisting India secretly. The security forces of Pakistan have shared the attack plan of India and Israel with friendly countries and also have shared the evidence with them. (To be continued…)