By maintaining that India’s objective in carryout cross-border strikes was not to humiliate the Pakistan army, the Narendra Modi government has shown remarkable maturity.
The clarification of India’s purpose in conducting a “surgical” operation on the terrorist camps on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (LoC) has followed Modi’s earlier call for muffling the war drums.
The two initiatives are all the more praiseworthy in the context of the blatant jingoism of some of the television anchors, defence “experts” and an army “veteran”.
If the government has decided to act with restraint in this fevered atmosphere, the reason is not only the realization that it will be foolish to champion the cause of a war by the two nuclear powers, but also that India may have found in the army’s limited offensives the right antidote to Pakistan’s use of terrorists in a proxy war.
Hence, the observation that the objective of the strikes was to send a message to the Pakistan army rather than to rub its nose in the dust.
That at least a part of the message has already gone home is evident from the comments of the Pakistan ambassador in Washington, Jalil Abbas Jilani, that “war is not an option”.
Jilani’s statement is in contrast to what the Pakistani defence minister said about the possible use of nukes because his country’s N-weapons were not “showpieces”.
Since the US had criticised the minister for his remarks, Jilani may have chosen Washington to sound responsible.
But the point is that both countries are now showing signs of treading with caution. Pakistan’s present tactics appear to be to send more jehadis across the border to strike at selected targets and die in the process.
It is possible that Pakistan’s lack of development places at the disposal of the army and the ISI large numbers of unemployed young men who can be brainwashed by the Islamic clerics to go on suicide missions.
The almost constant series of attacks by the terrorists in Kashmir over the last few days are obviously intended to shore up the Pakistan army’s morale after the Sept 29 “surgical” strikes.
But the Pakistan army and the ISI know that they have reached a dead end, for more and more fidayeens or suicide bombers will die during the terrorist attacks which will also be largely unsuccessful.
Therefore, the reports that the army and ISI are planning a “spectacular” act of terrorism by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which is led by China’s pet jehadi, Masood Azhar, have to be taken seriously. Since war is not an option, as Ambassador Jilani has said, a “spectacular” strike is the only alternative for the Pakistan army and the ISI even if it confirms their reputation as sponsors of terrorism.
However, since such a misadventure is likely to provoke India to carry out yet another cross-border operation, it will show to an increasingly concerned world that the two countries are playing with fire.
For Pakistan, however, the choices are limited. It lost three conventional wars with India in 1965, 1971 and 1999 if the “tribal” incursions of 1947-48 are kept out of reckoning for the moment.
Pakistan also has on its hands at least two major anti-India groups of terrorists in the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and JeM. It cannot allow all the expenses that it incurs in recruiting, motivating, training and arming these “snakes in its backyard”, as Hillary Clinton said, to go waste.
It is at moments such as these that statesmanship assumes prime importance. Modi has already displayed his calibre as an astute leader. Nawaz Sharif, too, was right in saying that the problems of poverty cannot be solved by driving tanks on farmlands.
But the Pakistan prime minister’s difficulty is that he is not in full control of his country’s governance. As the Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi hinted, the army has a large say in decision-making in Islamabad.
That there was a grain of truth in the report in the well-regarded Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, about differences between Nawaz Sharif and the army chief, Raheel Sharif, is evident from the steps taken by the government against the reporter.
As was mentioned in Dawn, Nawaz Sharif is more conscious of the diplomatic isolation faced by Pakistan than the army chief, especially after the boycott of the SAARC summit by several countries after India walked out, leading to its postponement.
The army chief, on the other hand, will be more concerned about the morale and preparedness of the troops in the wake of India’s currently more proactive policies.
However, one country to which Gen. Raheel Sharif is likely to pay more attention than to his own PM is China – and the latter must be deeply worried about the fate of the $ 46 billion China-Pakistan economic corridor.
The corridor, linking the restive Chinese province of Xinjiang with the Gwadar port in Pakistan, “passes through some turbulent regions, Kashmir included”, according to a Chinese newspaper.
Needless to say, a war – or even the fear of it – can be detrimental to the project where more than 7,000 Chinese nationals are working. It is possible, therefore, that Pakistan’s all-weather friend will advise both the Sharifs to act with restraint.