India must remember that it is dealing with Pakistan.
Owing to its geo-strategic importance, and global tolerance for all its shenanigans, Pakistan still enjoys clout internationally. India will have to up its craft while dealing with this neighbour.
After four unsuccessful attempts to proscribe Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief, by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) 1267 Committee, India has finally managed to urge compliance through unanimity which is essential for such proscription.
Four previous attempts in the last 10 years had failed to find unanimity due to China’s intransigence. The fifth attempt was initiated on 13 March 2019 by France, United Kingdom and the US, a month after the Pulwama suicide attack which had killed 40 Indian policemen in a bus in Kashmir.
The JeM had claimed responsibility for the same through social media. China, the fifth permanent member of the UNSC (in addition to Russia), had once again attempted to place obstacles in the proceedings by demanding “more information” and was tending to prevent the attainment of proscription. However, the 21 February condemnation of the Pulwama suicide attack by the UNSC, which included China’s endorsement, had encouraged the US, France and the UK to continue imposing pressure on China to stand by the proposal to declare Masood Azhar an international terrorist.
There was every chance that China may not have relented, at the behest of Pakistan, its all-weather strategic partner. However, the combination of some deft diplomacy by India including, finally, a visit to Beijing by the Foreign Secretary, the deliberate silence on China’s recent Belt and Road Summit 2019, reiteration of the Wuhan spirit, which currently guides Sino-Indian relations, and the circumstances of instability through South West Asia, all helped in converting an almost assured ‘No’ to a, perhaps grudging, ‘Yes’.
China really had few options. Already under economic pressure of the US on trade, China may have also taken a hard look at its position after the recent Sri Lanka suicide carnage executed under the tutelage of the Islamic State (IS).
Some of the most prominent IS fighters have been the Uyghurs, the Islamic community from China’s restive Xinjiang autonomous region where it is executing an insurgency against China’s hold. What trajectory that insurgency takes with a resurgent IS and its worldwide tentacles would obviously have put fears in China’s perception of being subsequently isolated if it faces a surge in violence in the restive region.
Will the UNSC action be received by Pakistan in a manner similar to the way it responded to Hafiz Sayeed’s similar listing many years ago? It will be recalled that, to protect Sayeed and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Pakistan allowed the latter to exist under a new identity, and for him, it always argued that no legal system of Pakistan had found him guilty. Is the situation any better today? The alacrity with which the US followed up the entire proceedings on Masood Azhar in the UNSC and foreclosed China’s intent of attempting to postpone further proceedings by six months projects a new normal about the US administration.
The spokesman of the US National Security Council, Garret Marquis, stated – “Designating Azhar demonstrates international commitment to rooting out terrorism in Pakistan and bringing security and stability to South Asia”. With greater experience of IS-sponsored transnational terrorism in Europe and Asia, the sensitivity level is much higher today. Pakistan was forced to commence action against JeM’s financial and other networks well before Azhar’s proscription by the UNSC 1267 Committee. The level of monitoring by the US, France and the UK this time will be at a much higher level.
Pakistan is also facing flak at the Financial Assistance Task Force (FATF) deliberations and even its interim observations will have an effect on the multiple efforts of Pakistan to bail itself out of the financial mess it is in. Those interim observations will be influenced by the UNSC proscription.
True to its character, Pakistan probably anticipated the Chinese action and what it would lead to. Imran Khan was obviously briefed about this too during his recent Beijing sojourn. Two days before the UNSC meeting, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief Asif Ghafoor made a hash of a press briefing in which he chose to target India and Afghanistan for their support to the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a group fighting for Pashtun rights.
This was Pakistan’s counter to the anticipated action against Azhar, reflecting to the world that India and Afghanistan too were sponsoring unrest in Pakistan. He also chose to convey a message to India, something many Pakistani Generals find it fashionable to convey; that the Pakistan Army and Pakistan as a nation were not frozen in the 1971 mould and could match India militarily if India chose to cross the rubicon.
In fact, this is the new normal for Pakistan’s strategic community, something it is probably briefed about by the GHQ, to convey how Pakistan can match India militarily at every rung of the escalation ladder below the threshold of conventional operations.
They admit India’s conventional superiority but also display jingoism to project their nuclear capability as a sufficient means to deter threshold action by India. It is almost as if Pakistan believes that India is a non-nuclear weapons state. As to the Pakistan’s celebratory mode after finding the absence of Kashmir and Pulwama from the draft resolution of the UNSC Committee, it is only such nations who can delude themselves.
The entire world media has carried Masood Azhar’s profile and photographs after Pulwama. India needs to expend no energy on proving the link between Pulwama and Masood Azhar, to the international community.
India, however, has to be realistic about the extent of the effect of the diplomatic victory that the government has achieved. There is anticipation that it will have an immediate effect on the ground in Kashmir. The expectation is because of the Indian Army’s recent successes against JeM cadres. There is also expectation that Masood Azhar may be on his last legs or may have even died of severe illness.
The JeM may be Azhar’s fiefdom, but most such organizations become family ventures; the same is true of the JeM. Its reason for existence will always remain its capacity to bait India and strike within through spectacular acts. The modus operandi of suicide bombings does not require much in human investment. Witnessing the IS capability of having 7-8 suicide bombers simultaneously, many terror groups may attempt aping the same with or without the blessing of the ISI.
JeM will also wish to offset any possibility of even a semblance of a dialogue between India and Pakistan. For the next three months or so, JeM’s efforts will focus on infiltration of a new leadership and hierarchy to take charge in Kashmir as also to give the group a larger local footprint. The peace and quiet arising out of this must not be misread by intelligence agencies, political parties or security forces.
Work must go on to prevent JeM from finding its feet effectively again after the losses it has suffered. The LeT may consider a potential vacuum as the best opportunity for resurgence, having been relatively quiet for some time. With the entire South Asia now on a higher degree of vigil after the Sri Lanka bombings, this is as good a time as ever to forge intelligence networks at even higher levels of competence than what the Indian agencies have already creditably displayed.
Diplomatically, there cannot yet be an opportunity for celebration. Pakistan’s geo-strategic location gives it so much significance, that even while being convinced by Indian explanations and cultivations, many nations have the propensity to ignore that in favour of following a partisan policy favouring Pakistan.
India has to find the ways and means of diluting Pakistan’s strategic advantage through a better and stronger relationship with China and Russia, while continuing to remain in full engagement with the US, UK, France and many other western countries.
In addition, the advantages gained in the Gulf and with Iran have to remained balanced to be truly recognised as a profoundly neutral nation.