Sometimes, a tweet breaches its 240 character limit to speak a thousand words. When it punctures pomposity with a pithy witticism, we laugh; when it is aphoristic, we learn; when it deftly counters bleeding-heart sanctimoniousness, we applaud; and when someone like Moeed Yusuf, National Security Advisor of Pakistan, unwittingly reveals his hand, we take note.
Yusuf’s latest lapse was a victorious tweet on 20 October, about the Pakistani Navy successfully detecting and interdicting an Indian submarine seeking to enter his nation’s waters. It had the usual propagandist flavour, of India being a belligerent nation and a threat to the region. For proof, he referred to a scratchy official video released by his establishment’s online flunkeys, of an unidentified periscope cutting froth through fairly calm waters.
Twitter was merciless in response, saving the Indian government the trouble of a rebuttal; and indeed, that’s all it took to debunk Yusuf’s claim. Leave aside the fact that the purported coordinates in the video placed the submarine hundreds of kilometres south of Karachi port, multiple handles pointed out that as per international law, submarines are meant to sail on the surface in and near a nation’s exclusive maritime economic zone, to signal benign intent.
Where then was the question of belligerence, or of Pakistan having ‘detected’ an Indian submarine (if it was even one)? This was vaudeville at its worst.
But the true import of Yusuf’s tweet - a drum roll triumphalism of the Pakistani Navy besting their Indian adversaries - lies beyond this hammy Abbott and Costello routine, and needs to be understood in specific context.
What we have here, apart from the propaganda, is an effort to bolster the Pakistani Navy’s image and worth, at a time when tensions in the subcontinent are at a high. This is a break from past posturing, where it was the Pakistani Army, Air Force and nuclear weapons, which would prevent those dastardly Indians from undoing partition.
Unfortunately, the Indian commando strikes on terrorist camps after Uri, by land, and on Balakot after Pulwama, by air, put paid to those fictions. One nuclear power had struck another, decisively, openly, and deterrence was now about as real as a mermaid.
That left the sea, and the naval element – one of four options India has refrained from using against Pakistan thus far (the other three are missiles, cyber and economic). So, for a nation expecting reprisals from India, after the recent spate of targeted killings of non-Muslims, by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, it is logical that they would focus on threats from the maritime front. (Of course, that’s also probably because there is very little they can do against the other three options.)
But this is where a loquacious Yusuf went a tweet too far. He should not have signalled, true or false, that the Pakistani military is geared up to counter a naval threat from India. It is the last thing one should say, especially when the ground realities are patently to the contrary. So then why tweet thus?
There are three possible reasons. One, it is the usual false bravado which Rawalpindi employs when nothing else works. Two, this is part of the joint info-buzz by Pakistan and China, to ratchet matters up a notch, and maintain some sort of pressure as the mountain passes start closing for the winter. Three, this is risk mitigation in case the balloon goes up, with the Chinese actually expecting the Pakistanis to hold their own to some extent in the Arabian Sea, while the Chinese exert a deterrent to the Tibetan Plateau.
If it is the first, it can be ignored. If it is the second, then it is pressure only if Delhi deems it so. And if it is the third, then it is helpless damage control, as both seek to push an Indian genie back into an obedient, quiescent, Panchsheel bottle.
In this regard, it is also interesting to note by the by, that both China and Pakistan have been forced to act out of character, ever since a decades-old status quo, never in our favour, and which held our region in ungainly balance, came to a juddering end with the Doklam crisis in 2017: China, by having to mobilise and maintain significant forces on the Tibetan Plateau; and Pakistan, most recently exemplified by Yusuf’s tweet, by placing focus on the maritime domain.
It is as if they don’t know how to deal with the new dispensation in India.
In addition, these people should also know that India is watching their every move – and tweet. As it is, the Pakistani National Security Advisor, with his frequent, risible statements, had established enough reasons why senior security apparatchiks should not be seen or heard in public too often. But this time, he’s gone a step further and revealed a slice of establishment thought as well.
Thus, in conclusion, if Yusuf truly wishes to serve Pakistan’s cause more fruitfully, he needs to stop tweeting so often; if not, his growing image of a bumptious jester will prevent his government from being taken seriously, and he will continue to let slip snippets of strategic thinking. Surely the generals of Rawalpindi, and their minders in Beijing, don’t want that.
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