by Sunil Kumar 22 June 2019
The Balakot air strikes carried out by Indian Air Force against alleged terrorist camps inside the territory of Pakistan on 26th of February, 2019 hangs like an albatross around the neck of South Asian region. Post strikes, the diplomatic standoff and one-upmanship maneuvering between India and Pakistan is leading into an intriguing international situation. (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/170-jem-terrorists-killed-in-balakot-strike-italian-journalist/articleshow/69244662.cms?from=mdr)
After the strikes, claims were made by Pakistan that Indian Air Force fighter jets failed to hit anything of relevance inside the territory of Pakistan but rather these fighter jets offloaded ammunition in empty fields. On the other hand, India asserted that it did actually destroy a terror outpost of Jaish-e-Mohammed led by Maulana Masood Azhar. As per the Indian version, the strikes were carried out based on verifiable inputs by intelligence agencies. The situation snowballed into a piquant scenario. This scenario of assertion, denial and one upmanship posed difficult questions for international security. It cannot be denied that post Balakot strikes, peace hangs in balance in South Asia. It is vital to remember that these strikes were carried out in the wake of a suicidal attack on Indian paramilitary convoy in Pulwama killing more than forty paramilitary personnel on the spot. What is of relevance to the international community is that it needs to go beyond the bitter diatribe and understand that this confrontation could have escalated into a full scale offensive leading to complete destabilization of peace in the region. This compels us to analyse the evolving scenario.
General Elections, 2019 in India has rendered a thumping victory to BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party), led by Prime Minister Mr.Narendra Modi. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/india-election-results-modi-remains-favored-to-win-as-counting-starts/2019/05/22/830b9f60-7cb4-11e9-b1f3-b233fe5811ef_story.html?noredirect=on) However, alarmingly diplomatic offensive is not showing signs of de-escalation. In the evolving scenario, we need to be constantly aware that fledgling democracies like India and US have suffered massive setbacks in the past from terrorist organizations. While 9/11 attacks on USA violently shook awake the international community to the scourge of rising Islamic fundamentalism, 26/11 Mumbai attacks compelled India to rethink its line of engagement with terrorists. These audacious attacks also compelled the international community to take notice of the terror unleashed on institutions of peace and democracy.
India, so far, has rejected Pakistan’s claims of taking decisive action against terror camps tooth and nail. The round of surgical strikes undertaken by India in fact marked a second within a gap of five years. In 2016, India had undertaken a surgical strike against a terror camp inside Pakistani territory after eighteen of its soldiers were killed in Uri (Indian Territory).(https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/army-conducted-surgical-strikes-on-terror-launch-pads-on-loc-significant-casualties-caused-dgmo/articleshow/54579855.cms)
It seems that in the absence of definitive and decisive action by Pakistan against terror organizations, India looks firm on the stand that it will not shy away from undertaking limited offensive operations, if required to protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Diplomatic stand-off and peacebuilding
As India has now elected a new government, the Modi government is expected to play some hard diplomacy with Pakistan. This has already become evident from the message from Ministry of External Affairs (India), where India did not went into any talks with Pakistan on the sidelines of SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) Summit, concluded recently in June, 2019. (https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/no-plans-for-indo-pak-bilateral-talks-on-sidelines-of-sco-summit-mea-1544079-2019-06-06; Also see- https://www.livemint.com/news/world/amid-frosty-ties-imran-khan-reiterates-need-for-dialogue-with-india-1560454376510.html) It is vital to note that Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr.Imran Khan has made peace overtures and offers of truce talks. He has repeated his offer of talks asserting that Pakistan is willing to talk on all outstanding issues between the two countries. However, the offer of Mr.Imran Khan has been snubbed by the Indian government so far, as India maintains that no substantial talks will be held unless Pakistan takes “irreversible” and “verifiable” steps to curb terrorism in its soil. The present political disposition under the prime minister ship of Mr.Narendra Modi seems almost crystal clear on this point. He makes this amply clear in his contact with media and people of India. For now, the Indian position is a reflection of its hard stance where it intends to push Pakistan to the brink where it is compelled to dismantle the alleged terror camps in Pakistan and refrain from providing safe haven to terror mongers.
Saliently, it may be recalled that India has been at the forefront to persuade international community to reach at a consensus about its resolve to fight terrorism which is growing to be a hydra headed monster with each passing day. Terrorism now thrives on recruitment of young and impressionable minds across geographic barriers and their radicalization by terrorist groups. In 1996, India had mooted the idea of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). ( https://www.livemint.com/Politics/Ee84kLhbyP5NJ9mFnMzkKO/Will-Sushmas-speech-at-the-UNGA-give-fresh-push-to-antiter.html)The Convention is not a reality till date. One of the reasons for non-conclusiveness of this Convention is that nations differ on their take on terrorism. Now recent developments in South Asia region have put the future of CCIT in a limbo. Maleeha Lodhi (Pakistan’s representative to United Nations) had given a statement at United Nations in the Meeting of General Assembly in October, 2018 that Pakistan has successfully dislodged terrorist sanctuaries. This was before Pulwama attacks in India and ensuing Balakot strikes undertaken by India.
However, if India needs to bring the international community to agree on this comprehensive document, it would need to take its immediate neighbour Pakistan along with it. The original draft tabled by India in 1996 has sound objectives to fight terrorism. Among others, the Convention aims to have a universal definition of terrorism which all 193 members of the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) shall adopt into their own criminal law. It also aims to ban terror groups, shut down terror camps and prosecute all terrorists under special laws. Further, it pitches to make cross-border terrorism an extraditable offence worldwide.( https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/gal3566.doc.htm)
With public opinion in its favour, the newly elected government of India needs to embark on the path of hard diplomacy and must attempt to take it neighbors on board. As of now, Pakistan appears willing to come to terms of peace and India has an upper hand in diplomatic maneuvering which can it can use to leverage its position as a nation which is deeply committed to democratic ideals. Shirking the hand of Pakistan for talks for long may not ultimately do much good for sustained peace in the region.
The future of peace in South Asian region is of an alarming concern for everyone. In this scenario, what is required is that the two nations need to work together on a blueprint where they need to chalk out an effective plan on now to dismantle terror camps and modules in the region. The one upmanship diplomatic maneuvering is not leading us anywhere. In fact, such a scenario may prove to be a fertile ground for mistrust, confusion and uncertainty to take root; it also jeopardizes international relations and puts several innocent lives at risk.