Pakistan’s propensity to calibrate its role in J&K is usually contingent upon its strategic confidence at a given time and the situation present in the state. It appears in the midst of a new found confidence quite evident from social media and the statements by its leaders and mainstream media. Notwithstanding Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad launched by the Pakistan Army after the recent surge of terror activity, the common internal belief is that the worst is over. The Pakistan Army has sold the idea that it has been successful in clearing out the terrorist strongholds on the western front and that it has forcibly sent back a section of refugees from Afghanistan. Fencing is being carried out along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border despite Afghan objection. However, no one tells the public that military operations can reduce terrorist strength but without a resolution to the Afghan issue, Pakistan will remain in the vortex, and in the eye of the storm.
Pakistan will continue to pursue its interests there by supporting the Haqqani Network and garnering influence. With prevailing chaos along its western border and across in Afghanistan, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other anti-government elements will take full advantage to keep the internal violence going. As long as Pakistan’s internal security machinery is targeting the anti-government groups, chances that it will seriously go after the Punjab-based and J&K focused terror groups that are friendly towards the Pakistan government remains a vain hope. So much for the interest generated in India on the Pakistan announced detention of Hafiz Saeed, the oldest ploy employed to keep the foreign powers convinced that Pakistan is serious about weeding out terror and does not endorse the principle of good and bad terrorists.
Has any difference been seen in Pakistan after the US President Donald Trump’s administration took over in Washington? Not really. If there is one thing the US foreign policy has never wavered from, it is the pursuit of its interests through Pakistan. Nowhere in the new administration’s scheme of things is there any evidence of a reduced level of support for Pakistan. The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley’s, surprise offer of mediation between India and Pakistan appears once again to miss the core issue. It was again hyphenating the India-Pakistan narrative in order to serve US interests. Therefore, nothing much has changed and in fact the understanding within the US administration about Pakistan's role in the promotion of global terror, appears the least, ever.
The US is concerned about the quantum of strategic space in the South Asian and extended region being garnered by the China-Russia combine; and Washington's attitude towards Islamabad will be dictated by this phenomenon.
China’s active investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has given Pakistan a strategic boost. Analysts differ on the financial benefits of the CPEC that will eventually reach Pakistan. However, the Pakistani perception is that the current 5 per cent growth rate will move upwards to 7 per cent over the next three years.
It is not the reality but a perception that makes a difference in the context of India-Pakistan relations. China’s diplomatic support to Pakistan is almost guaranteed and after the recent spat with India over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, China is unlikely to change its stand on Masood Azhar; it withheld support to a move in the UN Security Council to declare him a terrorist and although a year has elapsed, nothing has changed. China complicity with Pakistan’s entire approach on J&K will probably receive a boost. Russian proclivity to approach South Asia via the Afghanistan prism and alter its traditional diplomatic support to India is another factor that will strengthen Pakistan’s resolve to change nothing. The Russians are concerned about the possible entry of the Islamic State (IS/Daesh) being squeezed into Afghanistan and from there to Central Asia. It perceives the need for Pakistan’s support to prevent this happening.
The other major player who makes a difference to Pakistan’s strategic thinking is Saudi Arabia; Pakistan is back at scoring brownie points with that country. The unhappy episode involving Islamabad refusing to provide troops for Riyadh's war in Yemen is now history. An infantry brigade worth of troops may soon be on their way to Saudi Arabia; and Pakistan's former Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif rules the roost with his appointment as the head of the 39-nation Islamic Alliance against Terrorism.
Thus with emerging stronger relationships with China, Russia and Saudi Arabia Pakistan perceives itself in a much stronger position with ability to counter India’s diplomatic strength. In the past, such a situation has always led to Pakistan lifting restraint on its security agencies and the deep state in general. This is what India has to guard against. Our diplomacy and strategic communication must convey that we are prepared to handle anything Pakistan attempts to do to put India on the back foot in J&K.
This commentary is the second of the two-part series on the evolving nature of external influence impacting security and stability in Jammu and Kashmir, India.