NEW DELHI :
After a lull, the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, is seeing a spike in tension. According to the Indian army, the LoC has seen a rise in violations of a 2003 ceasefire agreement between the neighbours in the past week with several Indian civilians killed.
After the Indian air strike on a terrorist training camp in Balakot in February, incidents of cross-border firing and shelling had seen a jump as had attempts to infiltrate terrorists into Kashmir. People familiar with the developments say that there was a period starting in April for about two months when the Line of Control was relatively quiet. This has changed recently, one of the people cited above said. Last week, the Indian army repelled an attack by a Pakistani border action team (BAT) comprising soldiers and terrorists who were aiming to target Indian troops on patrol along the LoC.
Over the weekend, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, spokesman for the Pakistan army Asif Ghafoor and leader of Pakistan’s People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto have accused India of using cluster bombs to target people living in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
All this is happening as India has increased its state of alert in Kashmir, deploying an extra 10,000 security personnel and cutting short the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine. Tourists and pilgrims have left Kashmir after a warning by the government and overnight Sunday several key political leaders were put under house arrest and internet communications snapped amid fears of a terrorist attack.
So what are the reasons for Pakistan seemingly upping the ante on Kashmir after a quiet since the 14 February Pulwama attack? Mint looks at three possible reasons.
Highlighting Kashmir as an international flashpoint especially after US president Donald Trump surprised everyone by offering to mediate between India and Pakistan. Ensuring that the LoC remains “active" helps pin international attention on the Kashmir dispute, which has for many reasons receded from global focus and does not occupy mind space as it used to in the 1990s. According to analysts, Islamabad must be hoping that the more the intensity of firing and shelling between India and Pakistan along the LoC, the more it will attract the attention of someone like Trump, who has offered to mediate. The offer of mediation came, incidentally, during a visit by Imran Khan to the White House on 22 July. Pakistan has always wanted international mediation on Kashmir, something India has resisted, saying the Kashmir dispute is a bilateral problem to be sorted out between New Delhi and Islamabad without the presence or good offices of a third party. Besides, increasing the instances of shelling and firing has always been a cover for Pakistan to push in terrorists during the summer months in order to keep terrorism alive in Kashmir.
With the US looking to Pakistan to help extricate it from the Afghan imbroglio, Islamabad could be betting on the fact that Washington would turn a blind eye to terrorism against India. Since Trump took office in January 2017, India had taken heart from the fact that he has been tough on Pakistan and terrorism emanating from there. In his speech on US policy on South Asia in August 2017, Trump slammed Pakistan as a country that “often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror." He also said that the US could “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond." Then there was his tweet on 1 January 2018 indicting Pakistan: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!" Another on 19 November, 2018 said: “We no longer pay Pakistan the $Billions because they would take our money and do nothing for us, Bin Laden being a prime example, Afghanistan being another. They were just one of many countries that take from the United States without giving anything in return. That’s ENDING!" This was as he cut off $ 1.3 billion in aid to Pakistan. More recently, the UN listing Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a terrorist was seen as having been accomplished with the help of the US. But all this may be about to change. With Washington heavily dependent on Islamabad for the withdrawal deal being worked out with the rebel Taliban, Pakistan may be reckoning that the US could ease off on the pressure it has been applying on Islamabad to stop terrorist groups targeting India. Pakistan may have also calculated that Trump may not look sympathetically at India and its concerns about terrorism while he is entirely focused on getting US troops out of Afghanistan with Pakistan’s help. India could be seen as a problem — complaining about Pakistan when all the US wants is to extricate itself from the Afghan quagmire.
With the US now seemingly on its side after the visit of Imran Khan to the US and an understanding emerging on Islamabad helping Washington with its withdrawal from Afghanistan, Islamabad could have calculated that this is the right time to convey to New Delhi that the effect of India’s Balakot strike has worn off, say analysts. Post the strike on the Balakot terror camp on 26 February, there was a thinking that the paradigm of dealing with terrorism emanating from Pakistan has changed. Now with the US seemingly in Pakistan’s corner, the thinking in Islamabad may be that the time is right to test India’s resolve on dealing with terrorism yet again. If there is an incident that warrants an Indian reaction, Pakistan could always seek international support to quell tension. The incidents on the border, including the action by the Pakistan border action team, comprising army regulars and terrorists, aiming to ambush Indian troops on patrol along the LoC, could be a way of “conveying to New Delhi that they (Pakistan) are not intimidated by Balakot," now that the US-Pakistan dynamic seems to have changed, said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.