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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. (Reuters)
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. (Reuters)

Opinion | Delhi’s unpredictability unnerving Islamabad

No scope is left for a dialogue on Kashmir as an agenda item if and when talks resume

After Pulwama and the Balakot strike the security equations between India and Pakistan have changed. India had been absorbing the terrorist blows inflicted by Pakistan on India for almost three decades without retaliation except across the Line of Control (LoC) from Indian soil or some unannounced punitive action of a very limited nature on the Pakistani side of the LoC to avenge gruesome killings (beheadings) of our soldiers by Pakistani forces. In response to the terrorist attack on Parliament, India moved its forces to the border but did not cross it. In the case of Kargil, we acted defensively to recover the posts lost but the Armed Forces were under strict instructions not to cross the LoC. This caution, bordering on timidity, was on account of concerns about escalation, the economic costs of a conflict, the China factor, and, of course, western pressure.

The Balakot strike has changed the paradigm. India struck not just across the LoC but sovereign Pakistani territory. It used its Air Force, which is considered escalatory. It demonstrated its night-time strike capabilities with smart weapons. It conveyed a strong message that terrorist attacks will henceforth be met with a response that could be anywhere, forcing Pakistan to plan for contingencies not considered before. This puts an additional burden on Pakistan’s security forces. The terrorists have been warned that they can be hit not only in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) but also anywhere else depending on the scale of the provocation. Having stood its ground at Doklam in a direct confrontation with Chinese forces, Balakot implied that India was not unnerved by the China factor. An economically growing India, more and more self-confident, was not dissuaded by the potential international reaction to military action in a nuclearized environment. India wanted to convey to Pakistan and the international community that it could take legitimate action for self-defence without allowing the nuclear factor to deter a limited response.

In the event, the Security Council condemned the Pulwama attack and the US national security adviser endorsed it as legitimate self-defence. Key Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) deplored the Pulwama attack and did not oppose the Balakot strike, warning Pakistan that its traditional Islamic constituency was no longer giving it support on Kashmir and the India-Pakistan conflict as in the past, no doubt weighing expanding economic ties with a rising India, Pakistan’s sullied reputation as a terrorist haven, and concerns about terrorism directed at them by extremist groups such as the Islamic State, the Al-Qaeda and its offshoots.

The decision to revise Article 370 and convert Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into a Union territory and Ladakh a separate one has delivered a body blow to Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. No scope is left for a dialogue on Kashmir as an agenda item if and when any dialogue is resumed in the future. When India said earlier that the only issue left to discuss was the future of PoK, it was a way to meet the Pakistani non-negotiable demand to discuss Kashmir as a separate agenda item. Now all pretence has been discarded. J&K has been legally integrated with India without any constitutional ambiguity. The declared pressure is to recover Pakistan-occupied J&K, which includes Gilgit-Baltistan, even if it is not possible physically. This is unnerving Pakistan as Indian policy has become unpredictable. China, too, is concerned by our move because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

India has changed the rules of the game with Pakistan and, hence, the torrent of abuse from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan against his Indian counterpart Modi and India.

Kanwal Sibal is a former foreign secretary.

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