Islamabad's Post-Kargil Challenges

From the Board of Editorial Advisors, Ms NASIM ZEHRA discusses the challenges Pakistan has to face in the aftermath of KARGIL

The August 10 shooting down of a Pakistani naval plane by Indian airforce jet fighters is a grim reminder of India’s commitment to its preferred mode of interaction with Pakistan. The mode of deliberate aggression. India’s unbroken record of turning to illegal and aggressive use of force in settling outstanding issues with Pakistan stretches from its 1947 occupation of Hyderabad and Junagarh to its 1984 occupation of Siachin. Similarly in response Pakistan supported Kashmiri freedom struggle against the UN-acknowledged Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir, India has consistently resorted to the oppressive use of force. India ascribes to itself the Monroe Doctrine role in South Asia. Encouraged by the western response to its Kashmir policy and by the Kargil withdrawal, through the August 10 shoot down Delhi has attempted to further strengthen its credentials as the regional bully.

According to the Pakistani military sources the French-built anti-submarine aircraft Atlantic 1 was unarmed and on a routine training flight with 16 people on board. The plane, visible to Pakistani and Indian radars was flying at a height of 7000 feet over Pakistani airspace, over the Rann of Kutch area near Badin. Around two hours after take-off from Karachi the plane was downed by an Indian missile. Earlier the Pakistani radar did pick up movement of two Indian MiG 21 fighter jets at around 60 kilometers distance from the Pakistani naval plane. This did not alert the Pakistani authorities since the Pakistani naval aircraft was on a routine training flight. Also the Indian fighters were flying over their own territory.

The plane was evidently shot over Pakistani territory. Its wreckage, found around 2 kilometers inside the Pakistani territory is strewn over 1.6 kilometers. Significantly it was at least an hour after the Pakistani plane went down that the Pakistani military’s rescue teams arrived at the crash site. When the teams arrived, according to the ISPR they found Indian forces including India’s Border Security Forces attempting to remove pieces of debris to their side of the border. This ISPR version has been supported from the most unlikely source. At least twice BBC has shown footage of the removal of the debris by Indian personnel. The footage shows a few men frantically picking up pieces of the debris turning around and literally running in the opposite direction.

Indian authorities have acknowledged that they did shoot the plane. Within hours of the incident the Indian Director General Military Operations conceded to his Pakistani counter-part that India had shot down the Pakistani plane. He however maintained that the plane had come ten kilometers into Indian airspace. Delhi’s men are justifying the shooting down of the plane on the premise that the plane had violated Indian airspace and instead of following the instructions of Indian fighter jets to land at an Indian airbase the plane made some “threatening moves.”

This Indian view sharply contrasts with the incontrovertible fact that the wreckage of the plane is in Pakistani territory and therefore it must have been shot over Pakistani territory. Planes shot at and destroyed by missiles do not glide in the air. And if the Indian version of the Pakistani naval plane having entered 10 kilometers into Indian airspace is accepted , then the missile-hit plane would have glided for at least 10 kilometers for its wreckage to have fallen inside Pakistani territory. The Indian position is evidently untrue.

Delhi is attempting to ‘sell’ to the international community what has clearly been Indian aggression by design and not by accident. More specifically Delhi has made three claims. One, that Pakistani naval plane had violated Indian airspace on 8 previous occasions. The dishonesty of such an allegation is evident from the fact that Delhi, otherwise deftly engaged in constant anti-Pakistan propaganda, did not even once raise the violation issue at any forum. Two, that the wreckage has fallen in Indian territory. To engineer this baseless claim the Indian airforce decided to provide an aerial view of the wreckage to the foreign journalists. But how could India fly journalists over Pakistani territory. The Indians must have erroneously banked on their ability to intimidate Pakistan by getting cover for the helicopters carrying the journalists through Indian MiG-21 fighter planes.

It is significant that while reporting on the incident that occurred while BBC’s Daniel Lak was flying towards the wreckage site he failed to indicate that the wreckage site, as had already been determined by foreign journalists on August 10, was on the Pakistani side. That in fact taking the journalists under cover of jet fighters would have involved either violating Pakistani airspace or at least flying within the 10 kilometer of Pakistani airspace which would amount to a violation of the April 1991 agreement.

The third issue, being raised by Delhi is that by flying its anti-submarine aircraft at a less than 10 kilometer distance of the Indian airspace Islamabad violated the April 6, 1999 Pak-India Agreement on Prevention of Air Space Violations and For Permitting Over Flights and Landings By Military Aircraft. Pakistan refutes this claim maintaining that the plane did not fall in the category of the aircraft identified under Article 2a of the 1991 agreement. Islamabad maintains that even though technically Atlantic is a reconnaissance plane it was unarmed, on a training flight and flying over land not water. Flying over land Atlantic was not in a position to either pick up sensitive information regarding Indian submarines or to attack Indian submarines.

Even if Indian version of violation of its airspace is accepted the Indian decision to opt for a unwarranted and bloody aggression is indeed indicative of India’s broader approach on the question of Pak-India relations. While such a move within weeks of the Kargil affair does smack of the cowardly and primitive instinct of calculated revenge, it also reaffirms India’s proclivity and preference to opt for aggression, for power projection and for the bully instinct as opposed to the language of law, of justice and of fair play.

In the post-Kargil phase Delhi appears to have adopted an increasingly aggressive posture towards Pakistan as well as towards Kashmir. Within the context of how the international community supported India during the Kargil phase and subsequently how Pakistan found itself diplomatically cornered, such Indian behaviour is not surprising. Although ironically Kashmiri movement in the Occupied Kashmir has gained momentum in the post-Kargil phase, Islamabad has still not come out with a clear and convincing position on its relations with India. Mixed and contradictory signals emanate from Islamabad. The policy centre remains somewhat nebulous. All this could be misread by India. Encouraging it to become more aggressive. The urge to militarily and diplomatically create difficulties for Pakistan.

It is therefore not surprising that following its August 10 aggression India has violated Pakistani airspace at least three times. Its helicopters and jet fighters have entered Pakistani airspace in an attempt to get photographs of the crash site, to take away parts of the wreckage and finally to intimidate the Pakistani forces.

There are questions being raised by the G-8 , P-5 and the western media regarding the wisdom in Pakistan’s decision to fly military aircraft so close to the Indian border. They argue that Pakistan should be more cautious especially after the Kargil episode. The thinking in Pakistan is likely to be the reverse. Any defensive moves by Pakistan will be misread in Delhi. Even if mistakes were committed by Pakistan on the Kargil front Islamabad cannot afford a defensive modus operandi vis-a-vis Delhi. That would be a ‘free for all’ signal to the regional bully.

However to contain Delhi’s aggression Islamabad itself must first be clear on its policy towards India. Cool, competent and confident calculations are required. No half-baked approach can be afforded. Neither propagating baseless claims that the international community is sympathetic towards Pakistan’s position nor that the international media is recognizing, at least at this point, the truth on the August 10 incident. Kargil is too close to us in time. Its lessons cannot be lost. Either in framing our future policy towards India and Kashmir or in understanding the existing mindset of the G-8 and P-5 towards India.

It’s an uphill task for Islamabad. Yet very doable. Requiring ofcourse a leadership which is both competent and confident. One that understands the connection between the defaulted bank loans, institutionalized decision-making, encouraging freedom of the press and between the pursuit of a principled and successful foreign policy.

The post-Kargil days on the foreign policy making front inspire minimal confidence. There is more the sound of bravado. Less of a sober and far-sighted approach. Official statements are in plenty. Were statement-making alone the yardstick for measuring the calibre of policy-making, Pakistan could boast of an impressive score-card. From the Prime Minister downwards many ministers and bureaucrats continue to speak on various dimensions of Pak-India relations. Interestingly Pakistan alone enjoys the distinction of being a country in which every minister ranging from the Housing Minister to the Agriculture Minister of every government deems it necessary to bless the people with their expert opinion on Pakistan’s foreign policy ranging from our India policy to the nuclear and Kashmir policies. In doing so verbose men and women often lacking in performance in their own area of responsibility seek publicity and a certification of patriotism.

Raw enthusiasm are no substitute for responsible policy-making. In the post-Kargil period official statements regarding India and Kashmir betray adhocism and reactiveness. For example conflicting statements on dialogue with India have come from different sections of the government. On the timing of another round of Pak-India dialogue Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Delhi has called its resumption at the UN without “holding it hostage to Indian elections”, the Foreign Minister has said resumption of dialogue should wait till after the elections and the Prime Minister himself has reiterated his support for continued dialogue.

A host of other official statements are regularly made maintaining that Islamabad wants to avoid nuclear war, that Kashmir is a nuclear flash-point, that India’s hawks are currently dominating the Indian scene, that some hawkish and extremist elements are taking India towards militarism, that in the care-taker phase no one is in control of the Indian state machinery, that in fact Indian elections may change the situation. All these statements that get projected as the truth about India are debatable. For example, India’s Pakistan policy boasts of an unbroken record of antagonism whenever Pakistan has sought settlement of outstanding bilateral issues on the basis of bilateral and international agreements. Therefore linking Delhi’s hard-line on Kashmir to any one particular party is being simplistic.

Similarly arguing that India’s current hard-line attitude manifests lack of control rather than a disciplined continuation of a bullying approach towards Pakistan which enjoys political and institutional consensus virtually across India, is an attempt at self-deception. Similarly banking upon return of BJP to achieve progress on Kashmir through dialogue too is questionable. The fact is that in backing off from a done deal that had been worked out on Kashmir and Kargil through back-channel diplomacy during June 1999 the BJP leadership demonstrated either its ill-will by merely leading on Pakistan while never being sincere about actually going through with the deal. Or else if Vajpayee was serious about it, he did not have the political will or the administrative strength to pull it through. Neither of the two factors will change. In fact after the withdrawal chapter of the Kargil crisis the hands of the Indian hard-liners have been strengthened. As has been amply demonstrated by the Indian decision to shoot down the unarmed Pakistani naval plane on August 10.

For Pakistani policy-makers it is important to recognize that the closing chapter of Kargil has yielded some solid diplomatic and political advantages in the international arena. That very arena that supported India through Kargil and forced the Kashmiri Mujahideen and Pakistani retreat. Two factors are likely to have far-reaching impact on how the international community and by extension India will navigate through the turbulence of the Kashmiri freedom struggle. One that Islamabad in fact controls and militarily supports the Kashmiri freedom struggle. That therefore the so-called Mujahideen “terrorism” in the Valley, India and other western countries will always be traced back to Pakistan. Thus a continuous attempt will be made to put Pakistan on the mat, and in a defensive position. Second that all of Pakistan sound and fury count for naught because when it comes to the crunch Islamabad needs out for a host of reasons including economic and political reasons.

Pakistan’s position on the nuclear question also must be reviewed. Continuous harping upon Kashmir being a nuclear flash-point has not quite worked to Islamabad’s advantage. As Kargil demonstrated much before the situation actually turning into a “flash-point” Islamabad and the Mujahideen were forced to back off. The advantages therefore we believed would accrue to the Kashmir issue on the nuclear flash-point front never did. However brandishing the nuclear flash-point Dimension is neither mature nor advantageous to promoting either our own or the Kashmiri credibility. It merely reminds everyone of Pakistan’s tremendous immaturity it demonstrated earlier in the year while celebrating the birthday of the nuclear bomb ! Instead of birthday celebrations Pakistan should have been preparing its nuclear doctrine thereby demonstrating at home and abroad that our nuclear power fits in within a rational framework of force deployment. Instead we are now left analysing the Indian nuclear doctrine.

These are not ways of responsible and disciplined nations. Nuclear weapons are devastating and tragic, even if necessary for our national security. Such bizarre birthday celebrations neither serve any purpose on the home front, other than downright crass political point-scoring. On the external front too it sends the wrong message. A peace-loving people fighting for justice at the regional level are projected as war mongers.

What then must Pakistan do ? Observe some quiet. Reflect and address two basic questions. One, can Islamabad sustain its present position of not having anything to do with the Mujahideen militarily? Continuation of such a position will regularly force our interface with an Indian-triggered international chorus holding us responsible for “terrorism“ in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

Pakistan after all is a legitimate party to the conflict, there are Kashmiris living on the Pakistani side of the LoC who will support their Kashmiri people fighting Indian occupation. Hard think on the total deniability policy is required. After all increased Mujahideen political and guerilla activity will be necessary to force India to address the Kashmir question. Especially in the post-Kargil period when the international community and especially Washington have opted to support the strategically important India’s aggression against Pakistan. Significantly none other than Turkey issued a strong statement condemning India for August 10 shooting down of the plane.

These are the realities of power that Islamabad must recognize and prepare itself to deal with. Not be intimidated by. On the Kashmir issue Pakistan cannot afford to relent. Both in terms of the principle behind it and on what its signifies in the larger Pakistan-India context. The Indian desire to bully Pakistan. While there is no doubt that the merit and the tragedy of the Kashmir cause itself will enable the Kashmiris to break away from Indian domination for Pakistan, the challenge is to help build up the political dimension of the movement helping the Kashmiris launch an aggressive movement aimed at educating world opinion on the roots of the Kashmiri struggle. The world has to stop viewing Kashmir problem as one where democracy is absent or that it is part of the ongoing covert war between India and Pakistan. Kashmir clearly stands apart from other bilateral issues. It is a clearly stated issue of Indian occupation, no different from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

On its relations with India instead of issuing ad hoc and disjointed on-liners aimed at different national and external lobbies and players Islamabad must formulate and articulate a coherent policy on India. At this juncture the government must opt for a Kashmir-centered bilateral dialogue while freezing normalization on other bilateral fronts and increase its support for the Kashmiri freedom fighters. Patience and self-confidence must be exercised in the pursuit of such a policy. Its results will not come overnight. Tension with India will continue as it has continued over the last 50 years.

What however must be done within the immediate context is that Pakistan must take the case of the Indian shooting down of the naval plane to the International Court of Justice. All the clamour against it must translate into some concrete action. It needs to be seen if there is any existing treaty between India and Pakistan granting jurisdiction to the ICJ. If no existing instrument has granted jurisdiction to the ICJ, Pakistan could still file an application before the ICJ, invoking the doctrine of forum prorogatum. In that case, the ICJ cannot act upon such an application unless India agrees to come to argue the merits of the matter. Still Pakistan will have filed the application demonstrating its commitment to taking the case of Indian aggression to an international legal forum. On this issue, the most important thing is the political will in Pakistan.

A well thought out India policy is indispensable to Pakistan’s successful foreign policy. In some respects the centrality of this policy with our national security framework makes it the pivot around which all else revolves; Pakistan’s policy orientation with regional neighbours, with the United States, Pakistan’s nuclear policy, our force-build up etc. It is time for a hard and disciplined think.