Uri optics and outcomes

Addressing terrorism will help more in Pakistan's case

Uri optics and outcomes
The deadly terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri over the weekend may have left 18 soldiers dead, but a bigger victim is the Kashmiri freedom struggle itself as Uri has helped Delhi win the world’s sympathies despite its continuing atrocities in the Occupied Valley. At the same time the attack has undercut the Pakistani diplomatic initiative to support the uprising.

Unrest in Indian-Adminstered Kashmir since the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani by security forces on July 8 has left over 100 Kashmiris dead and some 8,000 injured in a crackdown by Indian security forces. This has already fanned the heat between the two countries, but the military camp attack, believed to be the worst against the Indian army in Indian-Administered Kashmir in the past two and a half decades, has put the conflict on an entirely different plane by visibly increasing its intensity and gravity.

The mix of aggressive posturing by the Indian leaders and military, who have been blaming the strike on Pakistan, and their readiness to show resolve to respond has increased the risk of unintended escalation and the danger of losing control over what follows.

“Pakistan is a terrorist state and should be identified and isolated as such,” Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted shortly after the attack without even waiting for evidence to surface. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed punishment for the perpetrators of the attack, while Military Operations Director-General Lt-Gen Ranbir Singh asserted that India had “the desired capability to reply to such a blatant act of violence in a manner as deemed appropriate by us.” Meanwhile, Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif responded by saying that his men were “fully prepared to… thwart any sinister design against the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan”.

Such aggressive and provocative exchanges carry with them a higher danger of escalation. But, mercifully the general feeling here is that neither of the two countries would like to go into full-scale hostilities, despite growing chatter in India about punitive action. The calculation in strategic circles is that at the worst there could be some local level military engagement at the LoC.

The real challenge for Pakistan instead lies at the diplomatic front more particularly because the Indian leadership has, after the Uri incident, clearly expressed the intention to “isolate Pakistan”. The Indians were in any case already working on containing and isolating Pakistan, but incidents such as Uri help their cause. Furthermore, they would be expected to redouble their efforts on this and do so with an added resolve not just because they lost 18 soldiers in a terrorist attack, but because they were deeply uneasy with the Pakistani effort to diplomatically highlight the Kashmiri struggle and its repression by Indian security apparatus, irrespective of how successful Islamabad’s effort was.

From an Indian perspective, the best way to counter Pakistan on this count is to play on the world’s terrorism fears. The international reaction to Uri proves this. The world did not react as strongly to the 100 Kashmiri deaths and blinding of hundreds others from the indiscriminate use of pellet guns over the past 80 days as it did in to the Uri strike.

Not only does this help counter Pakistan’s support for the Kashmir cause, but it would also gradually create a justification and acceptability for any future Indian misadventure as well. Pakistan needs to see how the Indian position has evolved. Terrorist attacks have always been—be they Mumbai, the embassy attack in Afghanistan, Pathankot—responded to with deep anger and fury from the Indian government and its people, but this time the reaction was very strong, sharp and threatening.

Unfortunate and far-fetched as it may be, it is a reality that Pakistan continues to be accused by the world of being soft on militants engaged in activities outside its borders. We have to live with this baggage. Therefore, no matter how sincerely Pakistan advocates Kashmir’s case as an indigenous revolt, the world would only skeptically listen to its pleadings.

Pictures of a UN-listed individual leading pro-Kashmir rallies in Pakistan would only strengthen India’s case that there is external support for unrest in occupied Kashmir.

Pakistan, therefore, needs a radical policy shift and develop zero tolerance for “militants and terrorists” of ‘all hues and shades’ to use ISPRspeak. Words would suffice no more to win back the world’s confidence. Only concrete actions can do the repair. This may not happen overnight, but there has to be a start.

At the same time Pakistan needs to be more open to cooperate on clearing India’s doubts, whether it is Mumbai, Pathankot or now Uri. Pakistan needs to bring the Mumbai trial to a conclusion and luckily India has, after much delay, offered cooperation on this front. And so too the Pathankot probe needs to be completed.

Perhaps angered by India’s provocative attitude, the Pakistan government has this time neither officially condemned the Uri attack nor offered cooperation for an investigation. Islamabad only sought evidence for the allegations that were being hurled by Delhi. This emotion-based approach will not serve Pakistan’s cause, no matter how innocent it is.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his foreign policy team would do their best to raise the Kashmir issue at the UNGA meeting and other bilateral interactions and call for a settlement of the issue, but they need to explore how to make the listening ears more receptive.

Reminding the world about the unsettling effect of an unresolved Kashmir dispute on regional and world peace or telling them about the inhuman atrocities being perpetrated by Indian security forces in Kashmir may not be enough to awaken their conscience. However, addressing their terrorism fears may help win them over.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad and can be reached at @bokhari_mr