Back in May 2014, on the eve of the inauguration of right wing Modi government, former Director General of Pakistan’s ISI ( Inter Service Intelligence-Pakistan Military) General Hamid Gul said that, “Narendra Modi is a blessing for Pakistan”.
After more than two years this comment of the late General Gul is becoming true.
For more than 3 decades of conflict the Indian controlled part of Kashmir is one of the most heavily militarised areas in the world. The current ratio of military to civilians there is 7 is to 1. That is one Indian soldier for every seven Kashmiris. And these soldiers have the full authority to control public life in Kashmir without meaningful accountability.
The current unrest in the Indian side of Kashmir started because of the death of a young Kashmiri called Burhan Wani. The Indian government claims Burhan is a terrorist; Pakistan and others call him a freedom fighter.
The result of the unrest is 53 consecutive days of curfew, paralysing public life, a civilian death toll of 85, and thousands of people injured.
India is having a hard time justifying its policy. Its fallback position is to blame Pakistan. However this approach is proving ineffective. Indian regional allies are remaining silent, in contrast to China which has made clear its support for Pakistan over Kashmir.
Turkey has offered to send a team of observers to monitor human rights violations in Kashmir. However India’s has responded with silence to the Turkish offer. By contrast India’s friends in the West, first and foremost the United States, are saying little.
Tension hit a new level after the Uri attack of 18 September 2016, which killed 18 Indian soldiers in Indian controlled Kashmir. As usual India blamed Pakistan for actions committed by just four militants. In response Pakistan denied all responsibility.
It was the perfect opportunity for the ultra-right wing pundits in India to demand revenge. Modi for his part boxed himself by saying that the deaths of the 18 Indian soldiers would not go unpunished.
In reality any retaliation risks igniting a full scale war. Not surprisingly, after the strong initial reaction India started to show indecision. High level meetings and hours of discussion in the “ War Situation Room allowed the media to beat the drums of war. But lack of good intelligence in the end prevented the Indian army from responding to the Uri attack.
At this point India began to show signs of backing away, hiding behind the standard words “we will respond at a time and place of our choice”.
The next provocation however came from Pakistan, with Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf giving interviews to several Indian media saying that Pakistan would also respond to any retaliation from India “at a time and place of its choice”.
Pakistan for its part reported the crisis as a preparation for an upcoming aggression by India like the 1965 war. The Pakistan military was accordingly placed on high alert and several airports were closed to commercial traffic to facilitate the take-off of Pakistani air force F-16s.
At the diplomatic level India asked its old ally Russia to postpone its first ever military exercise with Pakistan. Rejection of this demand by the Russian side caused frustration and put a question mark over India’s ongoing effort to isolate Pakistan diplomatically.
In the midst of all this Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval – known to some as the “James Bond” of India – came up with a master plan to save Narendra Modi’s face.
On the morning of 29th September 2016 India’s Director General of Military Operations (“DGMO” ) telephoned to his Pakistani counterpart to inform him that the Indian military had carried out during the night a “Surgical Strike“ inside the Pakistani controlled Kashmir, destroying several terrorist bases.
Later during a press conference the Indian military publicly announced the news of the “Surgical Strike”. However details were scant and the military avoided taking questions from journalists.
From the Pakistani side the Pakistan military denied that any sort of “Surgical strike” had taken place. It claimed that the whole incident amount to no more than a case of cross border shelling which had led to two Pakistani soldiers being killed. Later Pakistan retaliated by launching its own cross border shelling across the Line of Control into Indian controlled Kashmir.
Pakistan then added insult to injury by announcing that it had captured a 22 years old Indian soldier named Chandu Babulal Chavan during the exchange of fire between the two sides on 29 September 2016. Currently Indian government is negotiating with Pakistan to obtain his return.
The argument over the “Surgical Strike” soon degenerated into a war of words between the medias of India and Pakistan. However Pakistan gained the advantage when Pakistani General Asim Bajwa, Director General of ISPR ( inter service public relation- Pakistan Army ) held a press conference in the area of the Indian claimed “ Surgical Strike” in the presence of local and international media. He showed journalists the non-existence of any evidence for the “Surgical strike”.
The result is that neither the international media nor any Foreign Ministry is as yet able to confirm whether the Indian claimed “Surgical Strike” has actually taken place.
To add to India’s embarrassment, the Pakistani military is now releasing what it says is video footage of Pakistani artillery firing across the Line of control, and the casualties it says this is causing to Indian soldiers. Not surprisingly these video releases are leading to demand within India of tangible proof from the Indian government that there really was a “Surgical Strike”.
The result is that instead of news of the “Surgical Strike” causing Indian society to rally behind the Modi government, it is leading to heated exchanges in social media between supporters and opponents of the government about whether it even took place.
Regardless of the truth of this bizarre affair, any diplomatic initiative between India and Pakistan is unthinkable for the moment. Tension between India and Pakistan are instead at fever pitch.