Revisit Af-Pak strategy

Indian engagement with Pakistan and China with the intention of giving the Parliament resolution reiterating that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, some credence must happen in areas occupied by these countries in PoK and Shaksgam Valley.

However, to be able to apply adequate pressure on her two neighbours and preventing them from enjoying the fruits of aggression and expansionism, a multi-pronged approach is both necessary and imperative.

Thus the opening to the people of embattled Balochistan and the support to the Government of Afghanistan against Pakistani/Chinese machinations is an appropriate tactic.

But in the swift change in geopolitics the management of this strategy requires deft diplomacy, connectivity and a clear understanding that it is what happens in the areas occupied by Pakistan and China in Jammu and Kashmir that will give India the moral high ground to pursue its policy of stalling and undercutting the Sino-Pak game plan.

The delivery of second-hand helicopter gunships to Afghanistan is a coup of sorts given the initial hesitation of Prime Minister Ashraf Ghani to engage with India to deal with the Haqqani network that has the support of Pakistan.

The delivery of such heavy machinery could not have been made through Pakistan in the south or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the north and would have required the approval of either Iran with access through Chahbahar port or the Central Asian Republics that border Afghanistan in the north.

The approval of Russia too would have been necessary because it is the original equipment manufacturer of the gunships.

It was the first time (in 2015) that India has supplied such lethal equipment to Afghanistan. Earlier deliveries were of transport helicopters to improve communications and medical evacuation along with trucks and communications equipment.

All this is completely separate from the other civil works- building the road connection to Iran, school and hospitals that had been devastated during the Taliban regime. Much of this is due to the centuries old relationships between the peoples of the two countries.

The fact that Indian efforts in Afghanistan are appreciated by the people and government of the country adds heft to Indian efforts to try and limit the damage that Pakistan is inflicting on the Afghans for its own geopolitical ends.

As days go by Pakistan is increasing its efforts to destabilize the Afghan government by frequent attacks on the Afghan security forces which have not fully become attuned to dealing with the insurgency.

The US has been forced to retain a small contingent of trainers to help improve the situation. India has been deeply involved in training the Afghan security forces to deal with the Taliban threat.

The equipment that India supplies are preceded by training programs to Afghan personnel to handle it efficiently and effectively.

The Afghan National Army and the police constabulary is finding it difficult to cope with the Pakistan-supported insurgency especially that conducted by the Haqqani network and the US finds its irksome too but perversely it continues to provide millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan.

It needs to be remembered that the US has also tried to keep India out of too deep an involvement in Afghanistan because it cuts into the so- called Pakistani sphere of influence. It is a situation not acceptable to the proud Afghan nation.

As a flanking movement Indian support to the Afghan government is appropriate. However, it also needs to be able to protect the human assets that share an empathy with India.

Sino-pak nexus

The assassination of the Lion of Panjshir, Ahmed Shah Masood, was as much a failure of Indian Intelligence which had so much at stake in that region.

It was as appalling as the other macabre assassination of another friend on the subcontinent-Sheikh Mujibur Rahman-which turned a friendly nation into a Pakistani handmaiden on its eastern flank, much as it was when Bangladesh was East Pakistan.

India’s primary interest is to retain its legitimacy in the portions of Jammu and Kashmir that were integral to Jammu and Kashmir during the reign of the Maharaja which India inherited by the accession.

That the proposed Gwadar to Xiangjiang Economic Corridor is being cut through PoK and CoK is something India cannot allow to happen without a loss not just of face but strategic connectivity with Afghanistan, the Middle East, large parts of the Central Asian Republics and Europe.

The Pakistan/China invitation to India to join the Economic Corridor is disingenuous to say the least. It is intended to drag India into an arrangement that legitimizes their illegal hold on portions of Jammu and Kashmir with India getting nothing out of a linkage that runs south to north.

What India wants is an uninterrupted east-west connect through Pakistan to Afghanistan and beyond. Pakistan has already demonstrated how it can use jihadi terrorists to disrupt the NATO supply lines from Karachi to Kabul (for which it was being paid handsomely) to try and force the US to stop Predator drone strikes along the Af/Pak border.

Delays and disruptions along the Economic Corridor will serve India’s purpose to underline the joint illegal occupation by Pakistan and China of parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

The opening to Balochistan can serve the purpose given the long-simmering confrontation between the Balochis and the central government in Pakistan ruling from Rawalpindi (Army HQ).

Given that evidence is emerging that several railway accidents in India could have been engineered by the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence, there should be no hesitation on India’s part to play tit for tat.

However, given the kind of diplomacy, both ‘composite dialogue’ and ‘track-II diplomacy’ hitherto conducted by India with Pakistan gives the impression that successive Indian governments have become enamored of the concept that Pakistan keeps what it has and India does likewise with cross border connectivity for trade and people-to-people relations with both parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

With the architect of the longest lasting ceasefire-General Pervez Musharraf-himself stating that even if Pakistan gets the Kashmir valley it is unlikely that cross border raids will stop. His contention is that India is a “hegemonistic power” and hence prime target for perennial assault.

With no real hopes for peace in the region India should upgrade its “surgical strikes” to something of a more permanent nature that will tie both the Pakistanis and the Chinese down to defending themselves instead of targeting India through proxy jihadi warriors.

To this end it must instigate the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to make it impossible for Pakistan and China to create permanent institutions of occupation like the proposed road-rail-pipeline-telecommunication cables like called the Economic Corridor to traverse unhindered through territory that is part of the Indian claim line instead of trying to barter it away with no peace in sight.

Indeed, PoK should be the first prong, Afghanistan the second and Balochistan the third. Having aroused expectations in India and the region as a whole with his “surgical strikes”, the Modi government will have to show that it will not allow any foreign project to cut through Mother India.