If ever an objective history of South Asia’s major strategic events is written, the year 2019 will be remembered as a watershed year. The chain of events that began with the Pulwama suicide bombing (February 2019) and that finally led to the abrogation of Article 370 (August 2019) significantly tipped the strategic balance in India’s favour.
2014 onwards, India left the debris of ‘strategic restraint’ behind and redefined the conflict dynamics in terms of its new National Security Advisor (NSA) Mr Doval’s ‘doctrine of defensive offence.’ It was a significant doctrinal shift which found its first manifestation in Uri surgical strikes (2016). Fed on India’s decades of defensive force posture, Pakistan did not realise it until Balakot happened.
Further, in its more sophisticated form, venturing beyond the strict military domains, the doctrine of ‘defensive offense’ found its finest expression in the abrogation of Article 370, leaving Pakistan and China, the expansionist and revisionist brotherhood of Asia, in a quandary; a state of fix, rendering them not only increasingly clueless about a future course of action but also extremely vulnerable to strategic and tactical blunders.
Quite expectedly, such blunders have flown from Beijing and Rawalpindi in an unrestrained manner, with a desperate intent to reclaim the strategic edge against India. However, they have only exposed and weakened them further in the war of narratives.
Faced with embarrassing disasters in diplomatic assaults against India, bitter internal political turbulence, a worsening economy, and fierce resistance in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pashtun areas, and Baluchistan, Islamabad has openly started alleging India of fomenting terror in Pakistan. However, the fact is that it was the abrogation of Article 370, which took the winds from Pakistan’s sails.
What has changed after August 5, 2019?
After the historical embarrassment of 1971 that ripped off a geographical portion from Pakistan, which had been in the forefront of the entire Pakistan movement, masterminds of GHQ Rawalpindi could never come out of the shock and, after that, single-mindedly focussed on disturbing and ultimately occupying Kashmir.
Fully understanding the impossibility of defeating India in a conventional war, ISI masterminds began exploring the sub-conventional tactics to gain a strategic edge over India. To that end, the insurgency in Punjab offered a ready ground to destabilize India with a minimum effort and investment.
For Pakistan, gaining a foothold in Afghanistan to secure ‘strategic depth’ against India’s advancing armies in the event of a conventional war was undoubtedly a prerequisite for a long-term hybrid and proxy war against India.
The 1980s brought the much-needed American support for Pakistan in arming and training Mujahideens against the Soviets and facilitated Pakistan with a firm foothold in Afghanistan. The American GIs were leaving Kabul in 1988 after the Soviet withdrawal. for Pakistan, the stage was ripe for diverting the Afghan Jihadis towards Kashmir. Massive petrodollar funding and a decade-long Afghan experience in running proxies came in handy to stir up an armed insurrection in Kashmir.
The ISI-sponsored bloody phase of jihadi terrorism that began in the 1990s continued unabated, costing thousands of innocent lives. Over the last three decades, Pakistan’s proxy war increased in intensity and ideological fervor.
During the last three decades, the militancy in Kashmir, although it had its phases of ups and downs, was strategically planned and executed by masterminds located on the other side of the Indian border. India experimented with a range of counter-terrorism measures, bringing sporadic periods of relief.
However, the broader trajectory was about Pakistan creating and strengthening a supporting constituency thriving in a fertile ecosystem of Islamism, separatism, and terrorism. Adversary’s success manifested itself in its complex yet robust capabilities to shake the Indian state during the unrest of 2016, post-Burhan Wani’s encounter death. The Kashmir valley was engulfed with massive civil unrest and agitation within a few days, with casualty figures of 42 in the first week itself.
Moreover, something entirely financed and orchestrated by Pakistan’s deep-state was projected by Pakistan as gross human rights violations by an occupied force in Kashmir. Burhan Wani, a self-proclaimed supporter of the Islamic Caliphate in Kashmir and Hizbul Mujahideen commander, was portrayed as a young and innocent hero dying for a cause in front of Kashmiris and the world community. Pakistan had not only created a highly radicalized social milieu that made Jihadism a dominant narrative but also excelled in the war of narratives, convincingly selling its lies for years to an array of civil rights activists, governments, and scholars in the west.
However, in one masterstroke of August 2019, India gave a crushing blow to Pakistan’s three decades of investment in Kashmir. It was something that Pakistan’s intelligence machinery did not anticipate. As a result, they were handicapped from achieving their ‘Destabilizing Kashmir project’ in the absence of Article 370, which acted as a catalyst till then. Article 370 was an edifice, an overarching umbrella under which Pakistan’s proxy jihadists, assets in the media, academic, religious, cultural bodies, mainstream politics, academia, and the administration thrived and flourished.
Though India displayed some clarity about its understanding of how detrimental Article 370 was to safeguarding its key interests in Kashmir, when it denuded the article of much of its teeth in the 60s, over time, Delhi lost the clarity and became increasingly myopic in its understanding. A narrow vision led the focus on eroding Sheikh Abdullah’s base and install a pliable government through democratic means, even if that involved pampering radical Islamists and separatists.
In parallel, Pakistan’s propaganda machinery and its assets in the mainstream politics of Kashmir had skillfully crafted the narrative of Article 370, being the bedrock of Kashmir’s identity. Its proxies instilled the popular consciousness with the imaginary fears of central government populating the state with outsiders in the absence of 370.
On the Indian side, successive political dispensations increasingly became entrapped in the narrative mentioned above sold by Pakistan’s proxies. As a result, Delhi could never give serious thought on India’s strategic interests in Kashmir. For decades, Article 370 was an untouchable default status that was supposed to be guarded till eternity.
Today, a year after its abrogation, Pakistan has lost the patronizing, protective, and enabling superstructure. The Pakistani proxies in Kashmir face the most significant existential crisis. The ecosystem of Islamist radicalization, separatism, and terrorism carefully created with lies, deceit and violence appears to be collapsing like dominos.
Interestingly, the façade of Article 370 under which Pakistan’s proxy movement thrived was in itself fragile. Article 370 was a temporary and transient feature of the Indian Constitution, which could be amended or abrogated within the Indian parliamentary framework.
The autonomy guaranteed to Kashmir under the provisions of the article helped Pakistan in propagating its agenda to sell the fabricated story of Kashmir being a disputed territory.
Further, the militancy and separatist movement, which flourished under the patronage of Article 370, strengthened Pakistan’s version of Kashmir as a disputed territory in the eyes of the world community and the local Kashmiris.
However, after its demise, the smokescreens have vanished, and not only the strategic experts but also the ordinary voices of Kashmir have openly started questioning, discussing, and condemning Pakistan’s illegal and violent annexation of a part of Kashmir in 1947, the genesis of the Kashmir conflict.
Contrary to the annual condemnation of October 26, 1947, the day when Indian armies entered Kashmir, as a ‘black day,’ this year, to everyone’s surprise, public squares of Srinagar were spattered with hoardings condemning October 22 as a ‘black day’, the day when Pakistan’s Kabailis attacked Kashmir
The post-370 Kashmir has witnessed an intense crackdown on Pakistan-supported radical Islamist organizations like Jamaat-i-Islami and separatist organizations. National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) onslaught on terror financing has cracked the financial backbone of terrorism.
The security forces have neutralized the entire terrorist leadership of the local and foreign terrorist orgaizations. The recruitment of new terrorist cadres has drastically come down. Infiltration has become nearly impossible. The mainstream politicians and separatists like the Hurriyat stand exposed as entities who sustained the widespread resentment against India by indulging in massive corruption and mal-governance on the one hand and squarely putting the blame on Delhi’s step-motherly treatment.
NIA’s action against many of them in terror-related cases further confirms their dubious loyalties in the popular perception.
In Kashmir, a new political leadership with a nationalist outlook is emerging at the grassroots. Pakistan’s desperate attempts to orchestrate terror attacks, civil unrest, and rally the diplomatic community against India on global platforms, have failed miserably. Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) has disappointed Pakistan and refused to bandwagon with it on several occasions.
There are no buyers in the Western World for Pakistan’s foul cries over the abrogation of Article 370. The United States and most European states convincingly approved India’s Kashmir move as a dire necessity to prevent Jihadist terrorism from taking deeper roots in Kashmir on the pattern of Syria and Iraq.
Except for the backing of Turkey and China, Pakistan stands isolated. Further, the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan have become fiercely vocal against Pakistan’s demographic engineering and in its decision to declare the region as its sixth province, in an abject surrender to China’s dictators.
Local resistance against the forcible occupation of Gigit-Baltistan and flooding the area with Sunni extremists has not only intensified, but it has also become a subject-matter of serious discussion in the western capitals. In Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK), similar fears have given rise to a strong resistance movement.
On the issue of cross-border terrorism, Pakistan knows it well that post-2014, India’s approach has changed. Now Delhi responds with surgical strikes and air raids, and one more Pulwama will most certainly be reciprocated with something way bigger than Balakot, which Pakistan cannot afford.
Further, the post-370 Kashmir has also started seriously questioning China’s illegal possession over Aksai Chin. Recent India-China stand-off and Pakistan’s continuous ceasefire violations have cleared the vestiges of any doubts lasting about the China-Pak duo’s collusion and expansionist threat in the near future.
Internally, India’s Kashmir move has led to a massive embarrassment for Imran Khan’s government and the Pak army. The Opposition has alleged Imran Khan’s government of surrendering to India. Today, in the form of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), Pak army and the ‘selected’ PM Imran Khan’s government face a compelling popular protest movement.
The situation has turned alarming for Pak army because, in addition to the mainstream political parties, it also includes ethical nationalist entities such as Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and Baluchistan National Party, hitherto seen as antithetical to the very idea of Pakistan.
Further, PDM is demanding minimising the role of Pakistani army and intelligence agencies from the political and developmental matters, a direct challenge to the mighty army. Bajwa and Imran, both, are at the lowest ebb of their credibility.
For decades, the Pakistan army used Kashmir to grab a disproportionate share in the national budget and cultivate hyper-nationalism and Islamism. Under the latter as a cover, GHQ Rawalpindi crushed all the religious, cultural, and linguistic minorities.
The ghosts of those massacres in Baluchistan, Pashtun lands, and Sindh are returning to haunt Pakistan. It is a reminder for Pakistan that internal turmoil is rooted in its birth and the fundamental philosophy of its existence, and a redux of 1971, is possible.
Nevertheless, Pakistan’s generals refused to learn from the past and continue to publish substandard conspiracy theories blaming India for its internal problems. It appears as though Rawalpindi’s is pushed back to the pavilion since the abrogation of Article 370, and Pakistan’s grand new strategy is concocting lies of India aiding terrorism on Pakistani soil from Afghanistan.
Some Pakistani generals blame India’s intelligence brass for reversing the ‘paradigm of terror’ by inciting Pashtuns, Baluchis, and Sindhis. However, the fact is that the ‘paradigm of terror’ created by ISI masterminds has boomeranged and backfired, something which was bound to happen.
Despite the turn of events, a frustrated Pakistan openly advocates the revival and strengthening of a terrorist base against India. By doing so, they stand exposed as sponsors of terror in the region.
Why everyone missed the elephant in the room?
Today, one feels astounded why even the astute strategic analysts could not foresee the aftershocks of abrogating Article 370
The answer lies in the fact that the overwhelming political posturing surrounding BJP’s long-held objective of repealing Article 370 more or less precluded an objective and scholarly analysis of its long-term strategic implications in South Asia and beyond.
India’s intelligence czars, diplomats, and mighty bureaucrats of North Block saw it as a political prop, an unrealistic and unattainable dream, finding its best utility in garnering votes during elections. Such a notion was firmly entrenched in their minds when the last Vajpayee-led BJP government refrained from tampering with article 370.
Among India’s civil society, security experts, IR scholars, and public intellectuals making even a reference to abrogating Article 370 was shunned and led to condemnation and banishment as a right-wing fascist. For Pakistan, it came handy to believe that Indians would never think of this far-fetched dream given their three-decade-long vulnerabilities to the complex web of false and fictitious narratives projected by their deep-state and doing so quite successfully with the western capitals, activists, scribes, and scholars.
As a result, serious scholarly analyses of scraping Article 370, more or less, remained a taboo in the academic and strategic world. At best, it remained a fanciful dream of Hindu-nationalist groups, and at worst a strategic blunder something which the majority of India’s diplomats, spies, scribes scholars, and bureaucrats, trained in the socialist left-overs of cold-war era traditions, would abhor as totally uncharacteristic of India’s idealistic approach in strategic affairs.
Such a trend continues even after more than a year has passed since the abrogation of Article 370. In India’s strategic and political community, one still comes across a tendency to condemn the move as an ill-thought action resulting from the lack of strategic vision, which will only add to India’s security challenges.
Maybe dubious loyalties, ulterior motives, vested political interests, individual biases, ideological barriers, and nonetheless inadequate analytical skills can provide a better explanation for this aversion to engaging in an objective analysis of the strategic implications of Delhi’s Kashmir move and give the due credit to those who planned and implemented such a master strategic and diplomatic stroke.
It can be stated with an absolute certainty that post-2014, New Delhi has changed, and the change is firm, decisive and irreversible. Nevertheless, the doctrinal shift in India’s strategic approach is still evolving in its myriad aspects hence; maybe it is too early to define its long-term strategic implications.
However, it is certain that under no circumstances Pak establishment can indulge in Pulwama or Mumbai like adventures anymore. Whether one more Mumbai or Pulwama will cost Pakistan Baluchistan or not, is yet a matter of conjecture and grapewine in the intelligence world. Nevertheless, it is giving sleepless nights to Pakistani generals.
To conclude, Pakistan’s Kashmir Project has lost its steam. In the global arena, it will not be long before General Bajwa’s Pakistan is blacklisted. In the future, maybe the situation could turn worse, with Pakistan facing a threat from internal unrest and revolts.
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