By J Jeganaathan
The recent tension on the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan signal the resumption of dormant tension in Indo-Pak relations and there is a growing concern that the relations are now back to square one. What could be the rationale for Pakistan for increasing the tension? Is Pakistan attempting to deflect the current domestic tensions, or there is a new plan – Kargil 2.0 in progress? What is the Pakistani army up to now?
A recent intelligence report, based on the interception of satellite communication leaked to Indian media, reveals a detailed account of how the entire operation was planned and executed meticulously. It claimed that the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) planned the operation with the support of Lakshar-e-Toiba (LeT) cadres in order to felicitate their intrusion into the Indian Territory. For the first time, the names of the perpetrators were disclosed.
While Pakistan prepares for a transfer of power this year, its strategic direction remains quite ambiguous. At the domestic level, the struggle for power is at an all time high in all institutions. The tenure of the Prime Minister, who was ordered to be put under arrest, ends by March as does as the tenure of the Chief Justice (ending in September 2013) who ordered the arrest. The traditional rivalry between military and civilian authorities has further blurred the strategic direction in which Pakistan should be heading. Both the army chief and the President are also demitting their office this year. Political struggle, not only across the parties rather, between the army, judiciary and legislature, therefore, seems inevitable. At the same time the Pakistani army is in face-saving mode, in the aftermath of the Abbottabad incident.
It is obvious that the recent skirmishes at LoC were a reflection of this domestic crisis that compelled the Pakistan establishment to revive its traditional hostility with India. Strategically, Pakistan is at a crossroads, confronting an unfavourable security environment. For instance, its conventional security policy of gaining ‘strategic depth’ towards the west has been circumscribed by the US presence in Afghanistan. And, its customary approach to seek a ‘strategic superiority’ towards the east through Kashmir has been dormant since the 2003 ceasefire agreement with India. Moreover, there is a growing realisation within Pakistan today that most major challenges for its existence are emanating from the west in the form of Talibanisation.
In order to assuage the domestic crisis and to restore the public faith in state machinery, Pakistan has been left with no option but to revive the perennial hostility with India by rekindling the Kashmir issue. The main reason, perhaps, could be the urge to retain its strategic significance or relevance to the US owing to the diminished scope of regaining strategic depth in Afghanistan. As part of this strategic shift, Pakistan raised the Kashmir issue in the last United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) general debate held in September 2012 after a gap of four years. Since Pakistan has assumed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) rotating presidency as a non-permanent member from January 2013, it is set to use this opportunity to bring back the Kashmir issue to the UN list of priorities. As a matter of fact, India had seconded Pakistan’s candidature for this post, which is now proving inimical to its own interest.
Nevertheless, Pakistan’s intentions do not seem genuine in terms of finding a solution to the Kashmir issue. Rather, its actions are sparked by new geostrategic twists. The Indian domination of all the key heights of the Siachen glacier including the Saltoro Ridge threatens the ‘old Silk Route’ or the Karakoram Highway connecting Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan occupied Kashmir to Kashgar, a city in the Xinjiang region of China. China has promised Pakistan to construct the logistical route from the Gilgit-Baltistan to Gwadar. It appears that Pakistan’s objective in Kashmir has been reduced to ‘only demilitarisation of Siachen by India’ because of these new geostrategic compulsions as outlined above and the China factor, which sought to revive the ‘old Silk Route’ by building the Karakoram Highway.
On the other hand, an unfriendly Afghanistan has obscured Pakistan’s trade and economic interests in Central Asia, which has been then naturally pushed towards India. Although Indo-Pak trade relations, which have improved dramatically since 2003, are seen as a potential area of mutual cooperation, Pakistan is cautious as well as anxious about the growing economic interdependency with India. Thus, the geo-economic interests of Pakistan, driven by the dynamics of the geopolitical situation in the region, are inducing it to negotiate the demilitarisation of Siachen glacier with India, by hook or by crook.
Even the K.Subhramanyam report on Kargil War observes that the ‘Kargil Plan’ of the Pakistani army was to force India to demilitarise Siachen by cutting off its supply routes. Lt.Gen. Paranaik has also averred that Kargil happened because of Siachen (note: India hardened its stand on Siachen in 1998). If that is true, then the recent incident at the LoC unveils Pakistan’s ‘Kargil Plan 2.0’ as a result of India’s reluctance to negotiate on Siachen.