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Pakistan’s Response To The Pathankot Attack: A Ray Of Hope – OpEd

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The recent happenings in Pakistan as an aftermath of Pathankot terror attack have kindled a ray of hope among a section of the society in India. The view among the strategic community in India is divided over the sincerity of Pakistan and its responses to the evidence provided by the former nailing the involvement of the Pakistani deep state.

Indo-Pak relations are enmeshed in existence of trust deficit between the two neighbors because of the past experience which has been more than unpleasant. Hence a large section is skeptical even this time and consider Pakistan’s response to be a mere eye wash to buy time and tide over the pressure being exerted on it to prove its sincerity in eliminating the menace of terror from its soil. The situation has become further alarming with President Obama declaring Af-Pak region as safe haven for terror in his last State of Nation address. Pakistan thus is under tremendous pressure to deliver.

There is a section in India which feels that the things this time are different and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is sincere in his efforts and for once seems to have the support of his all – powerful namesake Gen. Rahil Sharif. The Indian government on her part has displayed diplomatic finesse by putting the ball in Pakistan’s court and refusing to bow down to domestic pressure to call off the Foreign Secretary level talks. India has also welcomed the “initial positive response” of Pakistan. As per inputs being received from Pakistan all possible steps are being taken to act on the evidence provided by India including questioning of Jaish-e-Mohammed supremo Azhar Masood, who enjoys very special relations with the powerful Pakistan authorities.

The way Pakistan machinery is moving it appears that the situation this time is different as compared to the previous incidents. The analysts are busy guessing the reasons that have forced Pakistan to change its heart in using terror as an instrument of national policy. The million dollar question is “Has Pakistan given up its policy of bleeding India through thousand cuts?” Is Pakistan willing to accept a peaceful resolution of the Afghan problem?

Ostensibly, nothing seems to have changed to suggest a dynamic shift in Pakistan’s strategy in the region. Then what is it that has compelled Pakistan, more so the Army, to change track and sing the tune of peace? Is it a tactical retreat by Mullah-Military nexus to tide over the adverse international opinion? Questions are far too many, answers are elusive and in absence of answers one can only make an assessment based on available inputs. Even after seven decades of its existence Pakistan continues to remain a feudal society lacking any central unified authority.

In such a scenario the local feudal lords become extra constitutional authorities overriding the decisions of the Federal government leading to political uncertainty bordering chaos. It gives rise to the fringe elements. Successive governments in Pakistan have ignored the threat posed to nation-building by these elements. President Zia’s regime, in fact, encouraged these elements to the extent that they became means to an end. The radicalization encouraged by Zia has engulfed the nation and infected its vital organs so badly that the country is at the brink of disintegration. The Nawaz Sharif government is seized with the problem and is trying to cleanse the menace.

The Pakistan Army is also undergoing a serious crisis due to radicalization of its rank and file. It appears that Pakistan’s top brass has realized that in order to become a modern professional army it needs to get rid of the radicalized elements. The continued presence of various terror groups on its soil will make the things difficult for the army. Hence, the announcement made by Gen Rahil Sharif that 2016 will mark the end of terror groups in Pakistan.

Pakistan can also no more afford to ignore the threat posed to it by the ISIS (DAESH). The recent attack on Pakistan’s consulate at Jalalabad in Afghanistan is a grim reminder to the threat it poses to the former’s sovereignty. A radicalized Pakistan army is ill-suited to thwart this threat. A single, united Pakistan rather than a fragmented, disintegrated Pakistan suits India’s interest. It is therefore important for us to hold the hand of the present government of Pakistan so that it is able to meet the domestic challenges and purge the Mullah-Military nexus and thwart the threat posed to it by DAESH.

There is no denying the fact that Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis. Its economy is largely dependent on the largesse it receives from USA, other friendly countries like Saudi Arabia and domestic remittances from a large expatriate community. The US Congress has voted to stop all aid to Pakistan as an aftermath of Pathankot terror attack and also frozen the sale of F16 fighter jets. Saudi Arabia is embroiled in a dispute with Iran. The tumbling prices of oil have seriously dented the oil-rich economies of the Middle East countries which will adversely affect the earnings of the expatriate community residing in these countries. Even the funds under the garb of War on Terror have been squeezed.

The much talked about China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has failed to take off with China demanding fool-proof security to safeguard its assets and projects. Pakistan has to act post haste to revive its economy before it completely collapses. It badly needs foreign investment in addition to economic aid. However, no nation will venture to invest in Pakistan in the prevailing environment. Peace and stability in Pakistan is, therefore, in its national interest. It needs to change the strategy of proliferating terror and deliver as far as its promise to eliminate terror is concerned.

Despite the ray of hope India cannot afford to lower her guard while it continues to “wait and watch.” The biggest challenge facing Pakistan is to roll back the support to terror which so far has been nourished and patronised by its Army and ISI. Demolishing and dismantling the terror network will prove to be the acid test of Nawaz Sharif government. In case Pakistan once again ditches India and returns to original agenda after overcoming the adverse international opinion, India should be prepared to exercise the option of paying back to Pakistan in the same coin.

The recent statement of Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar that, “Those who harm us must experience the same pain” is indicative of the Indian government’s thinking. We must continue to hone our capacity and capability building for such responses. India has many operational and strategic options without crossing the nuclear threshold which Pakistan can ill afford to ignore. I being an optimist am visualizing that this ray of hope will emerge as the dawn of a new era of Indo-Pak relations.

*The writer is a Jammu based security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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