Is Pakistan Back?

There is a lot of anger in India over the recent incursion by Pakistani troops across the Line of Control (LoC) — and rightfully so. Much of the anger is less about incursion (LoC skirmishes happen almost weekly) than about the beheading of at least one Indian soldier after he was killed. I suspect the whole affair will blow over after a few rounds of artillery fire on either side. Neither New Delhi nor Islamabad has a real interest in a major fire with each other.

The real issue, and it will depend on what happens between India and Pakistan in the coming year, is whether the LoC signifies a change in Rawalpindi’s mindset. To India, it’s clear that since the fall of Musharraf in 2008 there has been a steady increase in the number of insurgent infiltrations across the LoC and skirmishes along the de facto border. Above and beyond that, LoC incidents spiked last year: in 2010 and 2011, the number such incidents averaged between 40 to 50; in 2012, the number shot up to over 115.

Musharraf had turned off the tap after concluding that fighting India, covertly or otherwise, was no longer worth the price. His successor, Ashfaq Pervaz Kayani, apparently believes otherwise. Nonetheless, he opened the militancy tap only a little.

While Musharraf felt that Kashmir wasn’t worth the damage being inflicted to Pakistan, Kayani had a more tactical reason: Pakistan was facing a threat on its western border and couldn’t afford problems on its eastern one as well.

But with the US seemingly heading for a pullout from Afghanistan as hasty as its exit in the 1980s, Kayani is likely less and less worried about the dual front problem. Slowly increasing the heat along the LoC may be a reflection of an increasing confidence within the Pakistan military about taking a hardline toward India.

It may not be, and probably can’t be, on the scale of what happened in the 1980s, in part because India has repaired some of the political damage it inflicted on itself by rigging elections and otherwise interfering in Kashmir’s politics.

What about Nov. 26? Based on the confessions of David Headley, that terror strike was motivated in large part by a concern within the Lashkar e Toiba leadership (and presumably some elements of the Pakistani brass) that the Kashmir jihadi cause was being forgotten.

If this working hypothesis is correct, if the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is done in a manner that moves the Taliban closer to power in Kabul, there will be a concomitant increase in military provocation against India along the LoC and within Kashmir. The statistics for 2013 and 2014 could prove decisive.

How should India respond? At the geopolitical level, it would be best to simply buttress any non-Taliban regime in Kabul, diplomatically and militarily, so as to foil any quick and easy takeover of Afghanistan by Rawalpindi. Make Afghanistan a quagmire for Pakistan. This could mean breaking with the US on AfPak and trying to cobble together a coalition of other countries to ensure Kabul gets a few billion dollars a year to keep fighting. Najibullah held off the mujahedin so long as he got that sort of money. It would be cheaper and better for India to keep the flames burning in Afghanistan than in and along Kashmir.

Copyright © 2013 the Hindustan Times.

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