Timing of the Pulwama attack

Ever since Imran Khan assumed charge as Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan, he has reiterated the importance of maintaining good relations with India. Extending the offer of talks to India have thus far failed to get any positive response from the Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, and have only be reciprocated with demands dismantle terror structures allegedly found on Pakistani soil. In this backdrop the recent Pulwama attack, which claimed the lives of more than 45 CRPF troopers is set to further derail any prospects of talks between the two neighbouring countries.

Hostilities between these countries have reached a new high with this latest attack. It has come at a time when Pakistan is doing relatively better on the security front, albeit its debt ridden economy is still a cause of concern. Amid the possible US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the centrality of Pakistan in the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban, Pakistan has got a shot in the arm when it comes to increasing its ‘strategic depth’. At the same time, there are growing apprehensions in India about the repercussions on its security and waning influence in Afghanistan. These changing dynamics have compelled India to be a part of negotiations with the Taliban, which marks a significant policy shift in its foreign policy. Moreover, Saudi Arabia seems willing to become one of our partners in the CPEC project, which would be good for our economy.

In Kashmir, where Pakistan is accused of supporting terrorists, the security situation seems to be the worst it has ever been. After the killing of Burhan Wani, the valley has witnessed a surge in home grown militancy.  Pakistan has been able to use this to highlight the growing anti-India sentiment in the valley. Daily violence between Indian security forces and the militants are only making things worse.

As the BJP government is losing popularity for failing on the developmental and security front, the temptation for a strong response to this attack will be difficult to ignore, especially since general elections are just three months away in India. This growing rhetoric could help the Modi led government make electoral gains, and in case it manages a second term in power, it will further stall any chances of dialogue with Pakistan. With the ‘strong’ Modi image at stake and voices for revenge growing shrill, Modi has vowed to send a “befitting reply to the perpetrators”.

India could use this attack, which has been condemned across the globe, to project itself as a victim of terrorism originating in Pakistan and also to escape the blame for its human rights violations in Kashmir

There seems to be a strange coincidence regarding the spike in violence ahead of any high profile visit to India or any peace dialogue taking place. In March 20, 2000, 35 civilians from the minority Sikh community were killed when the then United States (US) President, Bill Clinton was set to arrive in India. The January 2, 2016 Pathankot airbase attack came at the time when PM Modi and PM of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif had agreed that their foreign secretaries and national security advisors (NSA) would meet. And now this recent attack comes at a time when Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a very important ally of Pakistan, is scheduled to visit India.

India could use this attack, which has been condemned across the globe, to project itself as a victim of terrorism originating in Pakistan and also to escape the blame for its human rights violations in Kashmir. Also, this may be used as a plank by India to highlight the costs of increasing influence of Pakistan in Afghanistan vis-à-vis Taliban and what it could mean for regional security. Although this is more of a symbolic move and doesn’t have the potential to hurt Pakistan much, India has withdrawn Pakistan’s Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. They have also called back its High Commissioner to Pakistan and built pressure to ‘isolate’ Pakistan diplomatically. In case of any eventuality amid mounting international pressure, Pakistan will find it tough to find supporters in the international community.

Pakistan has condemned the attack and denied all involvement, but the chequered history of the country makes it difficult for them to pacify the growing global condemnation. With the Donald Trump led US government being very vocal in its condemnation, it remains to be seen whether Pakistan will be forced to take any action amid the looming apprehensions of escalation with India.

The writer is a research scholar

Published in Daily Times, February 23rd 2019.