Pakistan and India – at a dangerous crux

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Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation on Tuesday and what he had to say bears careful consideration, because India and Pakistan have arrived once again at a point where there is a threat of outright conflict. The PM called for India to provide ‘actionable intelligence’ regarding the attack in Indian Occupied Kashmir last week that killed at least 44 Indian paramilitaries; making the Pulwama incident the most deadly for almost 30 years. The PM warned that Pakistan would retaliate to any provocation by India and followed this by saying that he hoped ‘better sense would prevail’.

The PM went on to detail why such an attack was not in the wider interests of Pakistan and that there was no reason why Pakistan would jeopardise ongoing economic developments involving the Chinese and the Saudis, and especially not on the eve of a visit by the de-facto ruler of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan. He it is that having visited Pakistan has moved on to India and then to China, and the linkages could not be more obvious. It is no surprise to see reports that ‘back channels’ are being worked during the tour of the Crown Prince. If, as now seems possible, the Kingdom decides to play a hand in the resolution of the Indo-Pak conflict it will be a significant foreign policy shift on the part of KSA.

With Mr Modi in election mode and stirring the nationalist pot there is good reason to be concerned about unwelcome outcomes, and rhetoric becoming military action, limited or unlimited. Other states with an interest in regional stability are also said to have contacted New Delhi and Islamabad urging restraint.

The attacks in Kashmir could not have come at a worse time for the long term interests and prospects of Pakistan. Indian knee-jerk reactions heighten the tension, and the claim by India of ‘incontrovertible evidence’ really does need to come up front, and if India does have such evidence then our PM needs to be true to his word and act appropriately. On too many occasions Pakistan has been equivocal about the activities of those of its citizens who are active in the IOK struggle, and despite banning and detaining at least one of the leading figures he is still able to operate seemingly freely. Speeches are recorded and circulated, as are inflammatory documents, all of which is grist to the Indian mill and, say they, proof positive of the insincerity of Pakistan. Once again there is a chance to turn threat into opportunity, and if Naya Pakistan is to be seen to be a reality then some up-front and unusually transparent diplomacy needs to be deployed.

Pakistan is badly in need of an image makeover, a rebranding, if it is to shake off decades of negative perceptions that are internal well as external. That needs to happen notwithstanding whatever India does or says, and our current PM does appear to have support in the wider global community, plus his interactive approach to governance, something approaching a dialogue with the populace, is a welcome development. But at some point and it has to be soon the words must be followed by deeds. Indian bombast can hopefully be countered and countervailed and better sense indeed prevail, but it needs to engage in some searching inner reflection as to the consequences of its actions in IOK, and the responses of the people of IOK who are being driven to desperate measures. Is this the fault of Pakistan? It is not – but that needs demonstrating unequivocally. Your move, Mr Khan.