“No one dare cast an evil eye on Pakistan”. During the Corps Commanders’ conference on June 9, 2015 Pakistan’s army chief roared his resolve to protect the country against any foreign attack or intervention. His reference was to statements emanating from Delhi – in the wake of the Indian Army’s raid against militants sheltering in Myanmar – that India might use the same ‘hot pursuit’ option against Pakistan.
While Pakistan may be less anxious about the likelihood of a conventional conflict, it is far more edgy about the possibility of covert operations inside its territory. And with the BBC reporting that the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) “received Indian funding”, it believes it has finally caught India where it hurts. Pakistan has always suspected Delhi of encouraging subversion within as a counter-weight to its own involvement in Kashmir or elsewhere. This may be the first time it feels it has something concrete to pin on the Indians, even if the information the BBC based its story on is from “an authoritative Pakistani source.”
The BBC report could not have come at a worse time for the bilateral relationship.
Despite the ‘sari-and-shawl diplomacy’ that Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif attempted last May, the temperature of the rhetoric India and Pakistan have exchanged over the past several months has slowly been going up. Violence along the Line of Control had already begun to escalate in 2012 and 2013 but it’s the verbal showboating that has taken centre-stage now. Tensions rose so much earlier this year that US Secretary of State John Kerry had to call and ask India and Pakistan’s leadership to keep their volume down. Instability in South Asia at this critical juncture is not what the United States or anyone wants.
Tension, the new normal
Ever since Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014, the rules of the game between Pakistan and India seem to have been revised. The Indian army’s eagerness to forcibly curb cross-border movement through the use of firepower at the LoC is certainly something novel for Islamabad. Increased tension – at the LoC and in Kashmir – is the new status quo. However, foreign policy hawks in Delhi are not satisfied, it seems.
In a major counter-terrorism conference held in Jaipur in March this year, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval strongly condemned Pakistan’s alleged involvement in terror activities in India. He also insisted that the international community condemn Pakistan. During the conference, the American analyst Christine Fair encouraged India to call out ‘Pakistan’s nuclear bluff’ by taking a harder stance. Although some amongst the audience of bureaucrats and retired officials had their thinking hats on and were not excited at this proposition as the cost of “calling the nuclear bluff” has not been calculated yet, her message did thrill many who want Delhi to be more coercive in its dealings with Pakistan.
Islamabad, on the other hand, is highly conscious of the BJP government’s propensity for making belligerent statements. The popular view is that in case he is unable to deliver on better governance and other election promises, Modi may resort to more strident anti-Pakistan rhetoric, especially as he gets towards the middle of his term.
Nevertheless, the Pakistani security community is confident that Delhi will not risk an actual conflict, precisely because the cost of this has not been calculated. Islamabad’s development of tactical nuclear weapons is meant to thwart India’s ‘Cold Start’ plans for a quick strike inside Pakistan with intent to punish non-state actors. Within India, there is no clarity on the threshold for capping conflict escalation. Rawalpindi is conscious of this and understands India might be taking a risk in raising public expectations of a strong response to Pakistan. An accidental and uncalculated rise in tension may drain Pakistan but will also tie India down, especially affecting Modi’s plans of economic growth.
Levelling the blame game
Of course, the BBC story by Owen Bennett-Jones on links between MQM and RAW still has many loose ends. A report in the Indian Express on Sunday appears to bear out some elements of the BBC story – the newspaper cites British police interrogation records of a dissident MQM activist in London in which he claims RAW gave money to the party in the mid-1990s – but the entire matter needs to be investigated further before firm conclusions can be drawn
The Pakistani establishment, however, feels vindicated and believes it now has a card to play in the ‘blame game’ with India. So what if the Americans brandish evidence and intercepts regarding the ISI and LeT’s involvement in Mumbai? Another foreign source considered equally credible is now convinced it has evidence of India’s role in Pakistan.
Two weeks before his June 23 report on the BBC, Jones travelled to Pakistan to pursue leads that the police there had evidence regarding RAW’s alleged involvement in training people from Karachi during the mid- to late 1990s. This evidence was based on statements by two MQM workers caught during a raid on the party’s headquarters in Azizabad, Karachi, popularly referred to as ‘Nine-Zero’, from the last two digits of its landline number.
Pakistan’s military establishment has always been suspicious of India but the new evidence from an independent source has not only increased their anger but also their willingness to talk back and question India’s locus standi in presenting itself as morally superior. Islamabad will tell the world now with added fervour that it should not be the only one blamed for encouraging subversion. Interestingly, the new disclosures came with statements from strategically placed Pakistanis such as its ambassador to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, who warned against any attempts to destabilise Pakistan.
BBC booster shot for jihadi groups
In fact, the BBC’s MQM-RAW story reopens an old wound that Pakistan has been nursing since the loss of its eastern wing. For Pakistan’s military establishment, 1971 is the reason for its greater sense of fear and mistrust of India. The BBC report confirms their view that India is ready to go to any lengths to break up Pakistan. Of course, India has similar concerns about Pakistan’s role in acts subversion, but the fact that it never lost any territory in the process makes GHQ Rawalpindi argue that Delhi’s fears are not so justified.
Whether reports about the RAW-MQM relationship are true or not, Pakistan’s primary response will be the use of its own proxy warriors. Irrespective of what Pakistani civil society concerns are about the LeT/Jamaat-ud-Dawaa and other militant organisations, it seems they are here to stay for a long time. Well hidden under the garb of their welfare operations, Hafiz Saeed’s group and others like it probably just got a fresh lease of life thanks to the British investigation. The BBC’s claims can only weaken liberal elements in Pakistan, discourage them from standing up against the “good” militants that the establishment favours, and undermine their resolve to push for peace with India. We are headed for more tension.
Ayesha Siddiqa is an independent social scientist based in Islamabad and author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy