India, Pakistan Tension: The Shift in March

There was a sudden shift in the month of March which captured observers and world media attention. A display of flexibility in moves and statements in inter-state relations of the two arch-rivals and nuclear “haves” neighbors India and Pakistan was observed –looking back the shift appears obvious post-Biden & Harris inauguration in January.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been batting as ambassador of peace, once again suggested that “for the sake of peace”, we should build-up cordial relations and India should make a possible move.” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Pakistan’s Republic Day March 23, sent his warm wishes to Khan and greeted him on his fast recovery from Covid-19.

A week earlier in the month of March, Pakistan army chief Gen. Bajwa batted for “peace within and peace in the region” –a necessary ingredient of his “enduring stability in the region” thesis –observers call it ‘Bajwa Doctrine’.

At a national security dialogue in capital Islamabad, the intellectual General said, “I also firmly believe that no single nation in isolation, can perceive and further its quest for security, as every single issue and security dilemma faced by today’s world is intimately linked with global and regional dynamics…responding in silos is no longer an option”.

“History has taught us that the way ahead has always been through an interconnected, interdependent and collective sense of security”.

ALSO READ: U.S. Report Predicts ‘Escalatory Cycle’ in 2021 in India, Pakistan Tension. No ‘General War’.

The February 2019 Indian Balakot misadventure and Pakistan’s effective quid pro quo plus policy manifested in Pakistan Air Force’s Operation Swift Retort indicates Pakistan’s decision never to accept Indian hegemony and the consistent and firm resolve that any future Indian military actions will always receive a befitting response.

Syed Muhammad Ali, Director Nuclear & Strategic Affairs, Center for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Pakistan

2021 began with a flurry of WhatsApp shares and tweets –particularly of oldies, jokes, memes, etc. –a reminder that Bollywood and Lollywood movies, songs and Urdu language are not music in the ear –they ring bell on both sides of the common border.

Somewhere peace pipe smoking ritual was on the table and many were unaware as the white smoke from the chimney was amiss.

Above: One of several WhatsApp share

Reuters reported that Indian and Pakistani intelligence officials held secret talks in Dubai in January. It was an effort, it said, to de-escalate tensions over the disputed region of Kashmir. The news agency cited unnamed sources.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) ambassador to the United States said this week that UAE is helping to mediate between India and Pakistan, Al Jazeera reported.

How did all this happen? “The UAE doesn’t possess such weight in its voice but the Pentagon does. It is therefore undeniable that the script was written by the United States,” wrote an observer. Many tend to agree.

“The arrival of Biden as the new president and Indian-American Vice President Kamala Harris in January changed the nature of relationship with India”.

According to him, the Biden administration is aware that the two-front war concept of India would not only damage but dismember India itself. “As the concept of a two-front war requires self-reliant elements of national power, which India doesn’t possess; it entirely relies on international powers, not only in the military but in the economic sphere as well.”

“The danger is not that India can impose a war on Pakistan and can win but the danger is that under western tacit approval, any Indian misadventure can spiral out of hand and breach the nuclear threshold,” says a senior Pakistani defense official.

Peace in south Asia is interlinked, interconnected and unified with the inter-state relations of India and Pakistan, and the wider region including Afghanistan. “It’s no rocket science”, says an observer.

Any conflict among them can lead toward a catastrophic nuclear war, he says. “This scenario needed to be watered down.”

“So, the Biden administration now has more focus on containing China and the “Pivot to Asia 1.0”, “Pivot to Asia 2.0” or “Indo-Pacific” strategies, which were introduced by Obama and Trump respectively”, the article says.

“India has much importance in these strategies and Biden does not want any India-Pakistan hostility. Containing China and neutralizing the influence of China from South Asia may be the first priority of the Biden administration and its national security strategy. Alongside this, a peaceful Afghanistan is essential for the stability and peace of South Asia and Pakistan’s role is important for this.”

Meanwhile, “India is trying an Israeli style punitive deterrence regime under western approval (Balakot adventure) — it has laid the region open to Indian military adventurism,” says the senior Pakistani defense official.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he’s not authorized to comment officially.

“On this count, India is less to be blamed and the West carry bigger responsibility. Yes, chances of military standoff is real. Yes, Pakistan is capable of responding in kind, and no one can predict the escalation in such a standoff; this is the real danger,” he says.

The latest annual threat assessment report sent to Congress on Tuesday warns of ‘escalatory cycle’ in 2021 in India and Pakistan tensions, but no ‘general war’.

“Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, it says, “India is more likely to respond with military force against Pakistan”.

Another US intelligence report to Congress, released last week, warned that India and Pakistan could go to a war in the next five years over real and perceived provocations.

The report pointed out that some regional conflicts – such as the fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s western neighbor, had “direct implications for US security,” and “tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan remain a concern for the world.”

President Biden this week announced that the U.S. is exiting from Afghanistan. “It is time to end America’s longest war,” he said in a speech from the White House room where US airstrikes there were first declared in September 2001.

One of the reasons, according to a South Asia analyst based in the Gulf, is that “staying longer would not alter the outcome of the war. Kicking the can down the road and prolonging an unwinnable war would further exasperate America’s unsuccessful nation-building effort in Afghanistan.”

“The focus is on China and the wider region.”

According to a recent Foreign Policy analysis, “But make no mistake: Disengagement is not a panacea and not a moment for celebration. Bad things are going to happen after the United States leaves…”

The U.S. troops pull-out will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.