Pakistan must be the only country in the world to practice implausible deniability as the basic tenet of its diplomacy. It doesn’t own up when it hits other nations through its army regulars or jihadists. And it stays in denial when it gets by other nations in retaliation for its misdeeds.
Kargil never happened for Pakistan. In spite of mounting evidence, Pakistan never accepted Ajmal Kasab as a product of its jihadi factories. Its leadership always denied Osama bin Laden was the country’s guest. And, Islamabad has always denied evidence of Dawood Ibrahim’s presence in Karachi.
Deniability has been a hallmark of Pakistan’s statecraft since the days of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who, in a fit of hubris that has had disastrous consequences for both the countries, dispatched tribals and army regulars in disguise to capture Kashmir soon after Independence.
So, it may not have come as a surprise to the global community when Islamabad rejected India’s claim of surgical strikes along the LoC as an illusion. Its official PR machinery claimed India had resorted to unprovoked firing with light ammunition and mortars along the LoC, killing two Pakistani soldiers.
The Pakistani response suits India. Since Islamabad is not even ready to accept that it was hit, its leadership can’t talk of a suitable retaliation. Evidently, de-escalation is in-built in the Pakistani refusal to acknowledge the surgical strikes.
But, Pakistan has had a history of working from behind a veil, using non-state actors to act against India on its behalf. It is certain that while keeping up a brave face in public, it would be dying to respond to Indian action through its jihadist infrastructure. So, India has to be prepared for Pakistan’s response, which, of course, it would later deny.
The challenge for India after Thursday’s show of its intent to carry out preemptive strikes on jihadists is to ensure that as a policy it yields maximum results with minimum costs. The purpose of the surgical strike was not just to target terrorists before they could enter India. It was also meant to warn Pakistan of the consequences of breeding jihadis in its backyard. If Pakistan and jihadists refuse to get the message and scale up their operations, the pressure on the Indian government would be to retaliate with bigger force. This is where the stakes will start rising.
Now that India has avenged Uri, signalled to Islamabad that it retains the option of cross-border strikes and addressed the domestic constituent baying for revenge, it should invite Pakistan for talks to de-escalate the situation. Dialogue can begin at a level that suits both the countries. Its purpose should be restoration of peace between the two countries and discussing steps to avoid further escalation of tension and hostilities.
War mongers in both the nations can lead to just one consequence: mutual destruction. As this Firstpost article points out, the long-term consequences of a war between the two countries would impact almost a third of the world’s population. So it is incumbent upon both the countries to avoid it.
Thursday’s surgical strike has ironically turned out to be a win-win strategy for both India and Pakistan. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi it has ensured that India gets a feeling of euphoria and triumph. For Nawaz Sharif, the in-built mechanism of deniability has warded off pressure to react. The Pakistani Army’s claim of capturing an Indian soldier and killing eight others in border skirmishes also helps Sharif to keep critics at bay.
Mission accomplished, revenge-lust satiated, both the countries can now tone down the rhetoric and go back to the discussion table.
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