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Time to Call Pakistan’s Bluff

Mr. S.K. Sharma was a Consultant at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • May 05, 2020

    The rampant ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) by Pakistan, together with high incidences of infiltration and terrorist attacks in Kashmir, highlight that Pakistan has reverted to its old games. During the first three months of this year (2020), Pakistan indulged in ceasefire violations as many as 1144 times. The corresponding period in 2019 and 2018 saw 685 and 627 violations, respectively.1

    March recorded the highest 411 violations just when the COVID-19 positive cases swelled in Pakistan and across the globe, including in the Kashmir Valley. Pakistan has been reportedly pushing militants infected with COVID-19 into Kashmir to spread the illness among the people of the Valley. There are 242 active terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), including 104 Pakistanis belonging to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).2

    The first week of April 2020, likewise, witnessed a major infiltration bid by the LeT militants in the Keran Sector of Kupwara District. Five terrorists were killed in the encounter with para-commandos. On April 18, militants opened fire at a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) party at Noorbagh in Sopore. Four days later, on April 22, an encounter took place at Melhora village of Shopian District. Both attacks resulted in the death of four militants and an equal number of CRPF jawans. In another encounter at Awantipura in Pulwama District, two more terrorists and one of their associates were killed on April 25. Recently, two army officers and one police officer besides two soldiers were killed in an operation in Handwara on May 2 against two militants who had taken civilian hostages. Both the militants including one from LeT were eliminated. Besides, the Pakistan-backed terrorists or their sympathisers in the valley are targeting civilians to coerce them to follow Pakistan’s ‘azadi’ narrative.

    Referring to the recent attacks, Director General of Police, J&K, Dilbagh Singh said that when the entire world was making efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Pakistan and its sponsored terrorists were attempting to disrupt the measures being taken to safeguard the lives of the people of J&K.3 In fact, it appears that Pakistan has found in COVID-19 a new weapon to hurt India. It is indulging in false propaganda accusing India of not providing medical aid and relief to the Kashmiris. It further asserted that the lockdown and internet blockade imposed by India is making it impossible for the Kashmiris to fight the coronavirus. Pakistan’s State Minister of Health Zafar Mirza demanded that the lockdown in J&K should end to help fight the coronavirus outbreak.4

    While there is no denying that Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership have not given up their thrust on ‘K’ word, they appear to have revved up their efforts in recent months for the domestic audience. Pakistan Army has to demonstrate for domestic consumption that it has given a bloody nose to India. Moreover, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is in a hurry to recoup its post-August losses in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 in J&K and beef up its proxies as speedily as possible in the changed political situation. With the state becoming a Union Territory, the militants appear to be at a disadvantage. The familiar pro-militancy political voices in the valley are not active as they are unclear about the direction of the wind, particularly after Pakistan’s failure to mobilise the world opinion in favour of its agenda at various world fora. Islamabad is also conscious that Beijing’s pro-Pakistan actions since last August were limited at needling India as a part of its much larger regional agenda. Simply put, the all-weather friends are not on the same page when it comes to J&K and their respective core interests.

    Pakistan is also flouting its commitment to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The money laundering and terror financing watchdog at its plenary meeting held in Paris in February 2019 had criticised Pakistan for not demonstrating a proper understanding of the terror financing risks posed by militant outfits, most of whom are active in J&K and Afghanistan. The FATF had placed Pakistan in its ‘Grey List’ in June 2018.  It gave Pakistan a four-month grace period to complete its 27-point Action Plan after noting that the country had delivered only on 14-points. It asked Pakistan to deliver on the remaining benchmarks by June 2020 with foolproof arrangements against money laundering and terror financing. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FATF has deferred the deadline to October 2020. This means a reprieve of four more months to Pakistan even as it stares at the threat of being placed in the blacklist.

    Like always, Pakistan is misusing the FATF window. It has reportedly taken off the names of some 3800 notified terrorists from the prescribed list, with no explanation on offer.5  Simultaneously, Pakistan has strengthened its launching pads and has started pushing its trained militants into J&K under the cover of heavy mortar shelling and firing by its army. 

    While coronavirus has given the nations a rare chance to put aside their differences and fight the pandemic jointly, Pakistan on its part is reluctant to cooperate. When India organised a virtual meeting and called upon all the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) leaders to demonstrate a united effort against COVID-19 and create an emergency fund to fight against the pandemic in the region, Pakistan refused to cooperate and contribute in any meaningful manner. Such actions demonstrate that Pakistan is working on two planks: first, to malign India especially among the Muslim countries by launching fake news campaigns as well as obstructing its efforts to deal with coronavirus, and second, to take advantage of India’s engagement in the fight against coronavirus by resuming militancy in J&K. Pakistan is also seeking to take advantage of the coming summer season to push infiltrators in the valley in a renewed attempt to boost the strength of the terrorists, as 60 of them have been killed by the security forces since January 2020. They included 30 Hizbul Mujahidin, eight JeM, six LeT, three from the Islamic State in Jammu & Kashmir, besides 20 from unidentified outfits.6 The local youth are reluctant to join militancy given the shortage of weapons and slow communication due to the absence of 4G. They are also aware that their life expectancy decreases exponentially once they join the insurgency. That out of 139 youths who joined militancy in 2019, only 89 survived reinforces this argument.7

    Pakistan knows that at this moment it cannot satisfy its people by raising then Kashmir bogey. The problem of the people of Pakistan is not Kashmir but the high cost of living, shortage of food items, and joblessness. More than 73 years after its independence, Pakistan is facing a crumbling economy with half of its population living under poverty. In the last 20 months of his rule, Prime Minister Imran Khan has not only failed to solve his people’s problems but also has made the life of the common man miserable. Today, the Pakistan Government meekly depends on China’s help and propaganda against India.

    Pakistan is playing politics against the demand of the grim situation. As India has repeatedly asked Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, it should also continue to expose Pakistan’s design by launching a vigorous diplomatic campaign at various international fora. Incidentally, Imran Khan is drawing flak in Pakistan for his failure to send relief and ration to his countrymen under lockdown. Besides exposing Pakistan, a sustained political campaign must be launched to win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people for they know their future lies with India.

    Mr. S K Sharma has co-authored books titled “Militant Groups in South Asia” and “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir - Politics, Parties and Personalities”, both published by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.