Why India’s ‘Counter-Terrorism’ Action Has International Support

All said & done, unless Pakistan takes real action against terrorists it has spawned, this saga will be repeated.

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Opinion
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India and Pakistan are both under pressure – but in different measure– from the international community, to de-escalate tensions that erupted after Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed launched a terrorist attack in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir.

Even though India was at great pains to call its air strikes in Balakot Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK) a “pre-emptive” and “non-military” move aimed at terrorists alone, Pakistan escalated this on Wednesday, 28 February, by targeting military installations in India.

But India’s retaliation, which was meant to send a message, avoid civilian casualties and give Pakistan’s military a face-saving way out, is no longer crucial in the public arena, because Rawalpindi upped the ante.

Distinction Between Victim & Perpetrator Clear This Time

Pakistan’s air strikes inside India on Wednesday, led to the downing of an Indian Mig-21. The result – an Indian pilot is in Pakistani custody, a propaganda coup that Pakistan has exploited fully in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Pakistan circulated videos of the pilot being first beaten by locals, and then being captured and shown praising his military captors, enraging Indian public opinion. But that was expected.

We are now in the realm of the unknown. Given the compulsions of electoral politics in India and the need for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to appear strong as he seeks another term, any prediction is perilous.

At this point, the rightness of India’s cause seems obscured by fears of escalation to a full-fledged war, a fear primarily expressed by nuclear experts and area academics, incessantly gaming various scenarios from afar on Twitter.

Pakistan’s diplomacy is aimed precisely at stoking fears and seeking diplomatic intervention. This is their playbook and they always read from that.

But governments in major capitals are making a clear distinction between the victim and the perpetrator this time. Pakistan is in the dock, and the Islamabad-Rawalpindi combine knows it. No country has defended Pakistan for harbouring terrorists.

Getting China On Board

Late Wednesday, the United States, France and Britain renewed a proposal to put JeM chief Masood Azhar on the sanctions list under UN resolution 1267, in a bid to increase pressure on Pakistan and put China on the spot. China will find it harder than before to artificially block Azhar’s designation, given the fact that it signed a UN Security Council statement, strongly condemning the Pulwama attack just last week.

But China, in honour of its deep friendship with Pakistan, used artful sophistry to protect Azhar in 2016 and 2017, and became a subject of ridicule on the question of terrorism.

This time, however, the background is grim and it will bring Beijing’s calisthenics on terrorism under a sharper spotlight. Push will come to shove for China in terms of reputational costs.

India has given the five permanent members of the Security Council an updated dossier on Azhar and his links to al-Qaeda. 

If it is good enough for four of the five members – assuming Russia will help not hinder India – then it should be good enough for the Chinese to put the man on the sanctions list.

Keeping Focus on Pak’s Support for Terror

The action in the United Nations is but one part of the overall picture. Indian diplomats are in close consultation with their counterparts in major capitals to keep the focus on Pakistan’s overt and covert support for terrorists on its soil.

The latest US statement from the National Security Council makes that distinction amply clear.

While the US said Wednesday that it was “deeply concerned about rising tensions”, and called on both sides to take “immediate steps to de-escalate the situation,” it also expressed “strong solidarity with India following the Pulwama attack” in the same statement.

A day earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had referred to India’s strikes as “counter-terrorism” measures after he spoke to India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. He emphasised “our close security partnership and shared goal of maintaining peace and security in the region”.

To call India’s actions “counter-terrorism” is significant – it makes India’s case. By contrast, Pompeo told Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Quereshi to de-escalate and avoid “military action” and take “meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil.”

India On Higher Moral Ground – Should Use Its Position to De-Escalate

Pompeo’s call came after National Security Adviser John Bolton told his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, that America supports India’s right to self-defence, in a phone call shortly after the Pulwama attack in which over 40 CRPF personnel were killed by a JeM operative on 14 February.

However, the need for restraint is woven in the counsel because the risk of escalation is real. India occupies a higher moral ground right now – it could declare victory and start calming things down.

Pakistan, for its part, should return Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthman as many Pakistani commentators have already suggested. And both the generals and the politicians can walk out of the labyrinth.

At the same time, the international community and key players within it must understand that unless Pakistan takes real action against the terrorists it has spawned, we will have to watch this movie again.

(The writer is a senior Washington-based journalist. She can be reached at @seemasirohi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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