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From Pulwama to Balakot: What Did Pakistan Learn From the Recent Crisis?

 
 

After a threat of all-out war between India and Pakistan for days, tensions between the two countries appear to have receded. Apparently, the return of the Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who ended up in Pakistan’s custody after the wreckage of his aircraft fell on Pakistan-administered Kashmir, has become the reason for de-escalation. The night before the return of the Indian pilot, the chances of the conflict breaking out into all-out war seemed likely as India had reportedly planned missile strikes in Pakistan. In such a development, a military reaction of a similar scale from Pakistan would have been near unavoidable. From there onward, the situation could have gone anywhere, leaving limited choices for both countries when it comes to winding the crisis with some semblance of victory.

A lot has already been written concerning new lessons for India’s military planners when it comes to the attack in Pulwama and what unfolded afterword. Pakistan’s position, however, remains unexplored beyond the country’s publicly pushed view to de-escalate the crisis and a desire to resolve the issue through dialogue. From Pakistan’s side, the important question that needs explanation is this: will something change in Pakistan after the recent clash with India? The answer to the question depends upon what Pakistan may have learned from the crisis in a broader context of its position in the region and the country’s position concerning the presence of various insurgent groups that wish to target India’s interests from Pakistan’s soil.

While it’s open to interpretation who may have won the latest round of the crisis, militarily or otherwise, in Pakistan, patience for proscribed groups is waning thin. There are two ways to look at this likely development: first, if one is to go with what Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership have been saying for some time concerning resolving a host of issues with India, then it only makes sense that Pakistan defuse its questionable policies of the past. In the past, insurgent groups from Pakistan have directly or indirectly supported groups in Jammu and Kashmir to mount attacks against India’s interests. However, Pakistan’s intention of opening a dialogue with India will only be taken seriously by the latter if there is some noticeable change in the former’s policy concerning the presence of various proscribed organizations in Kashmir whose linkages are well-founded in Pakistan.

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Second, if the Pakistani state doesn’t stand to gain anything with an attack of the magnitude of Pulwama, then the state should be seen as either acting on the links of such groups within the country or punishing them openly to convey Islamabad’s position to such groups concerning the conflict. The name of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) may have emerged in the Pulwama attack, but it’s unclear whether the group’s leadership in Pakistan was involved in the events that were part of the attack at any point. It’s fair to argue that Pakistan’s top military and civilian leadership was caught off guard with the attack in Pulwama, as the incident had the potential to undermine Pakistan’s several overt gestures toward pursuing peace with India. “The incident almost cost us a state visit,” a senior security official told The Diplomat, referring to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan two weeks ago.

The Pulwama attack and the following military standoff between the two countries has engendered a clear understanding in Pakistan that reining in groups that tie their brand name to groups or individuals operating in Jammu and Kashmir is imminent. On Sunday, Pakistan’s information minister confirmed that the country plans to take action against militant groups such as the JeM. The minister, without offering any information on the timeline, said that “The action would soon be visible as things progress.” Additionally, there are more reports suggesting that “Pakistan may withdraw its opposition to the listing of JeM chief as global terrorist by the UN Security Council.” Moreover, one can argue that Pakistan’s new state-level position to such groups, which once were part of the state’s own position of continuing low-intensity conflict with India, has been conveyed. It’s significant that during the recent flare-up of tensions between India and Pakistan, the leadership of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a group that has actively pursued armed militancy against India, remained quiet.

It’s important to note that already, at the level of shaping new discourse for policies being planned in the context of normalizing ties with India, Pakistan has made some progress. Clearly, Pakistan’s current civil-military leadership sees groups that operate beyond the state’s sanctioned control or refuse to confirm to the state’s initiatives as an undermining factor for its policies and a liability for the country. Regardless of the outcome of the recent hot nature of the crisis, India’s military infiltration deep inside Pakistan means that Islamabad needs to take control of groups that are destabilizing the country’s efforts for peace and stability in the region. At this point, it’s unclear what will happen to Pakistan’s reported position of normalizing ties with India. Ideally, Pakistan would want things to stay normal, at least until the next general election is over in India in May.

On the whole, for Pakistan, the hot nature of the conflict with India may have subsided but Islamabad needs to do a lot domestically to take control of its decision in the realm of policy if the country is serious about giving peace a chance.

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