18 Jun 2019

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India-Pakistan conflict: Experts warn of harmful implications

WASHINGTON: India’s inability to prove its claims of bringing down a Pakistani plane and hitting terrorist targets in Balakot could have “some deleterious political implications”, warns a US analyst.

Read: ISPR releases ‘proof’ further contradicting Indian claim of shooting down F-16

The analyst — Michael Kugelman — is associated with the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington, which has released a set of documents covering the 2019 India-Pakistan situation.

In an introductory note, the Washington-based think-tank warned that the recent India-Pakistan conflict alarmed the world because each of the two nuclear-armed states demonstrated its readiness to climb up the escalation ladder during this crisis.

Mr Kugelman’s warning about the harmful implications of India’s inability to prove its claims came hours before Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi made a startling revelation that New Delhi was planning more military action against Pakistan later this month.

“There is now compelling evidence that badly undercuts two prime Indian assertions from its standoff with Pakistan: India hit terrorist targets in Balakot and it shot down a Pakistani jet,” he wrote in his tweet. “There could be some deleterious political implications there, just days before the election.”

Mr Kugelman also refers to a tweet by Christopher Clary, an assistant professor of political science at The State University of New York, who wrote: “Some people say the US knows it lost an F-16 but can’t admit it for commercial/pride reasons. Let me just say that Pakistan has many enemies in the US bureaucracy and even more on the (Capitol) Hill, and I think if Pakistan lost an F-16 they would gleefully leak it.”

“Agree completely,” Mr Kugelman commented. “Had a Pakistani F-16 really been shot down, someone in THE US government would have been happy to leak/admit it.”

He also referred to an assertion by an Indian journalist that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has something he will use right before voting”.

Read: The case of the ‘downed’ F-16

Mr Kugelman observed that “the optics of Balakot and its aftermath have been quite suboptimal for New Delhi”.

Commenting on an Indian media report that Pakistan had borrowed F-16s from Jordan to hide its loss, Prof Clary suggested that it’s unlikely “Jordan would endanger $1.275bn in US aid per year to illicitly sell Pakistan an extra F-16” and nobody would notice it.

The debate was triggered by a report this week on the site of the Foreign Policy magazine, which rejected India’s claim that it shot a Pakistani F-16 aircraft on Feb 27, a day after the Indian Air Force bombed an alleged terrorist site in Balakot, KP.

In the documents released by the Woodrow Wilson Centre, US scholars say that the chances of another flare-up between India and Pakistan were high.

“Lot depends on what happens in India’s elections. If the ruling party is re-elected, I think things will just get worse,” said one of the experts. The next flare-up, he warned, “could be worse as each side has demonstrated it is happy to climb up the escalation ladder”.

Mr Kugelman warned that another terrorist attack inside India could “risk a very destructive Indian response, if that happens then you have to start worrying about nuclear scenarios”.

Aaron David Miller, another Woodrow Wilson scholar, referred to Henry Kissinger’s famous quip that the Israelis have no foreign policy, only domestic politics. “And I am inclined to believe that on Kashmir, that may well pertain to both India and Pakistan as well,” he said.

One of the papers quoted Nirupama Rao, a former Indian foreign secretary and ambassador to the US, as telling the Centre’s scholars that most Indians see their country as a victim of terrorism and “no government in India can go against this tide of popular opinion that is also fanned by a nationalistic media”.

Salman Bashir, a former Pakistani foreign secretary, however, warned against using force to resolve disputes. “The use of force can only aggravate the situation, he said, adding that “there’s a sense in Pakistan that our desire for peace must not be misconstrued as weakness”.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2019

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