‘The stand-off between India and Pakistan will have fall-out in Kashmir’

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In a telephonic interview, the strategic affairs’ expert, author, and the editor of Force magazine Pravin Sawhney tells Saima Bhat Kashmir will remain on the edge till a next government is formed in Delhi

Pravin Sawhney

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): How do you see the recent crisis between India and Pakistan on the political, military and diplomatic fronts?

PRAVIN SAWHNEY (PS): To begin with, it all started on the military front. Following the Pulwama massacre, air strikes undertaken by Indian Air Force (IAF) on February 26 came as a surprise. Facts aside, it was crystal clear that IAF got into Pakistan occupied Kashmir’s air space. Means the air space was breached. The implication of the strike was apparent for Pakistan and its air- force. It was a question of the credibility of their government and its air force. So they reacted and reacted sharply. One cannot deny the fact that they breached Indian air space.

The fact is that one of our pilots was captured by them, what really matters is that they did their action in broad daylight when the Indian air force was alert. Unlike the previous case, they had also breached the Indian air space and went back. In short, India did not react to their breach, although India acknowledged that this was an act of war.

So when you don’t react to an act of war, it indicates that the government doesn’t want escalation, and the military leadership doesn’t have the warfighting capabilities or the capabilities for escalation. So, it seems to be a hollow talk when everyone talks about more such strikes. India has demonstrated well what it can and cannot do in case of an escalation.

And the reason why we cannot go for another strike is that unless we are prepared for an escalation; unless there is a full-fledged war, there is no way we can dare another strike.

So overall militarily I assess that we have not been able to play out very well, both politically and militarily. This is not a good thing as far as the military equations are concerned and therefore I see a fall-out of this in Kashmir.

On the political front, I would say that Pakistan dared to attack us, which we didn’t respond to. The Prime Minister Imran Khan though immediately sought peace and returned the captured pilot the very next day. On the face of it, it showed Pakistan’s large-heartedness, but I wouldn’t call it magnanimity. I think Pakistan was supported by China. As we know, China is Pakistan’s closest ally. Although Pakistan is close to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States of America, they are not so important to affect Pakistan’s national security.

China is the only country which has tremendous leverage with Pakistan. And we have enough evidence that Pakistani foreign minister (Shah Mohammad) Qureshi was in touch with the Chinese counterpart during the course of these events. This was in the public domain.

KL: As far as diplomacy is concerned where do we go next?

PS: The point is because of this crisis a lot of people are offering their services to sort out the differences between the two nations. We see for the first time Russia has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan.

It is a known fact that China’s and Russian proximity has grown in a big way. Both of them are pressing India and Pakistan to resolve the issue through the SCO forum.

This statement has come about, according to me, after the erosion of India’s air force capability in the current face-off between India and Pakistan. After air strikes, I don’t see the situation in Kashmir getting better with so much cross border firing happening. I think the situation would continue to be bad and a lot of diplomatic pressure coming on India to resume a dialogue with Pakistan. After summing up the situation, I don’t think it was a favourable thing done by the Modi government.

KL: How are these operations going to impact Kashmir?

PS: In today’s times while fighting wars, the strength of air forces is a deciding factor. Unfortunately, the point is, our air power has been exposed and as a result, its credibility has been reduced. So this will strengthen and embolden Pakistan army, whose impact we will see in Kashmir. As you can see things are not hunky-dory on the line of control. I think the situation won’t calm down till we have the next government in New Delhi. Besides, I foresee a lot of pressure being put on India to talk with Pakistan.

KL: The recent air raids and the response of Pakistan, has it impacted global power balance?

PS: Please understand Pakistan may be economically weak but its geopolitical importance cannot be undermined. Pakistan has emerged as a very important player for the geopolitical matrix for its proximity with the countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran.

And then there is China, Pakistan’s all-weather friend, as they call it. Apart from being cosy with Pakistan, it has a lot to do with CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) which is a flagship project between the two countries. So when India talks about Pakistan’s economic condition, they need to keep in mind that Pakistan is geopolitically strengthened. So there is no way that Pakistan will cease to exist as major world powers have very strong stakes in Pakistan.

KL: Does that mean a loss to India?

PS: This is not the question of gain or loss because the general elections are coming up. Once elections are over, we will have a new government in place. With a new government, we will have a new policy. So we have to wait until the new government is in place and see how they will respond to Pakistan, China, Russia. New government’s policies will tell us where we will go from here.

KL: Have the raids punctured nuclear deterrence theory?

PS: The point is that nuclear theory is a complete non-sense because nuclear weapons are not centred to war fighting between India and Pakistan. Period. They are not. So, therefore, the equation remains what it was. Nothing has been dented. The only thing that has been dented is the credibility of India’s air power, which is not a good thing.

KL: The last conventional war that India and Pakistan fought was in 1971. Has the recent drowning of the MiG impacted that?

PS: First of all, there is no comparison between the 1971 war and present confrontation. Comparisons should not be made between the two on three counts. 1971 was a fully-fledged war and now we have an act of war. Pakistan got away with breaching Indian air space without any retaliation.

The 1971 war was a conventional conflict. The land forces would lead the charge, while as air force had a supporting role. But, in today’s time, things have undergone a complete transformation. It will be the air force that will be leading the charge in case of a war.

Third, if you are referring to MIGs, as air chief Marshal BS Dhanoa rightly pointed out that before up-gradation MiG was third generation aircraft, but, after up-gradation, it is 3.5 generation now. But today, we are talking about 4+ generation; we are talking about technology. So this is a good platform to build on after the skirmish we had with Pakistan. One thing, though, is sure that air force will take a hard look at its inventory.

KL: There is a lot of adverse commentary going on India’s military matters. Do you see it as a routine or a new business is being initiated?

PS: It is an open secret that the army needs to modernize to accomplish its requirement of the latest arsenal. Nothing is under wraps. If the international media is saying this then they are not saying a new thing. The countries that are into manufacturing of arms do sell them as well. There is nothing to be astonished about. India is currently in talks with Russia, America, and Israel about new arms deals.

KL: If India had Rafale, would it have any impact on the recent strikes?

PS: No, nothing would have happened. Now you are talking politics. Don’t parrot Prime Minister Modi’s words. It has nothing to do with Rafale. It is sheer politics. What air force needed has been given to them? Talking to a foreign company regarding the same was political point scoring. These are the questions that no military analyst should bother about.

KL: If we talk about Indian media there was a perception war going on alongside the military war. How good or bad is it for the country?

PS: It was going on both sides. Maybe, here it was more vehement than the other side. The thing is I believe, more than television, it is social media that is playing a bigger role in shaping public opinion. It was apparent in the current crisis where fake information was being disseminated unhindered. One could easily make out the hatred people on both sides vomited on each other through their hate bearing posts.

What I am trying to say is that media will always shape the public opinion in a democracy. Theirs is a controlled democracy and ours is a fully democratic state. Therefore, it is mandatory for journalists to discover facts fully before reporting on issues related to these two countries.

They should be educated enough on the subject which unfortunately is not the cases on both sides. The people who understand things are very limited while the majority is of just drum beaters, who create problems.

KL: How do you see the militancy of Kashmir after the recent attacks?

PS: If you see the tempo has already gone up. Every day, we witness killings taking place on both sides, while both sides complain as well. That is what I said precisely that after the air thing is over, there will be a confrontation on the ground.

This will not die down; it will remain so or maybe it may get intensified. It will remain limited to LoC in Kashmir and in Jammu borders only. It won’t come out of that area otherwise it becomes a war, and neither of the sides wants war.

KL: You have suggested that Kashmir will have a ‘hard summer’?

PS: Unfortunately it is going to be the same in winters as well as in summers. It is very unfortunate what is going on in Kashmir. It will continue to remain so till we get a new government at the centre and then it will be reviewed.

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