Is Pakistan Back?

There is, rightfully, a lot of anger in India over the recent incursion by Pakistani troops across the Line of Control. Much of the anger is less about the incursion, as LoC skirmishes are an almost weekly incident, as much as the beheading of at least one of the Indian soldiers after he was killed.

I suspect the whole affair will blow over after a few rounds of artillery fire on either side. Neither New Delhi nor Islamabad have a real interest in a major fire fight with each other.

The real issue, and it will have to be seen as to what happens between India and Pakistan in the coming year, is whether the LoC is a sign of a change in Rawalpindi’s mindset.

What the Indian system is relatively clear about is that since the fall of the Musharraf regime in 2008 there has been a steady increase in the infiltration of insurgents across the LoC and the number of skirmishes along the de facto border. Above and beyond that, there has been a spike in LoC incidents last year. In 2010 and 2011, such incidents averaged between 40 to 50. In 2012 they spiked to over 115.

Musharraf turned off the tap because he concluded that fighting India, covertly or otherwise, was no longer worth the price. His successor, Ashfaq Pervaz Kayani, seems to believe otherwise. Nonetheless, he loosened the militancy tap only a little.

But unlike Musharraf who concluded that Kashmir wasn’t worth the damage being inflicted to Pakistan, Kayani took a more tactical approach. For him the reason to keep the tap closed was because Pakistan was facing a threat on its western border and couldn’t afford to have problems on its eastern one as well.

But with the US seemingly heading for as hasty a pullout from Afghanistan as it did in the 1980s, it is likely Kayani is less and less worried about the two front problems. Slowly increasing the heat along the LoC may be a reflection of an increasing confidence within the Pakistan military about taking a hardline toward India.

It may not be and probably can’t be on the scale of what happened in the 1980s, in part because India has repaired some of the political damage it inflicted on itself by rigging elections and otherwise interfering in Kashmir’s politics.

What about 26/11? Based on the confessions of David Headley, that terror strike was motivated in large part by a concern within the Lashkar e Toiba leadership (and presumably some elements of the Pakistani brass) that the Kashmir jihadi cause was being forgotten.

If this working hypothesis is correct, if the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is done in a manner that moves the Taliban closer to power in Kabul there will be a concomitant increase in military provocation against India, most probably along the LoC and within Kashmir. The statistics for 2013 and 2014 could prove decisive.

How should India respond? At the geopolitical level the best way would be to simply buttress any non-Taliban regime in Kabul, diplomatically and militarily, so as to foil any quick and easy takeover of Afghanistan by Rawalpindi. Make Afghanistan a quagmire for Pakistan. This could mean breaking with the US on AfPak and trying to cobble together a coalition of other countries to ensure Kabul get a few billion dollars a year to keep fighting. Najibullah held off the mujahedin so long as he got that sort of money. It would be cheaper and better for India to keep the flames burning in Afghanistan than in and along Kashmir.

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