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Naveed Ahmad

Modi’s Pakistan offensive: time for GCC to weigh in

The mounting tensions between India and Pakistan will force GCC to take a side [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 October, 2016

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Comment: It is time for the GCC led by Saudi Arabia to take a stance on the India-Pakistan conflict, as its interests are deeply affected, argues Naveed Ahmad.

Launching a scathing counter attack on Pakistan at the UN General Assembly on September 26, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj described the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of her country, while advising Islamabad to abandon the dream of coveting the Muslim majority region.

The reality on the ground, however, contradicts the claims made in her speech. The disputed territory has been on the UN Security Council agenda since 1948, while UN military observers have been monitoring the ceasefire line, or Line of Control (LoC). Presently, Delhi is faced with a daunting political, military and diplomatic challenge regarding Jammu and Kashmir.

Rewind to the third day of the annual festival of Eid-al-Fitr, when Indian troops killed a young Kashmiri, Burhan Muzaffar Wani. Within hours, some 250,000 mourners reached his hometown Tral in Pulwama district of disputed Jammu and Kashmir. With his burial, unarmed protests broke out.

The Indian military's response was rapid and ruthless. The troops used live munitions including bullets carrying deadly pellets, which would become the munitions of choice in the days and weeks to come. Over a month later, not only had Delhi failed to quell demonstrations, but it had resorted to excessive use of deadly force, resulting in the death of 80 unarmed protestors, while injuring hundreds.

Modi might have toned down the war rhetoric but the militaries on either side remain war-ready

The attack at Uri

The renewed uprising in this turbulent state - disputed between Pakistan and India - made headlines in the international media, including The New York Times.

In the early morning of September 18th, four Kashmiri militants launched a revenge attack on Indian soldiers in Uri town in Baramula district, near the border with Pakistan. After a few hours and when the firing had stopped, the Indian army counted 17 dead bodies and was ferrying over 100 injured troops to hospitals. The militants were killed too.

Delhi wasted no time in assuming that the attack carried Islamabad's fingerprints, which was vehemently denied. Rightwing Indian leaders, including the minister of home affairs, called Pakistan a terrorist state, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to avenge the Uri killings.

The next day, India arrested Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist, barring him from leaving for New York to attend the UN General Assembly session where Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif was to raise the issue of Indian atrocities in disputed Jammu and Kashmir state.

The arrest further fueled protests as India mulled over its options ranging from targeted strikes against alleged militant camps inside Pakistan-administered Kashmir, to a blitzkrieg-style attack along the ceasefire line dividing both slices of the disputed territory.

At the UNGA session, Pakistan alleged that India concocted the Uri attack to divert the world's attention from its oppressive actions in its administered Jammu and Kashmir region. The Pakistani premier not only sought a probe by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights but also lauded the slain youth as a hero.

Meanwhile, Islamabad strengthened its defences along the LoC while cancelling all commercial flights over Jammu and Kashmir. The international border was also the scene of military preparations of a level not seen since 2001, when India reacted in a similar fashion after its parliament came under militant attack.

Amid drummed up war hysteria by the ruling party and India's sensational electronic media, armed forces commanders advised Delhi against attacking Pakistan militarily. A multitude of factors ranging from timing, climate, the preparedness of troops and enemy response to the attack, led Narendra Modi to defer the military campaign, and in a bizarre u-turn, he challenged Pakistan to compete in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.

Besides mounting a diplomatic assault on Pakistan, India is pondering other non-military punitive measures such as annulling a decades old river-sharing agreement called the Indus Water Treaty. Modi might have toned down the war rhetoric but the militaries on either side remain war-ready.

In addition to conventional military wherewithal, the two archrivals keep nuclear warheads ready to launch. Since 1998 when both Asian nations tested nuclear weapons, and the strategic parity has deterred escalation of hostilities. Both sides have relied on proxies to weaken the other. With bilateral normalisation process suspended by India, the war clouds are heavier and darker than anytime in recent memory.

An added spoiler alert emerges here with China becoming wary of deepening India-US defence ties

China, Iran and the GCC

An added spoiler alert emerges here with China becoming wary of deepening India-US defence ties. As per a recent pact signed by the two allies, Washington and Delhi will allow each other access to bases when needed.

Not only do these developments upset the balance of power for China, but they also heighten anxiety in Pakistan. For Beijing, Islamabad is a key ally and the country's shortest connection to the Arabian Gulf through Gawdar port.

Under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, construction of a vast logistical network is scheduled to be completed by 2025 at an estimated cost of $46 billion, of which $14 billion have already been earmarked.

On August 13 and August 15, the Indian premier admitted sponsoring Baloch insurgents with aim to subvert Chinese corridor to the Gulf States as well as Africa. For two-way trade between Pakistan-China and the GCC, Gwadar port has the capacity to handle 400 million tons of cargo per annum. Thus, India’s subversive activities in Balochistan won’t harm Pakistan or China alone but also the Arab states, which are rallying to diversify their economy in the face of regional security and financial challenges. 

As a quid pro quo, China is mobilising troops in disputed territory with India. As India hurled threats to Pakistan over the Uri attack, the Chinese troops went as deep as 45 kilometer into its occupied territory. The military level talks have so far failed to result in the withdrawal of the People’s Liberation Army. Moreover, Beijing is enhancing logistical infrastructure in the Aksai Chen region to counter any Indian aggressive moves against its interests in Pakistan or the South China Sea.

China explicitly stated its support for Pakistan in case of any Indian attack. Pakistan and China security pact may be in draft stages for now, but the two neighbours seemed determined to thwart Indo-US moves.  

Meanwhile, Iran and Afghanistan are anything but neutral. Maintaining critical threat to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, Tehran is perturbed at Islamabad decision to bridge between China and the GCC.

Not only has the Iranian border guards been repeatedly firing inside Pakistan’s Balochistan border but Tehran has also provided Chabahar port to India for trade with Afghanistan and beyond in Central Asia.

Earlier in 2003, Tehran and Delhi signed a defence agreement for mutually security. Moreover, Iran and India’s policies towards Bahrain, Yemen and Syria converge. While Iran sees Pakistan as a Sunni country with dominant pro-Arab military, India accuses Islamabad of provoking instability in occupied Jammu and Kashmir. 

The Gulf leadership may have to decide in less diplomatic manner as to which side to align with.

Where the Arabs come in

Notwithstanding India’s close defence and economic ties with Iran, it aims to influence Pakistan’s allies the GCC owing its trade volume and manpower employed there. For Islamabad, defiance by any GCC states in the wake of Indian attack will have longer-term consequences. Being a member of 34-nation coalition, Pakistan will expect equal measure support it has been extending and continues to offer.

From the Indian perspective, it’s easier to use American leverage in the Gulf region to deny Pakistan much needed military, financial or diplomatic support in the wake of a conflict. 

But Saudi Arabia and its neighbours may not entertain US advice for their very own reasons: increasing anti-Arab moves in the Congress and soaring influence of Trumpism.

The gradual drift of Saudi Arabia and the GCC away from the United States has already paced up owing to Obama administration’s policy towards Iran on the nuclear issue as well as Tehran's interference in Syria. 

Whether a war breaks out over Kashmir or not, the GCC region will attain paramount significance for Pakistan, China and India. 

The Gulf leadership may have to decide in less diplomatic manner as to which side to align with.

Naveed Ahmad is a Doha-based investigative journalist and academic with special focus on diplomacy, security and energy issues. Follow him on Twitter: @naveed360

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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