The latest round of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan threatens to add the 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit, scheduled to be held in Islamabad, Pakistan, in November 2016, to the long list of failed attempts at cooperation in South Asia.
But there are enough signals suggesting that reasons apart from the historical animosity between the two nations are now pulling SAARC apart.
The Association, often accused as a stillborn by its various critics because of the lack of appreciable progress towards stitching together a South Asian Union (à la European Union) by means of trade, diplomacy, and infrastructure, has always been an unfortunate recipient of the tensions between its largest two member nations.
The current round of hostility between the two nuclear-armed neighbours began with the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) terrorist Burhan Wani by the Indian army in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
The 21-year-old militant was a ‘self-proclaimed commander’ of HM, designated as a terrorist organisation by India, the European Union, and the U.S. He was the poster boy for anti-India people and groups in the Kashmir valley of J&K, and openly defied and challenged the Indian state for war, via social media.
Wani’s killing led to widespread protests in the Indian Kashmir. Adding to the temperature was Pakistan’s open and steadfast support to the slain terrorist. Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Nawaz Sharif “expressed shock” at the killing of Wani, and called him ‘martyr’ and a ‘Kashmiri leader’. Pakistan even observed a ‘black day’ on July 19 in solidarity with the victims of violence in Kashmir.
India, predictably, responded quickly and sharply, asking Pakistan to stop “glorifying terrorists”, saying that it makes it abundantly clear where Pakistan’s sympathies lie.
But neither Pakistan’s official support nor the angry protests in India’s Kashmir valley saw any abating even after a month of Wani’s killing. For weeks, the belligerent crowd made up of angry local youth pelted stones at Indian security forces. In response, the men in uniform used pellet guns, causing over 50 deaths and countless injuries among the protestors.
At the same time more than 3,300 security personnel were injured, many seriously, in about 1000 incidents of violence. A few of them later succumbed to the injuries.
As a result, the entire Indian Kashmir valley region was put under curfew for over 50 days in the July-August period. After lifting it for a couple of days, curfew was re-imposed on many parts at the time of writing this report because of further violence.
India continuously accused Pakistan of fanning the trouble by sending financial, logistical, political, and armed support to the protesting crowds.
With Pakistan going all out to support the violent protestors, India, for the first time ever in its history, chose to officially respond in kind to Pakistan’s long-running commentary on the issue of self-right of Kashmiri people in India.
Addressing the nation on its Independence Day on August 15, India’s Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi mentioned the support and good wishes of people of Pakistan’s largest province Balochistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) areas of Kashmir. Balochistan, it may be noted, is home to many political and extremist groups that is demanding independence from Pakistan.
Pakistan was quick to call Mr. Modi’s speech as the vindication of its charges of an Indian hand in the violence in the restive province of Balochistan.
Both India and Pakistan have since upped the ante.
The Indian government approved a proposal to air programs in Balochi and Sindhi (the primary language of Pakistan’s second biggest province, Sindh, where, again, some groups demand an independent Sindhu Desh) via its official radio service.
Taking the clue, the Indian media is currently flush with news about and views from Balochi rebels sitting in the UK and elsewhere. Talks of political asylum to leaders fighting the ‘Balochistan Independence’ battle with Pakistan—in line with that to the Tibetan spiritual guru HH Dalai Lama—are heard with increased frequency in news outlets.
Beyond the talk, the Indian government also approved Rs. 2,000 Crore ($ 300 million) package for displaced people of Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK regions living in the country. 36,348 such families have been identified for distribution of the package.
To counter India’s communication blitzkrieg, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on August 27 nominated 22 parliamentarians as special envoys who will ‘highlight the Indian brutalities and human rights abuses in the occupied Kashmir’ in key parts of the world.
And there stands currently the ‘peacetime scenario’ in South Asia.
Can it change in the next 60 days for a fruitful SAARC summit in Islamabad? Well, 69 years of history doesn’t suggest it.
Note: This piece was written prior to a deadly terror attack on an Indian military facility on September 18, which killed 17 Indian army personnel. All the four killed terrorists belonged to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group.
To be continued…