Returning Abhinandan unlikely to help Pakistan; using F-16s against India, Pulwama attack dossier will add to its troubles

Nothing’s over until the paperwork is done, says a poster on the wall of a washroom at a popular eatery at Khan Market in Delhi. Another Khan may be pondering on just this as he wonders what to do next as India shows no signs of backing off, as a late meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security seemed to indicate.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and his colleagues, most of them in olive green, have now been presented with several separate problems that will probably tighten the net around Pakistan that remains in absolute denial of its patronage to terrorism.

File picture of Imran Khan. PTI

File picture of Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. PTI

Khan’s decision to release Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, welcomed by media on both sides, could have been a huge diplomatic advantage for Pakistan. That advantage was squandered away when Khan, in his address to a joint session of the Pakistan Parliament, chose to wax eloquent on Kashmir advising Indians to ponder on the ‘azadi‘ sentiment there.

Even the most uninformed among his audience would have advised him in turn, to stop torturing and killing the Baloch, Pashtuns and the sundry persons who challenge the Pakistani state, before proffering any advice to others.

The decision to release the Wing Commander Abhinandan seemed almost an afterthought, announced after the Pakistan prime minister had sat down and apparently finished his address. That leads to the conclusion that the decision to release Wing Commander Abhinandan was not a spontaneous act of humanity, but the result of someone somewhere advising him — with a good deal of emphasis — that Islamabad better send the pilot back before Indians react. It seemed that for all his eloquence, Khan simply doesn’t get the plot.

A second mistake was in retrospect. The combined presser by the Indian Air Force, Indian Army and Indian Navy made it evident that Pakistan had used F-16’s in the attack against India. In his briefing, Air Vice-Marshal RGK Kapoor pointed to not only the electronic signatures of the F-16’s that were evident but also showed parts of an AMRAAM missile that is only fitted on the American aircraft.

That could prove to be a costly mistake. The US Arms Export Control Act, 1976, as codified by Congress requires that such weapons be used only in self-defence and further states that “decisions… under this section shall take into account whether the export of an article would contribute to an arms race, aid in the development of weapons of mass destruction, support international terrorism, increase the possibility of outbreak or escalation of conflict, etc. Those are the basic requirements according to the 22 US Code 2778.

Specific to Pakistan were another set of requirements put in place in 2006 for the purchase of 36 new F-16’s. Though the Bush Administration sanctioned the sale at a time when Pakistan was considered as part of the “Global War on Terrorism ( GWOT)”, it still emphasised that the sale was to meet legitimate defence needs and was to be used in missions for GWOT.

The F-16s’ entry into India was a clear case of aggression and was clearly an attempt to hit a military target. Certainly, it was not against terrorist camps since there are none within several hundred miles of Bhimber Gali or anywhere else in India for that matter. New Delhi will certainly raise this with Washington, who is already looking for issues to twist Pakistan’s arm in Afghanistan.

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Another issue that requires far more than only paperwork is that of the dossier on the Jaish-e-Mohammed handed over to Islamabad by New Delhi. Clearly, the NSA Ajit Doval had precise knowledge of the terrorist leaders present in the camp, with a  reported 22 top commanders killed.

There are publicly available photographs and material of the Jaish-e-Mohammed headquarters in Bahawalpur, and a plethora of intelligence inputs on just what the group is up to in Kashmir, apart from specific audio tapes linking it to the Pulwama attack. All of this would have been shared with not just Islamabad, but also other major countries like the US, and possibly Russia and China.

While there are reports that the Punjab administration has taken over some facilities in the Bahawalpur, Pakistan will be required to shut them down and arrest the major leaders. Islamabad need not wait for ‘actionable intelligence’ linking the group to the Pulwama strike.

Remember that Jaish-e-Mohammed was responsible for assassination attempts on General Pervez Musharraf and probably an attack on Pakistan army headquarters as well. Any of these cases will do in a military court. Imran and his team would do well to tick the box closing all terrorist camps and institutions, as much for its own sake than that of regional peace. Terrorists have a nasty habit of biting the hands that feed them.

The key here is that Khan, as much as Rawalpindi, needs to understand the main sentiment underlying the fact that all major actors are now ranged alongside India. They need to understand the simple fact that the use of terrorism as a currency of power has simply no takers. No number of Ghauri and Babur missiles can change the fact that Islamabad’s time is up.

Remember that Bangladesh, once also known to have been a base for all shades of terrorist groups has managed to nearly wipe them out in the space of fewer than five years. The result as Pakistani scholar Pervez Hoodbhoy notes is that Bangladesh’s foreign reserves are four times that of Pakistan and it is steadily eating into Pakistan’s share of textile exports. It’s all possible. It just needs a little gritting of teeth and filling up the forms.

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Updated Date: Mar 01, 2019 23:46:47 IST

Updated: March 1, 2019 — 8:33 pm