Cross Roads Beyond Balakot

by Palepu Ravi Shankar


Dawn – Seventeen years after first banning militant groups,
Pakistan is once again at a crossroads.
If in seventeen years a nation does not know that it took a wrong turn then,
the likelihood of taking the right turn are bleak.
Pakistan should stop cheating itself.

The Indo-Pak chessboard changed dramatically when India struck at Balakot. The madman theory was tested. Rationality- irrationality theories were discussed. International tension was palpable and thick. With the return of Abhinandan, de-escalation took place. Then, suddenly the situation deflated. Today there are two chess boards being played out. The Indian Chessboard, in which the pieces are elections, ghatbandans, Ayodhya mediation, Modi (Nirav Baba) and the Rafale of course. The Pakistani Chessboard pieces are FATF, Action against Proscribed groups, Anti India Anti Modi coalescence to stymie India and Nobel prize for Imran Khan. The narratives have veered away but are interconnected. Each player in each of the chess boards is watching the moves on the other. Once the dance of democracy is done in India and the internal churn peaks out in Pakistan, a new normal will emerge.

However, it will still take only a small ember to light the forest fire. Simultaneously there is a good chance that the new normal might provide an opportunity to move ahead without looking into the rear-view mirror. In any eventuality it is important that we understand the churn in Pakistan so that we do not grasp at straws when the moment arrives. A lot of own analysts are still stuck in the old Indo Pak binary. They have opined that the current situation is a military stale mate which is a victory for Pakistan. Even Pakistan thinks so. Make no mistake, Balakot has changed things. The opportunity and threat lie in this change. As to how the Indo Pak Binary moves forward and how things pan out in J&K will depend largely on understanding as to what is happening in Pakistan. Pakistan is the other side of the hill for us. Therefore, I am attempting to create a window (largely through cut and paste) into Pakistan to see what is on the other side of Balakot to help us take informed decisions based on Pakistani thinking.

Action Areas
X LOC firing. The LOC has been hot with plenty of firing going on. We simply need to keep up the pressure. However, it must be focused. The depth of engagement must increase. Action must be punitive in nature.

Grenade Blast. A grenade blast occurred in Jammu with some causalities. It is a reminder that the terror apparatus though rattled is still alive.

Naval Incursion. Whether an India submarine carried out an incursion into Pakistani territorial waters or not, the heat is on. “India’s naval incursion, apart from intending to threaten Pakistan militaristically, might also be intended to undermine Pakistan’s commercial maritime environment and its ports, currently being developed under CPEC. Pakistan is getting caught between a rock and a hard place, and it must effectively engage its allies to pressure India to back down from its military adventurism”. (

Airspace Closure. The Pakistani airspace is not yet open fully. Only some sectors are open. Transit flights are few. Apart from everything else it has driven up airfares. A ticket on the Karachi – Islamabad sector has gone up by 30%. There is pressure and they are hurting. ( (

Cross Roads of Pakistan
International Opinion. There is a lot of journalistic and military myopia and chatter regarding the Balakot Strike and the Pakistani Riposte. The discourse is tactical and misses the point. As per Fox news, Pakistan fears two things more than war with India – pressure from Washington and indifference from China. Both were evident after the strikes. This has been echoed internally in Dawn- “It is no longer feasible for Pakistan to keep relying on China on the one hand, and its role in assisting the US in a peace process in Afghanistan on the other, to keep the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) wolf from the door. India’s Strategic strength will outweigh any relevance of Pakistan in the US and Chinese scheme of things… In the comprehensive battle Modi intends to wage against Pakistan, India starts with a clear advantage. In major international capitals its narrative is taken as far more credible than Pakistan’s narrative…size and influence of India, the egregious policy errors of previous governments in Pakistan and Pakistan’s poor international image with regard to governance, terrorism and stability…Modi has focused international attention on the weakest spot of Pakistan’s foreign policy: its inability to correct international perceptions that extremism, non-state proxies, safe havens, and terrorism have been instruments towards its India, Kashmir and Afghanistan policies…Pakistan is also seen as more likely to escalate to nuclear weapons than India, which has a no first use policy. They know exactly where they are standing. (

USA. There is total denial in Pakistan that a F16 was downed. Pakistan is doing its best to justify that it was OK to use F16s against India. Reality is that USA has its screws on Pakistan. Already USA has cut down Visa duration for Pakistanis. It will tighten it further when it wants. A subdued Pakistan will be to their advantage taking into consideration the Afghanistan draw down is to take place. The road ahead will be rocky for Pakistan. ( (

China. The Chinese Vice Premier made an unscheduled trip to Pakistan at the first available opportunity. ( The investments of the “Iron brother” and “all-weather friend” are at stake. Of course, Pakistan has put out that Beijing has been instrumental in helping defuse the situation. China has put out a statement that it hopes Pakistan and India will transform the crisis into opportunity and meet each other halfway with an advice to both parties to quickly turn this page and seek a fundamental long-term improvement in their relations. Read it the way you want. ( Then of course the elephant in the room is CPEC. Economic Times has come out to say that China is worried that JEM is likely to carry out attacks against CPEC. ( Dawn says – The whole CPEC program could receive a major setback despite China’s strategic commitment to Pakistan. Nor can Pakistan continue to rely on China’s veto in the UN Security Council against declaring the JeM chief a global terrorist. Very evident that Pakistan has realized that Chinese support has finite limits. So far Pakistan has got a lot of debt from China and nothing more. (

Saudi Arabia. The Saudi FM also did an air dash to Pakistan. After all, it has invested in Pakistan. Nothing significant has emerged.

Afghanistan. The Pakistanis are worried about the likely nexus between the RAW and Afghan security agencies. They fear that their aircraft from Peshawar, Samungli or any other airbase in Pakistan could be targeted. (

Public Opinion. The air riposte by Pakistan, downing a MIG, capture of a pilot and complete blanking out of loss of their F16 has galvanized public opinion. While recognizing the danger lurking on their head Pakistanis feel that the Deep State has stood up to the Bully. It is now firmly their savior once again. From Im the Dim, a statesman is emerging who is worthy of a Nobel Prize. The tone and tenor of writing is that India is a warmonger and Mr Modi is their public enemy No 1. Some even feel India is facing international isolation! Countering this narrative will be difficult since it is largely psychological. (

FATF – Wolf at Pakistan’s Door. FATF has told Pakistan it needs to implement a 27-point action plan under 10 categories by May 2019 to avoid being placed on its blacklist. Some more points have been added lately. As per FATF, Pakistan did “not demonstrate a proper understanding of the terror financing risks posed by Daesh, AQ (Al Qaeda), Jud (Jamaatud Dawa), FIF (Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation), LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammad), HQN (Haqqani network), and people affiliated with the Taliban”. All these entities have now been described by Pakistan as high-risk entities and would be subject to greater scrutiny by all agencies and institutions of the state, starting from their registration to operations and from their fund collection to bank accounts and issuance of suspicious transactions, information sharing and so on. Predictably Pakistan has sought India’s removal as Co-Chair of the FATF. FATF seems to be all pervading. ( (

National Action Plan. Widespread action has been initiated against proscribed groups under the National Action Plan (which was put in place in 2015). It has been reported widely. However, there is a need to see if things are as they are reported. Action against terror organizations was taken earlier also, with poor outcomes. It has been called the National Inaction Plan by the Dawn itself. A granular view is therefore necessary. (

Action Taken. Action has been taken against JUD, FIF and its affiliates. Arrests have taken place, seminaries, mosques and welfare organizations operated by JUD and FIF terrorist organizations have been closed. LET offices in Murdike and Lahore have been taken over. Hafiz Sayeed has been prevented from leading prayers. Fine so far. However, the ease with which the organization is capitulating and cooperative response of its members in handing over assets is too pat. The exercise is reminiscent of demonetization! ( ( ( (

Hafiz Sayeed’s Appeal to UN. The JUD chief had appealed to the UN to take him off the banned list. It has been turned down. However, it has been turned down since Pakistan did not allow direct questioning and contact with the investigator! There is something amiss. Dal mein kuch kala hai. (

JEM. Unless I have missed it completely, there is no news about any action taken against JEM in any newspaper. Consider this. The Pakistani FM says that Masood Azhar is in Pakistan, very unwell and in some military hospital. The DG ISPR states publicly that Jaish does not exist in Pakistan. ( Then there is also a report which questions JEMs involvement in Pulwama. Pervaiz Musharraf jumps into the fray and says that ISI has used JEM to carry out attacks in India. A clear link between JEM and the Deep State. ( The JEM is in hiding or being hidden. It is not down or out. Audio messages of Masood Azhar suggest that he is fine and raring to go. This dichotomy is inexplicable.

HM. The HM has shown its hand in the Jammu bus stand blast. The danger ahead is the capacity of the Deep State to revive this organization, project it as an internal fight from J&K as against terror being exported from Pakistani soil. This need watching.

Points to Ponder. The capability and the intent, leave alone success, of the Deep State to rein in these organizations is to be seen. Right now, the Deep State is single-mindedly trying to get off the FATF hook. Once that is done, will they morph and resume business as usual? How about the Deep State? Everyone knows that a large part of the Deep State is radicalized. Who will cleanse them and the larger Pakistan society?

Geostrategic Review by Corps Commanders. The COAS and Corps Commanders took stock of the situation. The COAS has stated that “No one can make us budge through use or threat of use of force. Similarly, the policy and the right of use of force, shall remain the prerogative of the state alone”. Very clear that they will continue with this attitude. After all they feel they imposed a stalemate on India.( (

Anti-India Hubris. There is a lot of anti-India hubris coming out of Pakistan. These views just reinforce the fact that anything Anti– India is the rationale for Pakistan and hence its existential paranoia.

The Pakistani SC has banned Indian TV shows. As per a report I read “the media hype from India has been specially terrifying”. I agree. Our media Generals whip up war frenzy which is terrifying not only to Pakistan but to us also. ( (

Pakistan’s sense of self-importance bubbles forth when their politicians state that Modi doesn’t take a call from the head of a Nuclear power state ( .

“Modi’s rush to be judge, jury and executioner in order to impose a punitive “new normal” on Pakistan has splattered egg on his face. Many Indian politicians, TV anchors and other public figures are ridiculously drowning in their own bile” (

More humiliating than the downing of their jets, I believe India’s political elite has been genuinely startled by the stunning victory of Pakistan’s narrative at the global stage, during the ongoing theatre of brinkmanship between the two states. (

Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry has said that the International Cricket Council (ICC) should impose a ban on the Indian cricket team for violating regulations.(

Overall Assessment
Under normal circumstances I would have given my overall assessment. However, I am refraining from doing so, to let the readers draw their own conclusions. I would be interested to get reactions and views from all of you who have read this. I will look forward for your comments. Based on your comments and views I will search for further answers from Pakistan.