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'Like Indians, Pakistanis are not interested in war'

October 10, 2016 09:01 IST

'Both India and Pakistan don't want to escalate tensions.'
'So no matter what is claimed before the public, the reality is slightly different.'

To understand the dynamics at play in the aftermath of India's surgical strike across the Line of Control on September 29, Rediff.com's Vipin Vijayan reached out to Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, the Islamabad-based expert on the Pakistan army.

Dr Siddiqa, who has written extensively on Pakistan's national security policy and military strategy, says that "not just international players, but domestic stakeholders too have consistently demanded rolling back the jihad machine."

"However, these non-State actors -- or at least some of them -- are well entrenched in the military's strategic thinking," she adds.

According to you, the operation conducted by India shouldn't be termed a 'surgical strike,' but instead be seen as a 'targetted operation'.
Are you being politically correct here?
Nomenclature aside, it is still an attack inside Pakistan-claimed territory, right?

Infiltrations have happened before by both sides, so why call this surgical?

The purpose was to target certain camps frightfully close to the Line of Control which was done in one case at least.

Giving names doesn't make it any grander than what it was.

What was the foreign media shown by the Pakistan army at the 'attack sites'?
Did the exercise substantiate Islamabad's claims on what really happened?

The delegation did not include people who are Pakistanis of dual nationality working for foreign media outlets but with good information on Pakistan.

Instead, it was mostly those who either didn't know the area or were certainly dependent upon information from the army.

They were not taken to Dudhniyal where one attack happened.

The other point is that the evidence of a major attack was not there because that didn't happen.

Let's not forget, ultimately, both sides don't want to escalate.

So no matter what is claimed before the public, the reality is slightly different.

There is a likelihood that New Delhi may release video footage of the operation it conducted.
If it does, what sort of pressure would that put on the Pakistan government and the military establishment?

Of course, the release of video will put pressure on Pakistan to react, which is not good for stability of the region.

This is a dangerous game for both sides to be playing.

The media on both sides of the border has been ratcheting up sentiments.
Could this lead to the situation along the LoC becoming more complicated... or worse, a war?

The media on both sides is being extremely amateurish.

In playing their ratings game, the media people do not realise that it is a dangerous game they are playing.

To parrot the State narrative or to become jingoist is not good.

Ultimately, it is about the lives of billions of people.

The United States has often stated that Pakistan has not done enough to curb terror emanating from its soil. A similar view is shared by the European nations.
After the Uri attacks, even Russia, with which Pakistan held military exercises, acknowledged India's decision to strike at terror camps.
Could you help us understand this situation?
Has Islamabad been doing enough to rein in terror groups?
Or are the so-called 'non-State' actors too entrenched to be uprooted?

It is not just international players, but domestic stakeholders as well that have consistently demanded rolling back the jihad machine.

However, these non-State actors -- or at least some of them -- are well entrenched in the military's strategic thinking.

There are two view on it, actually. One is that since the military is dependent upon these actors to ensure offensive-defence, they will not be removed.

The other is that the dependency is of certain elements within the military.

But in both cases it has been difficult to push back the non-State militants.

Why is it that someone like Muhammed Saeed, who has a $10 million bounty on his head, roams free?
Why is the Pakistan establishment scared to act against him?
Is it because, as Sartaz Aziz once said, 'Why must we make enemies out of them all?'

It is the dependency (of the Pakistan establishment) upon him which makes him survive.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has raised the issue of Burhan Wani's death at the United Nations and at other fora.
Wani was a member of the Hizbul Mujahideen, proscribed by the US and India as a terrorist organisation.
What's the Pakistan PM's rationale behind standing up for a 'terrorist'?

There is no black and white on Burhan Wani.

He was a young man frustrated with what the State did and so in his mind was left with no option, but to join HuM.

You can now call him a terrorist, but that was probably not a view that Mian Nawaz Sharif took.

Second, he could have not mentioned Burhan Wani, but the reason he probably did was to make the army happy with his performance at the UN.

What's your take on India's diplomatic offensive mounted on Islamabad in the aftermath of the Uri terror strikes?

To say that there is no pressure would be incorrect. But there is a thin line between the outcome of Indian pressure and Islamabad's own inefficacy in handling diplomatic ties with regional States and others.

I believe that more than Indian pressure, it is the older frustration of Western States that has provided a fillip to the Indian case.

But has it resulted in isolation? The answer is no. Countries would like to engage and tell Pakistan to back off from its policy, not entirely abandon the country.

India blames Pakistan for derailing the dialogue (prior to the Uri attack) by insisting on having Kashmir on the agenda.
Islamabad says it would not come to the dialogue table unless Kashmir and the separatists are on board.
War is certainly not in the best interest of both nations.
So what do you suggest to calm down tempers and restore relations?

Pakistan has never said it did not want to talk about Kashmir. It is a bilateral dispute and was part of the Lahore Declaration dialogue as well.

I believe that it is not about Pakistan, but the people of Kashmir.

India ought to understand that bullets and oppression in the valley is not the way to go.

New Delhi provides an excuse for others to intervene. Irrespective of ties with Islamabad, New Delhi should think out of the box to cool down temperature in Kashmir.

This will have an impact on Pakistan-India relations too.

What is the view of the average Pakistani citizen about the freefall of India-Pakistan relations?
What's the sentiment on the streets?

People in Pakistan are as disinterested in a war as (the) people in India (are).

However, as nationalism is the new creed on both sides, the ordinary people will stand by the State.

To imagine that there will be some mass rebellion by the people in case of conflict is incorrect.

Vipin Vijayan / Rediff.com