Report of Roundtable with Lt. Gen (Retd) Asif Yasin Malik on India unwilling to de-escalate

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Pakistan has in a very assertive way conveyed to India, through its military response to aerial intrusions earlier this week, that limited scale hostilities cannot be the ‘new normal’ between the arch rival neighbours, but India is unlikely to change its course at least in the near future.

This was the consensus among military experts at a roundtable on ‘Escalation Management and Control between India and Pakistan’ organized by Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI), an Islamabad-based think tank. The speakers included former Defence Secretary Lt. Gen (Retd) Asif Yasin Malik, Advisor to Strategic Plans Division Amb Zamir Akram, former Defence Minister Lt. Gen (Retd) Naeem Lodhi, Amb Ali Sarwar Naqvi and former Director General ACDA, Strategic Plans Division Khalid Banuri.

The speakers argued that PM Modi is looking for a public face saving before de-escalating the ongoing crisis with Pakistan. They, however, cautioned that there could be more Indian attempts aimed at settling score with Pakistan’s military forces. This could further escalate tensions between the two nuclear armed neighbours.

Lt. Gen Asif Yasin Malik said that a climb down from the escalatory ladder will be costly for Prime Minister Modi. Return of the Indian pilot is useful for building international image but, he opined, the gesture will not affect Indian calculations regarding escalating or de-escalating tensions.

Speaking about Indian-held Kashmir, Gen Malik said that over sixty percent of the Kashmiri population was below the age of thirty-five years, which explains why the youth are more unwilling to accept Indian tyranny and occupation. “Dynamics of Kashmir is in nobody’s control, it is on auto-pilot now.”

The crisis erupted after a Kashmiri boy attacked Indian occupying forces in Indian-held Kashmir. However, unfortunately it is being used by the Indian leadership to divert the world’s attention from Kashmir issue and bolstering BJP’s re-election prospects, the general said.

The former Defence Secretary, while speaking about the current escalation, said a state has to plan for both escalation and de-escalation and poor planning for any of the two scenarios can lead to war.

Ambassador Zamir Akram stressed the need for escalation management and control to ensure that nuclear deterrence is maintained. He emphasized that de-escalation is only possible once both adversaries have a common interest in de-escalation and unilateral measures aimed at de-escalation will not work. He identified rationality, signaling, transparency and credibility as key factors influencing crisis management.

Credibility of deterrence is essential for de-escalation, he stated. In previous crises, he recalled, Pakistan and India exercised self-imposed restraint even when they had not tested the nuclear weapons. Now that both neighbours are nuclear powers, the situation demands much more care, caution and responsibility from both states as well as a greater role of international community to timely defuse the situation.

It was stated that credibility of the crisis manager is critical for both sides. Helping India and Pakistan timely de-escalate the ongoing tensions is a test of the U.S. credibility as a crisis manager. During the 1990 crisis Robert Gates helped diffuse the South Asian crisis. However, in the present situation it remains to be seen whether the U.S. is part of the problem or solution or both.

In response to a question about next possible steps towards de-escalation, the speakers said that restrictions on the individuals demanded by India and meeting some of the requirements of demarche shared by New Delhi could allow Indian political leadership to save face before its voters and de-escalate.

Former Defence Minister Lt. Gen (Retd) Naeem Lodhi warned about Indian military attempting more mischief in future. He, therefore, advised continued vigilance.

Mr. Khalid Banuri said that the current crisis was a test of diplomacy. Pakistani diplomats must internationally highlight the Indian violation of the UN Charter, instigating an unprovoked international armed conflict and grave violations of the UN resolutions.

Defence analyst Syed Muhammad Ali said that Pakistan had simultaneously demonstrated resolve and capability along with restraint in its calculated use of force. Pakistan Air Force could have caused much greater surprise but restrained itself because it only aimed at dissuading India from any future misadventure.

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