While India has returned fire on the LoC, on the diplomatic front New Delhi appears to be keeping its cool, and avoiding escalations.
It is evident that the rising tension between India and Pakistan has spread to another battlefield — from the Line of Control to each other’s diplomatic missions in their respective capitals. While the escalated level of Pakistani infiltration of militants across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir and the international border, as well as heightened cross-border firing and the introduction of higher calibre artillery pieces by Pakistan and reciprocation by India has dominated the headlines for the past year or more, a new element has now been added.
This is suggestive of Islamabad’s pro-active efforts to not let tensions die down. The shift in the canvas of tensions was provoked on February 15 by a “raid” in Islamabad on an Indian high commission residential complex by Pakistani agencies and the prolonged disruption of electricity and water. Official requests by the Indian side to restore normality were met with an extremely tardy response. News reports indicate that Pakistan high commission officials in New Delhi were subjected to tit for tat harassment.
Now it appears that Pakistan has decided not to attend a meeting of WTO, a multilateral body, in New Delhi on March 19-20. The effort seems to be to let tensions simmer, and possibly worsen.
The general impression is that Islamabad began to adopt an ultra-aggressive stance since the proclamation of the Trump administration’s South Asia policy in August last year, which it saw as privileging India, in that this policy required Islamabad to take more convincing and concrete measures to curb terrorism.
It would now seem that this is a mistaken impression. In fact, Pakistan began to initiate a distinctly unfriendly line of action towards India as early as May last year when it practically blocked access to Indian government websites.
This created serious problems for seekers of the Indian visa. Evidently, the movement of people was being severely curbed as a matter of policy. In addition, this step also posed practical difficulties for the Indian high commission in Islamabad where officials could not access their own government portals.
Last Friday, the Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi was called home for “consultations”. While this is not unusual, the context in which this has occurred suggests that Islamabad is upping the ante. Theoretically, closing the mission in New Delhi is possible, or at best keeping a skeletal staff here.
While India has returned fire on the LoC, on the diplomatic front New Delhi appears to be keeping its cool, and avoiding escalations. If the direction of Pakistan’s action in the past year is to underline an all-round deterioration in ties with India, the idea could be to raise international concerns and to invite Western intervention on Kashmir.
It is surprising in view of this that New Delhi has not taken overt steps to foil the move. It should have been taking steps to build pressure on Pakistan.