India-Pakistan Ties

How India's home minister went from trusting Pakistan to calling it a 'terrorist state'

After the Pathankot attack in January, Rajnath Singh had said there was no reason to distrust Pakistan. The death of 17 soldiers in Uri has changed all of that.

India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday called Pakistan a "terrorist state", saying it needs to be isolated, after a militant attack on an Army base in Kashmir led to the death of 17 Indian soldiers. Four militants struck at a time when an infantry battalion was moving out of the base near the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, suggesting they had prior knowledge about military movements and were well trained. This belief, coupled with what could be among the worst peacetime casualty counts for the military in Kashmir has inspired calls for quick retribution.

This is markedly different language from that used in the aftermath of the Pathankot attack in January, which to some extent was a similar incident. In that case, allegedly cross-border militants attacked an Air Force Base not far from the border in Punjab, killing eight Indians, and managed to prolong the operation against them for several days.

That attack came soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a surprise visit to Lahore to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and seemed to confirm India's worst suspicions of a two-faced neighbour that encourages talks on one hand and sponsors cross-border terror on the other

Yet Rajnath Singh, the home minister in a government that cannot be accused of pacifism, had this to say about Pakistan's promises that it would act soon after the Pathankot attacks.

Indeed, Indo-Pakistan relations seemed at their most sincere in years in the aftermath of the Pathankot Attacks, with Islamabad moving quickly to condemn them and Sharif even ordering a Joint Investigative Team to look into the incident. Sharif and Modi actually seemed to be on the same page for a short time, with both recognising the difficulty of taking on Pakistan's other establishment: the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence.

Washing away gains

But the little bit of trust that had been built up was soon cancelled out, as Sharif's domestic position started to look more tenuous. India allowed the JIT to come across the border to investigate the Pathankot Attacks, but the gesture was not reciprocated. Over the ensuing months, Indo-Pakistan relations have gone from bad to worse, culminating in Pakistan bringing up Kashmir during its Independence Day celebrations only for Modi to bring up Balochistan as retaliation.

Local Indian conditions have also served to make things difficult, because of protests in Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Wani, who had become the face of militancy in the Valley. New Delhi insisted that the widespread protests that took over Kashmir after Wani's death were planned and funded by Pakistan, but the scale of the dissent suggested that it had plenty of popular support as well. The outcome saw India impose one of the longest curfews on Kashmir, more than 60 days, with even Bakr-Eid festivities disrupted by the security shutdown.

Because of the Indian state's macho stance in Kashmir, insisting that India will not back down in the face of protests – a strategy called offensive defense by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval that has caused the death of 81 people so far – New Delhi will find it hard to allow any conciliatory language toward Pakistan.

The interim period between Pathankot and the Uri attacks also saw Modi's government wield nationalism as a cultural weapon to crack down on dissent and the opinions of those who would question the Right wing. Internationally, Modi has made it a point to keep bringing up the support of terrorism by state actors, although Pakistan was rarely explicitly named. The coming United Nations General Assembly was expected to see the same sort of pointed language from India.

Deep distrust 

This in turn also makes it less likely that even the civilian leadership in Pakistan will take the same tone it did in January. As a result, because of Singh's "terrorist" comment and other references from Indian politicians, like the Bharatiya Janata Party's Ram Madhav who said India must take a jaw for every tooth, Pakistan rejected the accusations.

"India immediately puts blame on Pakistan without doing any investigation," said Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria. "We rejected this."

Comments by Pakistan's defence minister reflecting the country's longstanding (but no less terrifying) stance were even more worrisome, until it emerged that he had made them to Geo News , the night before the Uri attack

I don’t think there is any immediate threat (of a war with India) but as Allah has said in the Quran, the horses should be ready. Our readiness should be complete at all times...

We are always pressurised time and again that our tactical (nuclear) weapons, in which we have a superiority, that we have more tactical weapons than we need. It is internationally recognised that we have a superiority and if there is a threat to our security or if anyone steps on our soil and if someone’s designs are a threat to our security, we will not hesitate to use those weapons for our defence.”

Still, as belligerent voices on both side offer up more charged statements, the danger of things getting out of hand – especially with the sight of 17 dead soldiers – seems more likely than ever.

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