Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, Our Time Has Come: How India is Making Its Place in the World; @AyresAlyssa
Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer, Ethan Allen Interiors Inc.; Cofounder, Kashmir Study Group
Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Author, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict
As India-Pakistan tensions reach new heights, panelists examine the current situation, each country’s relationship with Kashmir, and U.S. policy in South Asia.
MARKEY: OK. If I can have your attention. I’d like to welcome all of you to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting on South Asia. My name’s Dan Markey and I’ll be presiding over today’s discussion. Now, as usual, all of you have the bios for our speakers in your packets. So I’m going to introduce them only by their names and titles.
To my far right is Alyssa Ayres. She is a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Our Time Has Come: How India is Making is Place in the World. To her left is Farooq Kathwari. And Farooq is chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc., and he’s also the cofounder of the Kashmir Study Group. And directly to my right is Vipin Narang. Vipin is associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And he’s the author of Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict.
So we come here at—so it always seems to be an exciting time in South Asia for one reason or another. But I think that this has been a particularly challenging past month, more than a little worrisome. And we’re going to get into some of the crisis dynamics. But of course, as all of you in the room, I think, are familiar, we saw a terrorist attack inside of Indian Kashmir. We saw reprisals by Indian airstrikes, a response from the Pakistanis, the return of an Indian downed pilot. And so this is an unusual time in the crisis relationship between India and Pakistan. And we seemed to have survived this particular episode, I think—at least for the moment—but it raises a lot of interesting and important historical questions, underlying questions of crisis dynamics, of politics in the region, and of potential diplomacy both in the region and more broadly, including the United States.
And I want to get into all of these now. So I want to begin with you, Farooq. And I wanted to ask that you might set the table for us a bit about what it is that we’re facing here. I think all of us are somewhat familiar with India-Pakistan dynamics, but maybe a little bit less so in terms of precisely how India and Pakistan, and the particular problem of Kashmir, all fit together. And you’ve had a long and personal experience with this, so if you might start things off.
KATHWARI: OK. Well, thank you very much. It’s good to be here. And I attend many of the meetings in New York. It’s good to be here in Washington as well.
You know, I’d just like to start with quoting the New York Times editorial from March 8, 2019, a couple of weeks back. It says, “As long as India and Pakistan refuse to deal with their core dispute, the future of Kashmir, they face unpredictable, possibly terrifying, consequences.” Now, unfortunately, that has been the case for the last sixty years or so, that they fought three wars, and conditions are not improved. And certainly for the people of Kashmir, it’s a disaster. Being caught up in the middle of these two countries has created—and, you know, from personal experience, our families are still there—they want peace. They want something sensible.
But on the other hand, what’s happened is this. Unfortunately the conflict creates a situation. You mentioned about this question of an attack on the Indian forces, and forty persons were killed, by an eighteen-year-old teenager who, when you read, was injured in a clash with the security forces, and then was influenced by, it appears, outside factions. And he was—joined them, that’s what we hear, and ended up killing himself and the people. It’s a vicious cycle we have seen for many, many times over.
Now, the question really is that for—and when I talk about this, Kashmir, I say that how do we—where do we go from here? And it was—we’ll talk greatly more about it later—but it was in 1996, after a number of meetings back and forth, we established the Kashmir Study Group to look at this problem from a perspective that could—in a manner that I, being a marketing person, developed a focus on, that we should find a peaceful, honorable, and a feasible solution. Not easy. Peaceful, honorable, and a feasible solution. So we started the Kashmir Study Group.
And I’m very pleased that Ambassador Tesi Schaffer is here, and a member—a long-term member. And actually, her husband, Howard Schaffer, Ambassador Schaffer, cofounded the Kashmir Study Group with me. And he also, to some degree, resulted in my coming to America, because as a student I took him around. He was working in Delhi, at the embassy. He came to Kashmir. I’d taken journalists before. And I took him around to different places. At age eighteen, you know, you don’t think. And got into lots of trouble. But he also helped me come to America. So he also helped me found the Kashmir Study Group, along with twenty-four other very, very knowledgeable and leading people.
So I think in my view that there are lots of problems. But this is something that is solvable. So I think when we get into this I’d like to talk a little bit more about what we have done. And I stopped about ten, eleven years speaking about it, because I felt like the parties were not ready. They may not be ready now, but there is an opportunity—as I said, this crisis creates an opportunity. And I’d like to talk about the fact of where we left off and where, perhaps, it can go.
MARKEY: Great. Thanks. So you’ve gotten at some of the localized dispute issues within Kashmir itself. Then there’s the broader India-Pakistan dynamic within which that fits. Alyssa, if I could turn to you, and if you could kind of give us a sense of a bit of the genesis of this latest crisis. I mean, are the stages that led to it, and the perspective, say, on both sides of the border. And maybe if you’re willing to touch on the Kashmiri perspective as well, that would be helpful.
AYRES: So this latest crisis didn’t just come out of the blue. It didn’t begin with the attack on February 14th. In fact, it has been building over a long period. You could take the crisis back decades, if you wish. And longer histories, of course, do that. But I think if we look at this in terms of the most recent round of attack and response you find yourself with a situation where there is an India that has seen a series of terrorist attacks over the last however many years. And successive Indian governments, not only the Narendra Modi government but the UPA government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh tried over many years to reach out to Pakistan, reach some sort of negotiated understanding. They were apparently very close during the UPA period, UPA two.
Look at the Mumbai attacks, which took place. Perpetrated by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Hundred and sixty-six people killed in various sites in Mumbai by a group that has never faced justice in Pakistan. So in India, that kind of put an end to thinking about the feasibility of having a negotiated settlement, a composite dialogue that could achieve something. And you started to hear more from India about the difficulty of maintaining a dialogue with Pakistan while there are still terrorist groups operating from Pakistani territory.
In the 2014 elections in India, the BJP, the Bharatiya Janata Party, led government was elected. This is a government led by Narendra Modi. And this government came to power in part—part of the reason they came to power was an economic argument, but part of it was also the idea of being a much stronger defender of India. The prime minister speaks about the size of his chest, his chest measurements as a sign of his strength. One of the most surprising things was the fact that when Mr. Modi was elected, one of the first things he did was reach out to all the heads of government from all of South Asia, including then-prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif. Those efforts did ultimately not succeed in reestablishing a dialogue. In fact, there was another series of terrorist attacks.
The most notable moment, I would say, from my perspective, was after Prime Minister Modi decided to pop over and visit—(laughs)—Prime Minister Sharif on December 25 in 2015, following Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Afghanistan. He popped over into Lahore. And shortly thereafter, just in January of 2016, there was an attack in Pathankot, in India. So that kind of raised the stakes of thinking about what India’s response should be, because it seemed, from the Indian perspective, that every time people tried to create an avenue for discussion, an avenue for dialogue, what would happen then? Some sort of an attack.
When there was a similar attack that took place in September 2016 in a fairly remote part of Kashmir called Uri that’s very close to the border line of control, the Indian government at that point decided to respond by employing what they referred to as surgical strikes. This had nothing to do with missile or airstrikes. This meant that they infiltrated some special forces across the line of control to carry out what they described as a preemptive action to take out terrorists who were imminently about to infiltrate over. That’s the backdrop then for what happened on February 14th of this year. And the February 14th attack killed more people than the attack in September 2016. So that’s why I think there was a much more elevated sense of crisis, and a much more elevated sense in India of, well, if the surgical strikes weren’t enough of a deterrent, what to do next? That’s, I think, how you get to the situation of the airstrikes.
MARKEY: That’s great. And I want to—Vipin, I want to get you in on the specific crisis dynamics on the military side. But, Alyssa, if I could stick with you for one kind of follow up, just on the politics of it. What’s at stake for both sides? How do the two—and certainly India and Pakistan. You talked a little bit about Modi wanting to look tough, but why is that so important now? What are the dynamics there?
AYRES: So dynamic one, I think, is the fact that over successive years people in India feel like all efforts at peace and dialogue have not accomplished anything. So that creates a kind of escalation dynamic where, well, what do you do next? So I think that’s in the background in any case. And the other thing is that India is heading into national elections. The election schedule has been announced. Some people are probably tracking this very closely. But for those who aren’t, India’s national elections take a long time. This is going to take place over about six weeks—April 11 to May 19. Seven different phases of voting.
This is a lot of time to have 1.3 billion people in your country paying very close attention to everything that happens. So I think there was an element as well of needing to have—needing to be sure that the Indian government’s response was seen as appropriately defending the nation’s sovereignty at a moment where that is particularly important because you’re going back to the voters for another shot.
MARKEY: So the pressure was on. And on the Pakistani side?
AYRES: So Pakistan has a new government—new, relatively, since last July. And I think one of the things we should all note about that election that took place in Pakistan last summer was the degree to which the current incumbent, Prime Minister Imran Khan, was largely seen as being kind of the favored son of the Pakistani Army. So former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif actually is now in jail. Jailed and convicted on corruption charges, a very odd and unusual process having to do—well, it’s too long of a story. (Laughter.) So we can talk about that separately. You may want to talk about that separately.
But one of the things that Prime Minister Sharif had tried to do was really push back and try to regain civilian authority over the country’s foreign policy. And that wasn’t very successful for him. And so you can see the degree to which Pakistan’s military really wants to maintain authority over not just national security, the foreign policy, international economic policy, domestic elections. I mean, so you ended up having a situation where the person who is now the civilian elected leader in Pakistan probably feels quite beholden to the military for being there.
MARKEY: Great. OK, so we’ve got hardline attitudes on both sides of the border. Vipin, that brings you in. So what did you see as this crisis unfolded, or what have you seen since now that we’ve got a slight bit more clarity, that struck you as new, or different, or particularly worrisome?
NARANG: Right. So thanks to the Council for having me. Alyssa, for inviting me. So there’s a narrative out there that India and Pakistan successful managed escalation in this crisis and, you know, they walked away unscathed. I have a different view, which is, you know, one, these kinds of crises are going to happen again. And, second, we were a couple wrong turns and a little bit of bad luck around this really spinning out of control. And so maybe we’ll walk—I can walk through very quickly each phase of the crisis.
The first was February 14, which was the Pulwama attack. And Farooq I think laid the groundwork there, where you had a Kashmiri boy, an Indian citizen, drive a minivan laden with about 100 kilograms of RDX, which is a military explosive, into a CRPF, which is a security—paramilitary force bus in J&K, outside the town of Pulwama. Very quickly, the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pakistan took credit for the attack. And so this kind of short-circuited a real problem that India might have had, which is if not for the attribution right away India would have struggled, I think, to make the link—a definitive link between Mohammad Dar, who was the teenager, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The narrative quickly shifted from Kashmiri boy drives RDX-laden minivan into a bus to Pakistan-backed militant attack. And one question—there are two pieces of that that I think are really important. One is, you have a disaffected youth in Kashmir that is susceptible to radicalization, or you have an Indian citizen being willing to basically, you know, attack a paramilitary bus full for forty CFPF soldiers. And the second piece of this is—and it still puzzles me—why did the Jaish-e-Mohammed take credit right away, and make it so easy for the government of India, the Modi government, to link Pakistan to the attack right away, and short circuit the attribution problem? And that, to me, suggests that there’s a competition potentially going on within Pakistan within the military groups, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and its cousin or sister organization, the Lashkar-e-Taiba. And this doesn’t portend—you know, I’m not optimistic about what this might mean for future attacks, not just against security forces but maybe against civilians in the future. So we may have these attacks again.
The second phase was the Indian retaliation. And Alyssa, I think, laid exactly the groundwork, you know, that led to the attack at Balakot eleven days later, on February 26. So this is the first time since the 1971 war that the Indian Air Force had decided to use and hit mainland Pakistan. Rather than restricting its operations to POK and—you know, in the Kargil War, for example, the Indian Air Force was restricted from crossing the line of control. It hadn’t crossed an international boundary since the 1971 war. Those restrictions were lifted. So this is the first time in almost half a century that the Indian Air Force had hit mainland Pakistan. It wasn’t Punjab. It wasn’t Sindh. It was Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, KPK. So it was an isolated target to minimize civilian casualties. But nevertheless, the Indian Air Force, you know, showed the ability and Modi sanctioned a hit into mainland Pakistan.
That’s the big escalation piece of this that I think India will claim, because as Alyssa said, the surgical strike across the line of control after the Uri attack, which was an insertion of special forces about 500 meters to two kilometers across—you know, as far as the Indian government was concerned, didn’t deter the Pulwama attack. So you have to raise the ante. And so, you know, up until Uri you could have said India through the Congress and the BJP governments had exercised strategic restraint. At the very least, I think the retaliation at Balakot showed that even if strategic restraint generally holds, operational restraints are starting to be lifted. And the sanctioning of an attack on mainland Pakistan is, I think, India showing the resolve—its willingness to do that if attacks continue.
And next time, it may not be KPK. It may be in Punjab. It may be in Sindh. It may be in—around Pakistan. And one of the hand-tying problems that I think Modi may particularly have if there’s a subsequent attack, is he may have to go bigger next time. And that leads to a potential crisis dynamic that we really need to be prepared for. So there’s the domestic political and the strategic element of how the Indian retaliation unfolded. And we’re starting to see India starting to up the ante. So operational restraints—I think tactical and operational restraints are starting to be lifted in the Indian response.
The third phase of this, I think, is probably, you know, the Pakistani response to that, right? So Pakistan—there was a belief that Pakistan would sit back and take an attack—a retaliation in POK. These were kind of the rules of the game that had been established. After to the so-called surgical strike in 2016, Pakistan really didn’t really retaliate. But this time, the Indian Air Force hit mainland Pakistan. So the PAF the next day responded in broad daylight across the line of control, and ditched munitions apparently in the vicinity if Indian military targets. In the course of this, a MiG-21 Bison of the Indian Air Force was shot down, and an Indian pilot was captured in POK.
So now we have a new dynamic to the crisis. And so the Pakistan military and air force couldn’t just sit back and take it, and they responded. The pilot was returned several days later, and the crisis sort of diffused. And both sides walked away thinking they could manage escalation, right? So if both got their shot in, and the narrative now in both Delhi and I think in Islamabad is now, you know, look, they can manage conflict, airstrikes, under the so-called nuclear umbrella. I’m not that optimistic. What if the Indian pilot had been killed as he ejected? What if the Indian pilot hadn’t been turned over right away?
We’re now getting reports that India had readied missile batteries for missile strikes into Pakistan potentially. These are very ambiguous and murky reports, but I fully believe that as part of standard operating procedures it probably happened. And you could have gotten fears of escalation on both sides had the pilot not been returned or had the pilot—had Abhinandan been killed while he was ejecting or on Pakistani territory. And so this narrative that they managed escalation successfully I think turned on a couple, you know, pieces of good luck—that the pilot survived and was turned over, and that the Pakistan munitions as they were ditched didn’t hit a civilian target like a school or a hospital, which would have forced Modi to retaliate even bigger had that happened.
Add all of this—to all of this the masala of Indian nationalism in the mainstream media and Twitterati, and you had a real—all the ingredients for further escalation. And I think we’re really lucky that that didn’t happen. So that’s kind of my takeaway after, you know, the three phases of the crisis.
MARKEY: That’s great. And if I could push you just a little bit further, what are the chances of something like this actually going to the nuclear level?
NARANG: So I think we’re very far away from nuclear weapons being operationalized. Now, the Indian government has been quiet about and ambiguous about whether its nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant, was deployed in the crisis. I’m skeptical of the report, but the Indian government has not denied that it hasn’t got—they claim that its nuclear submarines, plural, and they only have two, a convention-attack submarine the INS Chakra and the SSBN INS Arihant. So if nuclear submarines were deployed, and these are the only two, that means that India deployed its SSBN. They haven’t denied it. They haven’t confirmed it either. But the press release did refer to the plural.
And Pakistan claimed that it was going to convene the NCA and was very adamant that India should understand what it meant to convene the NCA, which is their National Command Authority in charge of nuclear weapons. Personally, I don’t think nuclear weapons are salient in a conflict dynamic until conventional ground forces are involved. And India and Pakistan will say they are far away from that. On the other hand, had Abhinandan been killed or, you know, hadn’t been turned over right away, or Pakistan’s munitions had hit a civilian target, you were hop, skip, and a throw away from, I think, conventional ground forces being mobilized.
And so it’s not hard to imagine how we could have quickly gotten to a scenario where nuclear weapons could have quickly become salient. And this issue of whether Indian actually deployed the Arihant, when I actually don’t believe we’re at a point in a crisis that it should have, if it had that speaks volumes as to how India viewed the crisis and as to when it’s willing to deploy nuclear weapons at sea which, you know, creates its own problems.
MARKEY: Great. So the stakes are very high. They could have been—had a couple things gone wrong, or gone differently, even higher.
Farooq, coming back to you. If I could get a better sense as to how you think these types of India-Pakistan disputes might be better managed looking forward, or what kinds of opportunities? Because it seems that you’re coming back into this discussion in terms of after, you said, about a decade, in the hope that perhaps now would be a time when we could see some forward progress. What does that look like?
KATHWARI: Yeah. I think that—you know, we have mentioned here all of this unfortunately started in Kashmir. Now I go back a little bit, because I think there’s an opportunity again. In 1994—in 1990, things were terribly bad in Kashmir. Some of you know that. And bad for everybody, certainly for the Kashmiris. It was at that time that Prime Minister Rao was there, that they invited me to come there. And we—him and Rajesh Pilot was the minister of Kashmir affairs. And I went to Delhi. And they said: We’d like to see, what can we do? So India was interested. I said, I would like to meet the Kashmir leaders first. They were in—many of them were in jails. So I went to Jails in Jammu, in Srinagar, some of in Delhi. Talked—then I went to Pakistan to meet—Mrs. Bhutto was the prime minister. And I said: We’ve got to find a sensible way out of this. It’s a disaster for India, disaster for Pakistan, and certainly disaster for the people of Kashmir.
They said, proceed with some ideas. And I felt as an individual I couldn’t do it, so I established the Kashmir Study Group. Twenty-four members, leading scholars, former diplomats, even a few members of Congress who were involved with India and Pakistan. They all joined. And in fact, then we sent a team of seven of them to India and Pakistan in 1997 to study. Came back. And it was interesting that people were—people were ready. Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister, Vajpayee was the prime minister, and they agreed that the Kashmir Study Group should come with some sensible options.
And it was interesting that Indian sent a former general and admiral, actually, and a foreign secretary—a former foreign secretary. Pakistan sent a former general, who was actually the boss of Musharraf until he retired, and a former secretary. They all came to our farm up in Livingston, New York. And Ambassador Howard Schaffer, Phil Talbot, some of you folks may know him, Ainslie Embree and a few others came. And there was an incident that really helped shape the debate. And it was the second evening. The Pakistani general was a poet. So the Indian said, why don’t you recite some poetry? And he recited in Urdu. They all understood it.
Then I almost forced my wife to recite a Kashmiri poem. So she did. She does very well. There was silence. The Indians and the Pakistanis said, you know, it’s beautiful, but we don’t understand it. I said, that’s the problem. You don’t understand the Kashmiri culture, Kashmiri language, your aspirations. Let’s do something, because the main problem is the Kashmiri-speaking region. As you know, Jammu and Kashmir was formed like the former Yugoslavia. Fortunately, they kept them into different regions.
Anyway, that led to the fact that Howard Schaffer and the Pakistani foreign secretary and the Indian, we talked—we all went back and forth, talked to the governments, and came with a very simple idea that each of these regions should be given self-governance—we called it sovereignty without an international personality. Demilitarize it, and it was really after that, about a month later, Vajpayee decided to go to Lahore. And in fact, he did something very important. He went to what was called the bazaar at—
KATHWARI: Minar-e-Pakistan, where the Pakistan culture was developed. First Indian prime minister who had gone. And, anyway, the next year—the next year they invited me to come to Delhi. I met Vajpayee’s folks, and I met Kashmiris from Hindus, Muslims, and all of that stuff. And then I was forced to go to Delhi, to Islamabad, and the Kargil situation took place.
And I’m just talking about it because we right now are in a similar situation, where the Kargil led to a tremendous war between the two countries. And Kargil also led to Nawaz Sharif being deposed, Musharraf taking on. And a year later, Musharraf invited me again to come. Now, our members were all involved with me in this. So he said—when I was there, he said, you know, we’re not talking to Vajpayee and the Indians. Could you go there and convey my messages to them? So I did. I went to Delhi, came back. Anyway, the process started, and both of them were ready to find a sensible way out. This is all—if you folks want to—it’s on KashmirStudyGroup.org. You can look at the reports. You can look at how it was developed. And some of you participated in this.
And the result was they were pretty close. And the close was this, and I had to meet with Kashmiri leaders. They, of course, would not commit to anything because they were either controlled by the Indians or the Pakistanis. So Musharraf once asked me. He said, the Kashmiris don’t say much. I said, how will they say? Either you control them, or the Indians control them. They’ll lose their lives if they say anything contrary to what you folks say. Anyway, then he made me speak publicly in Pakistan on national television. For the first time I said things in Pakistan which ten years before that if you had said it, you would be considered a traitor to Pakistan, which is that neither India or Pakistan is going to give up what they have. Whether we like it or not, they both agreed to a plebiscite.
And I asked Musharraf. I said: If there was a plebiscite and you lost, would you give up the territory? He said, no, we would not lose. I said, well, that’s not my question. If you lost, he thought about it. He said, no, we wouldn’t give it up. I said, the same thing the Indians. Why are you fighting for fifty, sixty years, when both of you are not going to give up what you have? Silly. I run an enterprise. Something like that, and we’d be bankrupt if we think these guys—if we do what these folks were thinking. They said, yes. We understand. Come with something sensible.
So what we came up with was ideas to create five units. And of course, all the units had to agree. I had to travel to the Pakistan administrator, to the Indian administrator, to Jammu, and all sorts of—(laughs)—this was not an easy thing. It took a few years. And then, unfortunately, in 2005, a number of things happened. Vajpayee, of course, lost election, Manmohan Singh was also very much strongly in favor, but he didn’t have the same position as Vajpayee was—you know, you need some tough guy like Modi. That’s why I’m talking. Maybe he can do something which others could not do.
So I think there’s an opportunity. I think all of this thing we are talking about escalation. Unless you go and try to solve the basic problem, you’re not going to get out of this. You’re going to get worse. This young kid, eighteen-year-old who detonated, well, the folks—we don’t know whether he was part of Jaish-e-Mohammed or not, but they took credit for it. That’s what we hear. It’s going to happen again and again. I have seen this happening in the last twenty-five, thirty years. So we’ve got to come out of this. Because for India also to have three hundred (thousand) to five hundred thousand troops in an area which is not greater than the state of Maryland, it don’t make sense. So the opportunity is there.
And I think at that time the U.S. government was also deeply involved. And I had an opportunity whether it was President Bush or President Clinton, mostly President Bush. And Shirin is here. And I had lots of meeting with Condoleezza Rice too at that time. They were all involved. The United States was involved. But you’ve got to—but you’ve got not to do it in a partisan manner. That’s not going to help. If you sit here and just blame Pakistan, you’re not going to help anybody. There’s nobody here from Pakistan speaking, which is not right. You should have somebody from there.
Anyway, I think that you’ve got to help them. We can’t basically take sides. You know, for business and everything else, that’s OK. But for me, the people of Kashmir have had a disaster. It’s been a disaster. And when we talk of the fourteen Indian soldiers killed, it’s bad. But seventy (thousand) to eighty thousand young Kashmiris have lost their lives. Nobody talks about it. Hard to go there. Our families are still there. Now, we’ve got to find a sensible way. And I think the opportunity’s there. That’s why I’m speaking.
MARKEY: Thank you.
All right. So I think we’ve set the table. We’ve got a sense of the stakes. We’ve got a sense of the crisis. We’ve got a sense of the stalemate, and then maybe also the need to push through it. So now is a good time for me to open the floor, to invite members to join the conversation with your questions. And before we do that, let me remind you that this meeting is on the record.
KATHWARI: Oh, it is?
MARKEY: And also to wait for the microphone, please speak directly into it, state your name and your affiliation before you ask your question. And when you do ask a question, please limit it to one question and please be concise so we can allow other members to get a chance.
So I see someone all the way in the back with the hand up.
Q: Thank you. My name is Colin Cookman and I’m with the U.S. Institute of Peace.
I was wondering if you could speak to what you believe the threshold for a crisis trigger is on the Indian side? I’m just noting the Uri attack in 2016 was followed by another attack on another Indian Army installation shortly afterwards. And that did not provoke the same sort of response. So if it’s just a matter of scale or number of casualties, then further to that to what extent you think the actors have control over that, or is it just a matter of sort of tactical contingencies? Thanks very much.
MARKEY: Great. Vipin, do you want to?
NARANG: Sure. You know, in the Uri attack—generally the scale of the Uri attack probably wouldn’t have resulted in a response, but I think the nature of that. So my understanding is from across the line of control, Pakistani militants or affiliates, you know, lobbed a couple grenades and you had jawans sleeping, and the tents caught fire. And dying by fire is, you know, a very graphic, horrific way to go. And I think it outraged the Indian public in ways that, you know, some of the other attacks—follow-on attacks—did not. And so it was kind of the nature of that attack. And actually, I don’t think the Pakistanis intended for that. You know, if the Indians had—if the Indian Army or the CRPF had fire-retardant tents, we wouldn’t be having that conversation. And so there’s—you know, it was more of the nature of that attack.
This was—this attack on the CRPF was the largest attack, I believe, on security personnel in a quarter century. So this was scale and also, you know, suicide bomber, and RDX. And so it’s not surprising that this one motivated the Modi government to respond. In a lot of ways—you know, there is this question. You know, is a war zone. Had—an attack on civilians I think, no question, the Modi government has to—feels compelled to respond. An attack on security forces of this scale, probably. But there are daily attacks on security forces and encounters that don’t trigger a response.
And so that’s a long way of saying I don’t have a good answer to your question. It’s also, I think, what catches the attention of Delhi. And some of this—a lot of the day-to-day stuff doesn’t catch the attention of Delhi and the general Indian domestic public. And the problem is, you know, once it catches mainstream media or Twitterati in India, things get off to the races. It’s like kerosene on nationalism, and nationalism on steroids. I don’t know what metaphors I’m mixing—(laughter)—but there’s a—you know, there was—there is an ingredient here. Nationalism can be a very powerful force if you’re Modi trying to get reelected. But it can also spin out of control. And in this case, I think it was very close to that.
MARKEY: Great. Good. Right down here.
Q: Ted Voorhees, Covington and Burling.
No one’s mentioned China yet, so I wonder if you would offer a few remarks on what potential China might play if they care to play a role. Would it be—especially with their activity in Pakistan. Is that role likely to be positive or something else in terms of a move towards peace?
MARKEY: Great. Alyssa, do you want to?
AYRES: Well, we’ve seen a little bit of what China thinks its role should be in this case. Some of the international diplomacy that unfolded after the February 14 attack involved efforts at the United Nations. First, an effort of the U.N. Security Council to produce a press statement, which they did on, I believe, February 22, that press statement. So it included China as a permanent member of the Security Council. That statement condemned the attack. There as then an effort—Pakistan said that China had informed them they would be sending a special envoy to try to mediate between India and Pakistan. Now, when the envoy—who I believe was a vice foreign minister—when the envoy made his way to South Asia, he only visited Pakistan. I don’t know what happened in the interim. Perhaps the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said thanks but no thanks. We simply don’t know. That wasn’t made public. But there was an envoy who did go to visit Pakistan.
There has also been an international effort within the U.N. in something called the 1267 Sanctions Committee, and that’s a sanctions committee that has to do with which kinds of terrorist groups and individual terrorist are put on a big list, and then are part of a process of sanctions that are under U.N. monitoring. So this group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, that claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack, has been on this list since 2001. There have been several efforts over the past, I don’t know, six, seven years to add the founder of that group specifically as an individual—as a special individually-designated terrorist—to that list. And it came to pass at the tail end of—about ten days ago that China placed what was called a technical hold on that effort, to list the founder of this already-designed terrorist group.
So it’s pretty clear that China is not going to go the extra mile to use all the tools of international diplomacy and sanctions on terrorist groups, and that it is supporting Pakistan in that effort. So that’s a cause of some concern. You did a see a number of statements from countries around the world. More than 40 countries came out condemning this attack. It is something that is of great concern. I don’t believe we get to a place of seeing an opening for dialogue between India and Pakistan, and between New Delhi and the different groups in Jumma and Kashmir without relieving this kind of background instability that comes with having terrorist groups that have been openly operating in Pakistan. That’s one of the reasons that I’m so concerned about this kind of open terrorist activity, because it creates no context where you can really hope to get enough space to have that sort of necessary political dialogue to take place.
Q: Tasi Schaffer, McClarty Associates and retired Foreign Service.
First, I want thank Farooq for mentioning my husband’s role in the earlier part of this. I would like to pick up a theme that he put into his book on the U.S. role in Kashmir. It’s a relatively short book. There’s a reason for that. (Laughter.) And that is that it’s much easier to define what you might be aiming at—especially if you’re sitting in Washington—than it is to define how to get there. And the question that I’d like your comment on is, who in the decision-making bodies in India and Pakistan has a real motivation to change the status quo? From where I sit, you’ve got the Indian government and much of the public dug into a narrative that says we absolutely have to defend our hold on Kashmir. And that you have the government of Pakistan equally dug into a narrative that says: We were robbed of Kashmir, and we can’t possibly simply settle along the line of control, because otherwise why have we been fighting and displaying all passion for all these years, which is a truly horrible and depressing argument.
So Vajpayee had the motivation. He wanted to be a peacemaker. You can make the case that Musharraf maybe had the motivation. Neither was in a position to get something through their own political system. Where in today’s world and with today’s leaders do you find somebody who sees this as how they want to put their imprint on history, and not just as the way that they can prove that they’re more muscular than Congress, or more faithful than the wimps who are currently in charge in Pakistan? You know, imaginary words. I’m not calling anybody a wimp myself.
MARKEY: Great. Farooq, why don’t—who has the motive?
KATHWARI: I’ll tell you that, Tasi, when in the ’90s got involved, they were exactly—the position is what you were saying. Well, how are they going to do anything? Then we went—you know, so we went and we saw that the very—in confidential discussions they said, you know, we’ve got to solve it. I’m talking about these tough folks on both sides. They know that they’re not going to win. But they’re not going to admit it. So they needed somebody from the outside. And in this case, somebody from the Kashmir region who would be—who they would accept to some degree, because they would not accept anybody from India. Pakistan would not accept anybody from India. And India would not accept anybody from Pakistan, or the outside. But we had to bring a group of people tighter in a manner that it would also be able to come with ideas that they could sell to their own various people.
And I met the leaders of BJP. I met the leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. Privately they all said, you know, we understood, we got to do something. You go out of the room their positions were quite different. So I think that opportunity is there. And we should not just say—because if we just say, you know, these folks are not going to do anything, it’s a disaster. I met somebody from India last week, a young fellow, an Indian-American. Had gone there from Delhi, came back. And I asked him, I said, what’s the situation? He said, the young folks, and all his friends, from Punjab—Delhi and Punjab—he said, they want these—all these—this is stupid what our leaders are doing. We want this resolved. We want to move forward. But the leaders on both side are—get their people up, their right wings up on both sides.
So there is a constituency, but you got to find a way of coming with something—again, as I said, a peaceful—it’s got to be perceived as honorable, and it’s got to be feasible. And the feasible was, as I said earlier when I talked to the leaders, I said: These folks are not going to give up. I talked to the Kashmiris. The Kashmiris said, in the jails—I met them. They said—I said: What do you want to—what do you want to have? They said, we want freedom. And I said, but how? What? They said, we want the Indian Army to leave, and then we’ll decide. Well, they’re going to leave. What are you saying? How are they going to leave? So what I’m getting at is there’s an opportunity, but the opportunity has to be done in such a manner so that you are able to salvage this pride and this history that both sides have. That’s why I believe that there’s an opportunity, but not easy.
MARKEY: Alyssa, if I could push you a little bit on the post-Indian election scenario. Do you see any opportunity that, say, Prime Minister Modi after elections might be more willing to come forward and engage in a dialogue with Pakistan? Or is that—or is the opposite the case? How do you read the politics there?
AYRES: Well, let me first say that anything can happen in Indian politics. And we simply don’t know what’s going to happen in this election. The prevailing or conventional wisdom is that we are likely to see a return of a BJP-led government, but perhaps with fewer seats than they have had since 2014. Meaning, fewer seats than they have had as a single party majority. If it is a return of a large coalition, or even a small coalition, it’s hard to know. Would the coalition partners be interested in pushing forward on resuming a dialogue with Pakistan and restarting some kind of dialogue with the different groups in Kashmir?
Let me say there—in the Indian-administered Kashmir, there’s actually three different regions. Farooq spoke about his proposal has five regions. That’s because there’s two regions in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In Indian-administered Kashmir, there is the Kashmir Valley, the Vale of Kashmir, Srinagar in the middle. There’s Jammu. And there’s Buddhist Ladakh. So there’s three different regions there. There are also the Kashmiri Pandits, who are Hindu, who there was an exodus in 1990. So there’s an important group from Srinagar, from the valley, that has been displaced all these years. So there are a lot of issues here.
It’s hard to know whether there would be momentum to take this forward. There are some very good proposals out there already. During the Congress-led government they appointed a group of three interlocutors. The interlocutors came out with a report that recommended taking a close look at the status of different kinds of freedoms, at looking at these different kinds of laws that created this very repressive human rights environment with impunity for armed forces. I mean, the interlocutors had a lot of different recommendations. But the UPA government didn’t act on any of those recommendations. So, you know, you’ve got some blueprints already that exist that are homegrown. It would be great if different political leaders finally said: We have some of the ingredients already. Let’s get a move on trying to implement. We haven’t seen that yet. So will the election in India create a better environment? My honest answer is I really don’t know. I would hope so, and there’s a lot of good ideas already out there.
MARKEY: Great. Next? Yes, right here.
Q: Thank you very much to all the speakers. I’m Hyder Syed. I’m at the U.S. Agency for International Development, but I am here in my personal capacity.
A lot of the discourse I think focuses on the two sides, and that term’s been used a lot today, India and Pakistan. But there isn’t as much attention to the principal party, one could say, the people of Kashmir. I was heartened to notice today that that wasn’t necessarily the case. There was a lot of discussion just now, and by Mr. Kathwari in particular, about what needs to be done to engage the people of Kashmir. I would love to ask each of the participants or whoever has thoughts on what more can be done since even as of today we’re still talking about two sides.
MARKEY: Great. Farooq.
KATHWARI: You know, Alyssa just mentioned the fact that there were proposals, these interlocutors were there, and they didn’t go anywhere because it was done in one side. And these were folks appointed by the Indian authorities. And they were basically looking at good ideas, but these ideas were not done in a manner where that all the three parties—whether we like it or not, there are three parties. When you talk about the fighting between India and Pakistan Kashmir is in the middle, but there are three parties. So three parties have to be involved. We’ve got to—in whatever way it does. As we said, when we got involved with the study group, we got all the parties involved. Not only the governments, the leaders of India and Pakistan, but also the leaders of the Jammu and Kashmir.
When I talked about the fact that when we initial met at our farm, and we came with this idea which is called the Livingston proposal, we initially were talking of the Kashmiri-speaking region, which is the main problem. But I found out by going to Jammu and going to the Pakistan-administered, they said: What about us? Because the vested interests have been created there. They don’t want to give up power. So I think there’s a need for involving and perhaps after this election. And I think Pakistan—and I don’t know much about Imran Khan, excepting the fact, like me, he was a cricket player. (Laughter.) So that’s important. It comes with a different perspective. I think it’s possible with him there and with Mr. Modi, if he gets back, there’s an opportunity. But you’ve got to involve all the people. That has not been done so far.
MARKEY: Good. Other questions? OK, here.
Q: Hello. Naera (sp) with Sirius XM Off the Record.
And wondering if there is still a value to track two diplomacy, and if that can have any effect given the entrenchment of the security forces on both sides.
MARKEY: Value to track two.
AYRES: Our whole program is on the record.
MARKEY: Yeah, we’re on the record. You may not be on the record, but we’re on the record, but we’re on the record. (Laughter.) Value to track two diplomacy. A great question. Who wants that?
AYERS: I hope so. (Laughs.)
MARKEY: What do you think?
AYRES: Where do you generate ideas? I mean, very often fresh, new ideas come from parties that are not in the press of dealing with the urgent crises that are part of the warp and weft of government service. So I would hope that there continues to be a role for track two diplomacy. If not, I would be much more worried. But I do think that there’s an opportunity. I mean, you’ve got different organizations. You have human rights organizations. You’ve got international groups that care about the future of peace in South Asia. There are a lot of idea that already exist, as I said. So I do think that there’s an opportunity to try to revive and resuscitate some of those.
MARKEY: Great. Another question. All the way in the back.
Q: Hi. My name is Alexander Slater and I work at the World Bank Group.
Just curious, what do you all think the motive was not of Jaish-e-Mohammed, but—because I think you sort of alluded to that earlier about claiming responsibility right out of the gate, but out of the sponsors, the protectors of Jaish to allow this to happen? I don’t think that—I mean, do you think that Jaish did this without any approval? Or if they had approval, what was the motive of the people who gave them the go-ahead?
KATHWARI: You know, the question is, first of all, we say Jaish-e-Mohammed. They took credit for it. We don’t know, because they would take credit because they want to be recognized. You take a look at—it’s possible. I’m not saying they didn’t do it. But this eighteen-year-old kid was affected. In fact, yesterday or the day before the news is—you folks, of course, don’t read the news about Kashmir—a twenty-four-year-old teacher was killed after torture in a prison, just three days back. You’re going to create more folks who are going to be interested in doing what this young kid did.
Yesterday a seven-year-old kid was killed. Again, the security forces were fighting some people and he was killed. You then create these situations where people are affected. You’re going to have that kind of a situation when you have—it’s unfortunate. And this opportunity is then taken by organizations like Jaish-e-Mohammed, organizations like, for instance, right now—which is unfortunate. In India we have the news that Kashmiri students and others are being harassed. Some have been beaten based on the attack or what took place. So what are you going to do? For Kashmir, it’s a disaster. And fortunately a lot of young people who can are leaving Kashmir and going to Dubai and everywhere else they can. And many of them are also working in many cities in India.
So the issue really is that if we continue with this thing, to have the amount of security forces that are there—it’s a vicious cycle. Like she mentioned about the Kashmiri Hindus leaving Kashmir, it’s a disaster. They shouldn’t have left. But, you know, there are two versions of it. One says they were forced by the militants. The other is the Indian Army asked them to leave so they could then clean up the rest. You know, every story has a different version depending upon who is giving that version. So you have all these versions. And really sometimes only listen to one. But over there, they’re affected by these versions. That’s the problem.
So I think the opportunity over here especially, if there’s—if for welfare of India and Pakistan, to me it’s a disaster. This is a problem of the partition. The way the partition was done was a disaster for both India and Pakistan, and certainly the region like Kashmir. So there is an opportunity. But unfortunately the leaders of the world are not interested. They’re not interested.
MARKEY: So, Farooq, you’ve rightly highlighted the internal Kashmiri dynamic. Vipin, if I could push on this point about Pakistan’s motivations, though. I think there’s a specific question, but there’s a more general question about terrorist organizations based in Pakistan, Pakistani strategic motivations for that, and whether you see any sign of that shifting. Obviously they’ve made some statements. Is anything changing? And if not, why not?
NARANG: No, I mean, I view Jaish and Lashkar-e-Taiba as essentially paramilitary organizations of the state. And it provides them some plausible, but I think increasingly implausible, deniability. But they’re a weak state’s answer to a larger conventional neighbor, against whom it has revisionist objectives. And I think that that’s kind of the underlying structural problem. We talk about the—and Alyssa talked about the backchannel negotiations. And Musharraf—Tesi talked about, you know, Musharraf’s willingness to negotiate with the Manmohan Singh team and the UPA. Everybody knows what the territorial deal looks like. The problem was, he couldn’t control his own corps commanders. And you’ve got veto players.
Mumbai happened just as the backchannel talks were about to yield fruition. And I think that suggests that are there are real actors within Pakistan—that may even be siloed out from, you know, our mainstream security forces—who have vested interests in trying to revise the territorial status quo. And until that’s addressed I think India would be perfectly fine—any Indian government I think would be fine with a—you know, enshrining the territorial status quo in international law. The line of control because international border. Look, we can deal with sequencing on Siachen and Sir Creek, whatever. Those are minor details. But in general, I think India’s objective is to be left alone. The only thing that can slow down India’s long-term rise is a war with Pakistan or China. A war with China is largely unlikely. So if you can solve this problem, if you’re India, this is great. This frees you up from a huge security problem. But you have these venal players.
And it’s no coincidence, I think, also that this comes from Jaish, who was, you know, attacked by Musharraf, put out of business for a while by Musharraf, because they were threatening—I think there were three attempts on his life?
AYRES: They tried to—yeah.
NARANG: Yeah, they tried to assassinate him three times, or more, or less. I mean, they’ve shown a capacity to be able to put these organizations at least in the icebox for a while, right? It didn’t put them entirely out of business for a reason, because they might be useful one day. And as demobilization is happening in Afghanistan, if you’re Pakistan you have all of these returning militants. You don’t want them at home. You need to give them something to do in India again, right? And this is kind of—we’ve seen this movie before in the 1990s. And so there’s a very real structural problem that is very difficult, I think, to unwind, right? So even if Pakistan—here’s the other question for Pakistan.
Even if you wanted to unwind it, how do you unwind it at this point? Because you imbue these groups with enough capability at some point, and firewalls to maintain plausible deniability, they can start running agendas of their own. And I don’t know whether this attack was sanctioned, you know, at the highest levels of security. It may not have been. But at some point the Pakistan security services can’t deny it, because then it looks like they’re out of control. And so it puts them in a real pickle. And that may be the aim of some of these groups too.
So the fact that Jaish was willing to take credit for it right away also to me is still a vexing puzzle. Why would you do that, right? You knew what the response was going to be from India. And if this wasn’t sanctioned at the highest levels, then you risk blowback from the Pakistan security services. If it was, then that suggests something else. And, you know, until we get to the bottom of that, I don’t know what kind of dynamics are occurring within—you know, and the competition between these militant groups in Pakistan could be really bad news for the region.
KATHWARI: Shirin has a—
MARKEY: Can we have a quick last question?
Q: Thank you. Shirin Tahir-Kheli, SAIS, Johns Hopkins.
I’m not sure I agree with the last speaker’s comments about the sort of willingness to live with the internationalization of the line of control, et cetera. If it does occur, unfortunately, there’s a mismatch always between Indian and Pakistani leadership positions, except for those rare occasions that Farooq mentioned. And I’ve sort of been involved in track two which has gone through, particularly in the same period, when there was a convergence. My worry is that part of this reaction to the bombing—the horrific bombing and the cost of lives was sort of a—the Modi government, and perhaps even Indian, distain for the caliber of this very weakened Pakistan. And I think that’s why people were surprised that the Pakistanis, A, had planes that would fly and, B, had pilots who knew what they were doing, which used to be the case of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. So it’s a much more dangerous kind of a mix if the calculation was so we can state internally, few friends externally, and the cost of adventurism is low.
MARKEY: Shirin, we’ll take that as a comment.
NARANG: Well, one thing I don’t disagree with, actually, is I think the Indian—what this episode does show is that the Pakistan Air Force and military is extremely capable. And this notion and narrative in India that it can just impose its will on Pakistan is not true. And Pakistan will—and Pakistan will fight back. And, no, I absolutely agree with that. And I think that’s—you’re right that the escalation dynamics are probably worse than I think the Indian military may have appreciated. They may not have expected Pakistan’s response to be so swift and so big the day after the attack on Balakot.
MARKEY: So I’m afraid we are now over-out of time. I want to—unfortunately we did not resolve the Indo-Pakistan conflict or Kashmir, but maybe next time. (Laughter.) We only had an hour. If you could please join me in thanking our panelists for a great conversation. (Applause.)
AYRES: Thanks, Dan.