Pakistan is trying to build its anti-India narrative where it wants to project India as a threat to not only Pakistan, which has been its stance for decades, but India as a threat to the entire Muslim population of the world.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed India for the terrorist attack in Balochistan on 3 January, which killed 11 coal miners belonging to the Shia Hazara community. The Islamic State, which has frequently targeted the minority group in Pakistan and Afghanistan, claimed the responsibility of the attack. However, Imran Khan said that “India is backing the ISIS” and the Indian government wants to spread unrest in Pakistan. 2020 saw aggravated tensions and the worst phase of the relationship between India and Pakistan and a complete absence of diplomatic dialogue. In recent times, we are increasingly seeing Pakistan’s antagonistic exertions to amplify its anti-India narrative. While the verbal assaults from Pakistan’s civilian leadership have sustained the momentum of bitterness, Islamabad has repetitively accused India of sponsoring terrorism within Pakistan, conducting regular attacks through hybrid warfare and spreading fear amongst the people of Pakistan. Islamabad presented a dossier against India projecting New Delhi as a sponsor of terrorism and has frequently highlighted a threat of false flag operation and surgical strikes by India in the last few months. The efforts in Pakistan for a strengthened narrative can be understood in the light of developments at the domestic front and the international level in terms of its foreign relations.
Internally, Pakistan is experiencing a severe second wave of the pandemic, which is weighing heavy on Pakistan’s weak healthcare infrastructure and economy, which is struggling with high inflation and debt repayments. Prime Minister Imran Khan is facing anger and denunciation from the opposition parties, who have aligned under the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and conducted successful rallies demanding Imran Khan to step down. For the first time, the all-powerful Pakistan military is being overtly disparaged for its active political role and being held responsible for the malfunctioning of the country. Pakistan is trying hard to stay out of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklist and wants to desperately send a convincing message to the global community regarding the sincerity of its actions against terror financing. The military lobby has invariably gained stronger control and, at present, multiple influential positions in the civilian domain are held by military personnel.
Externally, Pakistan is experiencing critical shifts on three fronts:
- With the Biden administration coming in, Pakistan is apprehensive regarding what shape its relationship will take with Washington and it is trying to rebuild its image. It anxiously wishes to counter the US-India strategic partnership.
- With China, the alliance remains strong. Although there are some reported delays in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. India and China continue to be engaged in a nine-month-long standoff in Ladakh and the relationship between the two countries is in deep crisis. The tensions are unlikely to resolve anytime soon and Pakistan sees this as a strategic opportunity to intensify its anti-India posture and strategy.
- With Saudi Arabia and the Organisation of Islamic States (OIC), while Pakistan’s relations have been under stress, but it is excited that it managed to convince the Islamic countries to discuss Kashmir. UAE signing the peace deal with Israel and its recent decision of blocking visas to 11 Muslim countries including Pakistan has added to Islamabad’s existing discomfort.
Pakistan is trying to build its anti-India narrative where it wants to project India as a threat to not only Pakistan, which has been its stance for decades, but India as a threat to the entire Muslim population of the world. It is repeatedly trying to create war hysteria, which essentially enhances the indispensability of the military’s dominance in Pakistan and also projects India as a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty, survivability and stability. In its attempt to seek broader consensus on its Kashmir policy, it has also tried to highlight Islamophobia at the national and international levels, including the United Nations forum. Since its inception, Pakistan has relied on building and sustaining narratives of threat perceptions, India’s hegemonic ambitions against Pakistan and its victimhood. Consistent narrative of its threat perceptions strengthened the military’s dominance and paved the way for Islamabad to build alliances with major powers and procure much desired military aid and equipment. It is the narrative of insecurity and victimhood that Pakistan has used to rationalise the build-up of its vast nuclear arsenal and also to justify its unwritten nuclear doctrine of “First Use”. The need for narratives has been strong in Pakistan given the fact that the nation failed to build its strength within and continued to fall behind India in most of the socio-economic parameters. With the continuing domestic pressures and alterations in foreign relations, Pakistan’s attempts to bolster its anti-India narrative are likely to continue.
Dr Shalini Chawla is Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.