Pakistan-India relationship and addressing the Pathankot affair

By Sikander Ahmed Shah and Abid Rizvi ,Dawn/Asia News Network

The attack on the air force base in Pathankot, India, came at a critical juncture in the relationship between India and Pakistan. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan a few weeks prior had indicated a thaw in ties between the two countries, a welcome development considering a series of conflagrations along the Line of Control (LoC) — the military control line between disputed areas of India and Pakistan — and India’s tense rhetoric in the preceding year. However, while combating regional terrorism is a point of convergence for both India and Pakistan and would certainly help strengthen ties, the unique circumstances of the Pathankot attacks call for a more nuanced approach. While it may be sensationalizing for the Indian media to raise unsubstantiated claims vis-a-vis the Pakistani military and the country’s security establishment, such xenophobia not only harms relations between the two states, it also complicates an already complex situation. Evidence is pointing to the involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a banned militant outfit in the Pathankot attacks. JeM is not an indigenous Kashmiri group; it constitutes mostly extremists from Punjab who are known to have perpetrated acts of terrorism. Indian media has claimed that the attackers were dressed in Indian army uniforms (falsely portraying themselves as a member of the enemy outfit) while using lethal force against the airbase. If what is being said is correct then such action would also constitute perfidy, a war crime under international law. Pakistan must actively assist India in bringing the perpetrators to justice for this fatal and brazen attack that can potentially derail the budding peace process. The attack on the airbase will undoubtedly influence future interactions between India and Pakistan, and the two countries must collaborate on curbing regional terrorism.

Acts of Terror/Genuine

Struggle for Liberation However, care must be taken by Pakistan to distinguish between acts of terror and a genuine struggle for liberation. Setting aside political considerations on the matter, the fact remains that under international law the two phenomena can be separated based on the status, tactics and motivations of those involved in armed struggle. Going forward, Pakistan must ensure that it must not sacrifice the Kashmiri cause at the altar of fostering better relations with its eastern neighbor, while at the same time opposing terrorism in all its forms. Thus, Pakistan must fully ascertain the identity and motives of militant groups carrying out an armed struggle for liberating India-held Kashmir, and focus on whether the tactics employed and force used by them is terrorism or complies with the international law of armed conflict. The prime example of when war crimes and terrorism coexist is when civilians are made the objects of attack or when combatants after surrendering are tortured or killed.