By Sushant Sareen
31 March, 2020
The attack on a Gurdwara in Kabul, claimed by the Islamic State terror group but suspected by Afghan and Indian authorities to have been carried out by terror auxiliaries of the Pakistani state is yet another wake-up call that even as countries around the world are focussing all their attention and energies on combating the Covid 19 pandemic, the terrorists and their sponsors are unrelenting in the pursuit of their sinister objectives. If anything, the pandemic is seen by them as an opportunity for increasing their space and extracting whatever advantage they can from the obtaining situation.
File image of security personnel escorting those trapped inside the gurdwara attacked by IS gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan, last week | Twitter | @TOLOnews
The reason for this is simple: while most normal states invariably tend to shift their focus and prioritise the immediate and urgent issues over even critically important and enduring issues, the abnormal states, para-states and non-state actors remain fixated on what they consider their fundamental objective. The pandemic is therefore a double whammy for normal states: even as they are getting stretched because of diversion of attention and resources – men, material, money – to combat and manage the Covid-19 crisis, they cannot entirely afford to neglect the existing security challenges that they were confronting before the virus went viral. But the terrorists and their patrons have neither any compulsion to save lives nor any compunctions about exploiting the situation to their benefit.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, this reality of how terrorists and their patron states operate has manifest itself on numerous occasions, especially in South Asia. Asides of the attack on the Afghan Sikh community, ostensibly in retaliation to the alleged atrocities against Muslims in Kashmir – a dead giveaway about the ghost director of the macabre act in Kabul – there has been no let-up in attempts to push ahead with the agenda on Kashmir, not just at the diplomatic and political level but also through the instrumentality of terrorism. In the last month alone, when the Indian government started going into an overdrive to contain the spread of Covid-19, it was business as usual in Kashmir, with targeted killings of civilians, grenade attacks, recruitment attempts, ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops, infiltration attempts and encounters. Clearly, the concept of work from home (WFH) or rather ‘stay at home’ was not applicable to the Pakistani terror groups.
At the diplomatic level also, instead of focussing on saving their citizens from the ravages of the Covid 19 virus which originated and spread from their ‘Iron Brother’ China, countries like Pakistan are doubling down on peddling their propaganda on Kashmir. One example of this was of course the misuse of the SAARC leaders video conference on tackling the crisis to raise the issue of Kashmir. But Indian protestations were water off a duck’s back for an unrepentant Pakistan. Ironically, even as the Pakistanis were mischievously and disingenuously trying to raise questions about Kashmir, the virus was spreading at an alarming speed in the Gilgit Baltistan region of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. According to the latest count, over 100 Covid 19 positive cases have been discovered in Gilgit Baltistan, access to which is tightly controlled by the Pakistani military. Compare this to only 28 confirmed cases in the UT of J&K (as on March 28). While Gilgit Baltistan is something of an information blackhole because of the tight control over the media in the occupied territory, the deterioration in the situation there can be discerned by the fact that Pakistan army chief had to declare that his forces would ensure that the people were not left in the lurch.
Even as the Covid 19 cases were multiplying in Pakistan, and the Imran Khan government was dithering on what line of action to take – it was only under the pressure of the army that the civilian government started taking some measures to contain the spread – its primary focus remained on how to capitalise this crisis, both economically and diplomatically. Imran took the lead in this when in an interview to The Associated Press (AP) he proposed a “debt write-off for countries like us” to help them cope with the crisis. But a lot of his interview was focussed on his one point agenda of maligning India. The same template – seek handouts and abuse India – was also adopted by the foreign minister. Even when Shah Mehmood Qureshi called his Italian counterpart and expressed sadness over the loss of life in Italy, he quite shamelessly did not forget to ask the Italians to raise the issue of debt relief at the G20 meeting and of course parrot the standard Pakistani lie on Kashmir – lockdown, shortages, detentions etc.
Like most other Pakistanis, Qureshi too is living in a time warp when it comes to Kashmir because the current lockdown is quite countrywide and not Kashmir specific (and even some areas in Pakistan have imposed similar lockdowns). And so far at least there are no shortages of either edible items or medicines in the entire UT, including the Valley. Be that as it may, Qureshi had earlier used a similar tack with his German and French counterparts. Quite clearly, the Pakistani game plan is to use the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to reach out to interlocutors around the world and make a pitch for debt relief while also using the occasion to forward their vile propaganda against India. Meanwhile, as they try to drum up support – they haven’t got any traction so far on either Kashmir or against the Indian government – they continue to keep their jihad factories functional.
The perversity of Pakistan is manifest from the fact that even though they haven’t contributed a farthing to the SAARC Covid-19 fund proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they are hyperactive in demanding that the fund be placed under the SAARC secretariat. Rather than get embroiled in such petty matters, India which has contributed $10 million to the fund has already moved ahead and has set up a website at the SAARC disaster management centre to disseminate information and updates on the best practises being adopted in the SAARC countries against the pandemic. India also chaired a video conference of health professionals from SAARC countries to discuss collaborative efforts in the fight against Covid 19. At the practical level, instead of just empty words being offered by the Pakistani foreign minister, India has been active in providing personal protection equipment to Bangladesh, and readying teams to assist in Maldives and Nepal. Both Prime Minister Modi and the External Affairs Minister have been engaging their counterparts from across the world to discuss cooperative efforts to combat the virus and also about well-being of their citizens.
Compared to the Pakistanis who have been more interested in peddling their petty agendas and in the process showing up both their class and their place in the international pecking order, the Indian Prime Minister took the high ground even during the extraordinary virtual G20 Summit (which Mr Modi had suggested to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman). In his intervention, Prime Minister Modi “underscored the need to put human beings at the centre of our vision of global prosperity and cooperation, freely and openly share the benefits of medical research and development, develop adaptive, responsive and humane health care systems, promote new crisis management protocols and procedures for an interconnected global village, strengthen and reform intergovernmental organisations like WHO and work together to reduce economic hardships resulting from Covid 19 particularly for the economically weak.”
Even as India rises to the challenge posed by the Wuhan virus by focussing all it energies and resources to combating the pandemic both within the country and the neighbourhood, it must not lose sight of the fact that this pandemic is a temporary challenge. To be sure, the world will no longer be the same on the other side of Covid- 19, but some challenges won’t change. Almost all of the old security threats will continue to dog us, and there will be new, and even more potent, strategic threats that will emerge out of the tectonic changes in the global order that will unfold once the immediate crisis is over. Therefore, anyone who thinks that this global calamity will change the strategic calculus of countries like Pakistan is living in cuckoo land. Nothing that has happened in the last few weeks gives even the slightest indication that the pandemic will have nay kind of an epiphanic impact on Pakistan. Quite to the contrary, Pakistan and its terror auxiliaries and proxies will use any and every opportunity to hurt and bleed India. Under the circumstances, New Delhi must not take its eye of the ball insofar as Pakistan and its terror activities are concerned. If anything, even as it fights off the Covid-19 challenge, India should prepare for what will follow once the pandemic is behind us.
Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. @sushantsareen. Views are personal.
Original Headline: India can’t afford to let the guard down on security in coronavirus. Kabul attack shows why
Source: The Print