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India could provoke war with Pakistan in 2020: US foreign affairs expert

ISLAMABAD: Being labelled as an Indian and Pakistani agent at the same time is one thing. Michael Kugelman, the deputy director Asia Program at Washington-based Wilson Center, is perhaps the only man who is also called an Afghan agent – making him a “triple agent”.

“It must mean I am doing something right. That’s all I can say. I feel that if I want to be a good analyst I shouldn’t hesitate to be critical of the countries I study. I study India, Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Kugelman said laughingly while sharing his views on Express News’ talk show, The Review, on issues ranging from Pakistan’s relationship with the US, China, Afghanistan and India and from Kashmir to domestic politics. Asked if he takes it as a complement, Kugelman quipped: “That’s the best way for me to take it; otherwise I will get discouraged”.

About an article he wrote in December last year in which he expressed fears that there was a potential of Pakistan-India war in 2020, Kugelman said, “He did not suggest there will be a war but there is a good chance of a war”.

Explaining the reason, he said the relationship between Pakistan and India is even worse now than it was when Pulwama and Balakot happened. The repeal of Article 370 is such a game changer for this relationship in so many ways, he said, adding that it ratcheted up tensions in a big way. “Let’s say there is another triggering act; whether there is a provocation in Pulwama or something else; it would mean that it would be very hard to deescalate a crisis,” he feared.

Kugelman said the United States and other international players tried to help defuse the crisis last time but it would be a lot harder to do that this time around. “What I also worry about is that ‘India could be the provocateur this time around’,” he added.

“There has been a lot a rhetoric coming from very senior officials in India that at one point they are going to reclaim POK, as they put it.” Kugelman said he has heard this before but the intensity of the rhetoric is a lot more frequent than he is used to.

Last month, new Indian army chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane threatened that his force would take control of Azad Kashmir if the Indian government gave such an order. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said earlier this month that India could make Pakistan “bite the dust” in less than 10 days – a claim laughed off by the Pakistani leadership. While their leaders are stepping up their war rhetoric, Indian troops are heating up the de facto border with Pakistan by frequently violating a 2003 truce between the two countries.

Asked if he think India is serious to trigger a war, Kugelman said: “I can’t say for sure but I think given how the Indian government has proceeded and followed up on a lot of threats that it hadn’t carried out before; whether you are talking about Article 370 repeal, the new citizenship law or building the Ram Temple; I would not be surprised.”

Kugelman’s views strengthen Pakistan’s warnings that India might stage a false-flag operation to use it as pretext for war with Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly warned the international community that Modi, an RSS ideologue, was a threat to not only regional but global peace.

Some analysts believe that the Modi-led India would wait until it receives Rafale fighter jets from France and installs the Russian-made S-400 Defence System as, at the moment, its ageing air fleet can’t compete with Pakistan’s warplanes.

Pakistani PM Imran Khan calls for UN action on India dispute

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan called on Wednesday for the United Nations to help mediate between nuclear armed India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

“This is a potential flash-point,” Khan said during a media briefing at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, adding that it was time for the “international institutions, specifically set up to stop this” to “come into action”.

The Indian government in August revoked the constitutional autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir, splitting the Muslim-majority region into two federal territories in a bid to integrate it fully with the rest of the country.

Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan. The two countries have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.

Khan said his biggest fear was how New Delhi would respond to ongoing protests in India over a citizenship law that many feel targets Muslims.

“We’re not close to a conflict right now. What if the protests get worse in India, and to distract attention from that, what if.”

The prime minister said he had discussed the prospect of war between his country and India in a Tuesday meeting with US President Donald Trump. Trump later said he had offered to help mediate between the two countries.

Khan said Pakistan and the United States were closer in their approach to the Taliban armed rebellion in Afghanistan than they had been for many years. He said he had never seen a military solution to that conflict.

“Finally the position of the US is there should be negotiations and a peace plan.”

In a separate on-stage conversation later on Wednesday, Khan said he had told Trump in their meeting that a war with Iran would be “a disaster for the world”. Trump had not responded, Khan said.

Khan made some of his most straightforward comments when asked why Pakistan has been muted in defence of Uighurs in China.

China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in remote Xinjiang province that Beijing describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out “”extremism and give people new skills.

The United Nations says at least one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained.

When pressed on China’s policies, Khan said Pakistan’s relations with Beijing were too important for him to speak out publicly.

“China has helped us when we were at rock bottom. We are really grateful to the Chinese government, so we have decided that any issues we have had with China we will handle privately.”

Pakistan is partner for peace – and peace alone: DG ISPR on US-Iran tensions

General Asif Ghafoor DG ISPR

Speaking to a private news channel, the chief military spokesperson laid down the country’s stance on rising tensions in the Middle East after Iran’s top military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a United States air strike in Iraq.

The ISPR director general said Islamabad will not become part of any action that undermines regional stability.

“Pakistan will not be a party to anyone or anything but will be a partner of peace and peace alone,” he quoted Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa as saying.

“Pakistan stands for peace and is making all-out efforts for regional peace,” he added. The army spokesperson noted that Islamabad played a significant role in the Afghan peace process but the regional situation had changed due to Soleimani’s assassination.

He said the army chief had emphasised reducing regional tensions in his conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the attack. Gen Qamar has stressed that the tension between Tehran and Washington should de-escalate and the region should refrain from another war, the DG ISPR said.

Earlier, Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui also expressed deep concern over the escalating tensions in the Middle East. “Pakistan has viewed with deep concern the recent developments in the Middle East, which seriously threaten peace and stability in the region.”

The Foreign Office called for restraint and urged Tehran and Washington to avoid unilateral actions and use of force.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration authorised the resumption of Islamabad’s participation in a US military training and educational program to strengthen military-to-military cooperation on shared priorities and “advance US national security”.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have promised to avenge Soleimani’s death and declared three days of mourning on Friday.

Tens of thousands of people marched in Iraq on Saturday to mourn Soleimani and al-Muhandis, chanting “Death to America”.

On Saturday evening, a rocket fell inside Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone near the US embassy, another hit the nearby Jadriya neighborhood and two more were fired at the Balad air base north of the city, but no one was killed, the Iraqi military said in a statement.

Hours later, US President Donald Trump threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites “very hard” if Iran attacks Americans or US assets.

Riyadh forced Islamabad to skip Malaysia moot: Erdogan

“Pakistan did not participate in the KL summit as time and efforts were needed to address the concerns of major Muslim countries regarding possible division in the Ummah,” said FO spokesperson Aisha Farooqui in a statement.

Pakistan would continue to work for the unity and solidarity of the Ummah, which was indispensable for effectively addressing the challenges faced by the Muslim world, she said.

While confirming that the government had decided against attending the summit, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had also said on Tuesday the decision had been taken in order to assert neutrality as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had expressed concerns the move could cause a division among the Muslim countries and lead to the setting up of an entity parallel to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

President Erdogan, according to Turkish media, said Riyadh coerced Islamabad into skipping the summit after Prime Minister Imran Khan had confirmed his participation in the event.

Saudi Arabia threatened to expel Pakistani expatriates living in the kingdom and withdraw the amount deposited in the State Bank of Pakistan last year for shoring up foreign exchange reserves, the Turkish president said.

“Unfortunately, we see that Saudi Arabia pressures Pakistan. Now, there are promises that the country has given to Pakistan regarding the central bank. However, more than that, there are four million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia. They (threaten by saying that they) would send (Pakistanis) back and re-employ Bangladeshi people instead,” Mr Erdogan said.

According to the Turkish leader, Pakistan had to fall in line due to its economic difficulties.

Despite this embarrassing disclosure by President Erdogan about Prime Minister Khan’s absence from the KL summit, Malaysia and Turkey have kept Pakistan involved in the project for setting up a television channel for countering Islamophobia.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah tweeted that Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan would together establish the TV channel. He was clarifying a confusion created by a tweet by the official Twitter handle of the summit, which said: “We are also looking into establishing a TV channel which would be a collaborative effort between Turkey, Qatar and Malaysia.”

Malaysian High Commission in Islamabad tweeted the same message.

Pakistan was part of the project originally agreed at a meeting between Prime Minister Khan, his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad and President Erdogan in New York in September. However, the tweets gave the impression that Qatar had replaced Pakistan in the project after Mr Khan skipped the summit.

However, Foreign Minister Abdullah immediately stepped in, and tweeted: “Correction: its Turkey, Pakistan + Malaysia.”

After the clarification from the foreign minister, the Malaysian High Commission too said: “Our apology for the error — the TV channel concerned will involve the participation of Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia.”

Pakistan, before opting out of the summit, had committed to three projects involving the countries participating in the Kuala Lumpur process. These projects were about media collaboration, defence and security cooperation and the youth.