India vs Pakistan: calm chaos

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

The first few months of the year 2019 marked for the Indian sub-continent a series of events that contributed to overheating the conflict (not even "frozen") between India and Pakistan. Although most political commentators wanted to read in the "border skirmishes" the willingness of the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Damodardas Modi, to manipulate the never-fading contention between India and Pakistan for control of Kashmir for electoral purposes, the 2019 conflict actually represents the beginning of a new phase in the troubled relations between the two states, as well as being a test case for the other great powers (United States, Russia, China) which will be called to decide which types of relationships entertained with the two contenders and how to position oneself with respect to Modi and his future "epigoni" 's claims to claim for India a place at the table of the great world.

The umpteenth escalation involving the two restless neighbors began the February 14, when a suicide bomber aboard a vehicle filled with explosives blew himself up at the passage of a large convoy of the "Central Reserve Police Force" (CRPF ) in the district of Pulwama, in the western part of Indian Kashmir, killing no less than 40 policemen and wounding as many in what has been the most serious attack in Kashmir territory for many years. But unlike what happened on other occasions, this time India has decided not to "turn the other cheek" and instead vigorously counterattacked.

Twelve days later, the 26 February, with a complex air operation, 12 Mirage 2000 of the Indian air force (photo opening) bombed an alleged training ground of the "Jaish-e-Mohammed" terrorist formation located in the town of Balakot, located in Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, marking the first ever opportunity in which Indian planes trespassed for air operations in Pakistani territory since the 1971 war.

The following day the Pakistani air force in turn carried out an attack in Indian territory ("Operation Swift Retort") to which the Indian air force responded by sending its fighters to intercept Pakistani intruders. In the subsequent short air battle, it appears that the Indian air force lost two Mig-21 Bison while those in Pakistan would have lost an F-16. No losses were recorded between the Pakistani JF-17 (photo) and the Mirage 2000 and the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI Indians also participating in the "duel in the skies".

The event has left a legacy of heavy aftermaths that have persisted even though several months have passed. First of all, the soothing gestures (such as the release of Abhinandam Varthaman, commander of a flock of Indian air force taken prisoner by the Pakistanis) have failed to stop the border incidents which are still continuing, albeit at a more contained pace. Secondly, the geopolitical crisis in general and the positions taken by the various international players, in addition to the repercussions they had on the balance of Indian domestic politics, have contributed to giving a new qualitative dimension to the events whose real effects could be felt in a long time.

Among the various countries that have expressed their concerns through diplomatic statements regarding the crisis, particular attention must be paid to the perception that the Indians have attributed to those of the United States, Russia, China, Iran and Turkey. Both Turkey and Iran have proposed themselves as mediators, however, while New Delhi has for decades established a relationship of mutual collaboration with Tehran, the episodes of Ankara have been received with remarkable coldness, not to say annoyance.

Since the "reis" of Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, began to use the "Sunni Islamic solidarity" charter more often to pose as a new champion of the Islamic world, Turkey has derailed more and more from its historic position of equality between the two contenders and ended up flattening on the positions of Pakistan, becoming one of the most important partners on the international scene. The dynamism of the Turks on the political scene of the Indian subcontinent is not at all liked in New Delhi and it is indeed possible that the not so veiled Turkish support for the Pakistanis, combined with the increasingly inflamed rhetoric that Erdoğan uses about the Kashmir issue will lead to an inevitable deterioration of relations between Turkey and India. The situation in Iran is diametrically opposite.

Despite the fact that at first sight the "Republic of the Ayatollahs" and the "Most Populous Democracy of the World" have very little in common, in reality the two countries have built a solid strategic relationship (net of rare Iranian positions that are not exactly conciliatory on the question of Kashmir but which represent more faults than façades that are substantial) precisely in anti-Pakistani function. Despite the fact that both Iran and Pakistan are formally "Islamic republics", the prevalence of Shia Islam and Sunni Islam, the conflicting geo-strategic interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia and the protection guaranteed by Pakistan in Saudi Arabia respectively and to the other Gulf countries, all mortal enemies of the Persians, have inevitably led the two countries on the collision course, and indeed have further strengthened the strategic Iran-India agreement already roughly sketched at the end of the era of the Shah and off become a de facto partnership.

Here, then, that when Iran acts as a mediator of the Indo-Pakistani conflict, the authorities of the "Hindu" state are more inclined to positively accept the offer rather than those of the "Muslim" state. Even during the last contest, China proved to be the best international "guardian" of Pakistan. In the prudent position taken by Beijing, one can see the need by the great Asian power to continue to protect a "customer state" increasingly dependent on the generous funding of the Chinese giant but at the same time holds considerable levers of pressure against the 'Middle Empire given the importance that the stability of Pakistan and its infrastructure play in the development of the so-called "New Silk Road". China also sees in the continued strengthening of its partnership with Pakistan a very useful tool to contain India, therefore it cannot be said that the leaders of New Delhi harbor any kind of illusion about the intentions of the "mandarins" of Beijing .

On the contrary, the Indo-Pakistani crisis has once again consolidated the privileged relationship that has existed for decades between New Delhi and Moscow. Having no vital interest in the Indian Ocean and in the areas facing the subcontinent, Russia is perceived by the heirs of Gandhi and Neru as the only among the great powers with which India can have a real "joint" relationship and the recent rapprochement between Russia and Pakistan will not change this state of affairs by a comma.

The decision by Pakistan to add Moscow to the list of its arms suppliers, has not encountered particular opposition on the Indian side and indeed, the authorities of the "Hindu" state have subsequently confirmed all the multi-billion dollar contracts stipulated in the past years with the industries of the Kremlin defense.

Those who risk actually coming out of it with the "broken bones" from this situation are the United States of America. In recent years, in fact, the politicians and strategists of Washington had worked hard in an attempt to open up the very rich Indian defense market also to the US military industries. Moreover, in circles of power as in think-tank the stars and stripes are increasingly talking about the need to add India to that elusive "bloc of democracies" that should work in unison to stop the Chinese rise and continue to guarantee American dominance in the world. Except that this theory is hopelessly clashing so much with the "non-alignment" policy, which India has always stubbornly refused to abandon, and with India's long-term interests to become the new naval power of the 21st century that should supplant just the USA.

In essence, net of today's disputes that oppose them to the Pakistanis and the Chinese, the Indians never forget that, in the long run, the enemy to beat will be the USA. It is interesting to note that the fact that the Pakistanis have used the F-16 and the American-produced AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles to deal with Indian aircraft has been welcomed by both the press and the population as a genuine affront, just as the USA are engaged in the effort, so far in vain, to push India to cancel its important contracts with Moscow while trying to sell to the Indian Air Force new versions of the F-16 against which the arrows of the journalists from all over the subcontinent.

It therefore appears clear that the infinite Indo-Pakistani contention has finally evolved into a new round among the great world powers to impose its influence in this difficult area of ​​the world.

Photo: India MoD / Pakistan Air Force / Presidency of the Republic of Turkey / Kremlin