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A ‘False flag operation’ occurs when elements within a government stage a secret operation, whereby government forces pretend to be a targeted enemy while attacking their own people or targets. The attack is then falsely blamed on the enemy in order to justify war against it. False flag operations conducted by a state usually include attacking their own land and blaming their adversaries or terrorists for carrying out these offensive attacks, which may also act as grounds for foreign aggression. This phenomenon has become increasingly normal practice in recent years. It is considered as a tool of coercion to provoke or justify war against adversaries. Also, false flag operations can be a single incident or a series of deceptive incidents materializing in a long-term strategy.

Serving as a tool of covert operations, war tactics, and espionage, false flag operations also embrace elements of psychological warfare, fabricating historical incidents and staging a conspiracy. In South Asia, India has utilized the tool of false flag operations against all its neighbors to further its own strategy to keep them under its hold and influence.

Pakistan has been India’s favorite target with an aim to malign Pakistan. From unrest in New Delhi after a terrorist attack on the Parliament to the chaos in Karnataka, Pakistan has been held responsible for every incident of restlessness in India. India not only makes false allegations and accuses Pakistan but also persuades other states to think likewise. However, India has thus far failed to produce any evidence to corroborate its accusations. Pakistan has taken various measures to counter India’s fake allegations and accusations, as well as the hype created by the Indian media, with restraint and logic. Pakistan has also taken up India’s defamation campaign with major capitals of the world and to the International Court of Justice to counter an aggressive campaign aimed at harming Pakistan’s sovereignty and its international repute. Pakistan has demanded proof from India after every such accusation, but the latter has failed to produce any convincing evidence. It is important that Pakistan respond to India’s devious tactics through law fare to expose the latter’s manipulative policies against Pakistan.

Possibility of Next False Flag Operation: An Analysis

Pakistan and India have managed to avoid a major war since both became declared nuclear weapons states. The apparent unbridgeable distrust between the two countries, India’s shift towards extremism and the ideology of Hindutva, reluctance by the major powers to adopt a non-discriminatory stance (membership of NSG and UNSC), and the major powers’ one-sided view of developments in South Asia, particularly with regard to India’s illegal, unilateral, and provocative actions in Indian Occupied Kashmir, have heightened the risk of escalation of tensions between the two adversaries. It is, therefore, important for the leadership in both countries to step back and devise ways to reverse the current negative trajectory that could unnecessarily end up in a serious military crisis with far reaching negative consequences for regional as well as global security.

Pakistan’s civil and military leadership has repeatedly pointed out that India is planning another false flag operation against Pakistan to divert attention from its internal issues and the failure of its external policy, especially after its embarrassment in the Galwan river standoff with China.

Moreover, Pakistan has kept the international community informed about the possibility of India’s adventurous ideas by escalating yet another Pulwama-type false flag operation, Pulwama-II, to justify hot pursuit again in Azad Kashmir or even on the international border with Pakistan. India’s current leadership is much more rabid in its animosity towards Pakistan and has time and again declared its intention to “teach Pakistan a lesson”. Any active military confrontation gain between the two nuclear states would spell disastrous consequences for regional and global peace.

Some lessons that may be useful to predict the direction of future crisis are as under:

  • First, the existence of nuclear weapons would continue to remain a key factor in deterring a major war between the two nuclear states, but the perceived instability at the lower spectrum of conflict could lead to uncontrolled escalation and miscalculation in an emotional political environment.
  • Second, the non-state actors have the potential to start a military crisis, especially if the political environment in Indian Occupied Kashmir continues to remain unstable for an extended time.
  • Third, the growing influence of extremist Hindu ideology in India’s decision-making process could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation that may be difficult to manage.
  • Lastly, Prime Minister Modi is a populist leader; his reckless nationalistic politics, and the false sense of superiority over China among the Indian masses as well as Indian institutions, prevent him from acknowledging the tactical defeat at the hands of PLA in the Galwan Valley. Instead of accepting the defeat, Modi will most certainly try to divert the attention of the Indian people as well as of the international community form this humiliating event. It is being widely speculated that the Modi government, in conformity with India's past record, will try to make Pakistan a scapegoat  for its own failures, and initiate a tactical attack on Pakistan. This would, in Indian analysts’ view, help Modi to stay in power and divert public opinion at home. Therefore, it is equally crucial for Pakistan not to fall in the BJP’s trap. The international community must be kept in picture through Pakistan missions abroad, particularly at the UN about India's war-craze.

Policy Options for Pakistan:

It is not in Pakistan’s hands to prevent any false flag operations from the Indian side. However, Pakistan can take certain measures that can protect its interest and reduce harmful impacts of such an eventuality. Some measures are flagged below:

  • Pakistan must consistently expose India’s hostile and aggressive designs through international institutions and major capitals.
  • Pakistan must use international media as a tool to propagate its case.
  • Pakistan's intelligence agencies, the media and academia need to remain vigilant and closely monitor Indian activities against Pakistan.
  • Pakistan must keep a close eye on the developing situations in India-China and India-Iran relations.
  • Pakistan should also expose Indian involvement in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This can be done through investigative journalism and should not only include the names of those Indian involved, but also the stories of victims from Pakistan to add the human element to the story.
  • The media in Pakistan needs to be re-educated on lessons of national pride and patriotism. During the tensions after Pulwama attack, some Pakistani media channels deliberately supported India's flawed narrative and cast doubts and disliked Pakistan’s security forces, while the Indian media did not deviate from the Indian official narrative.

Pakistan has been exploring all avenues that would maintain peace on its borders with India. Pakistan does not wish to engage in hostilities with India and has imaginatively avoided taking the Indian bait that might lead to military confrontation between the two nuclear states. It has made several gestures and overtures in the interest of ensuring peace and stability in the region. However, India perceives Pakistan’s gestures as a sign of weakness and has been aggravating the security situation on the Line of Control to draw the region in a disastrous full- fledged war. Despite a remarkable show of restraint, Pakistan has effectively demonstrated its capability to respond to any aggressive Indian designs. However, hawkish Indian leaders led by Modi do not consider peace as their priority as they are driven by an ambitious and exclusionary Hindutva mindset. It would be best for Pakistan to adhere to a coherent strategy of its own, that is aligned with its identity as a nation-state, and its history as a civilization, as it suffers the ambitions of a an intolerant and aggressive India fueled by rising Hindutva. The world must pay attention to the fact that the Indian nuclear arsenal has now fallen in the hands of the fascist BJP government which is supported by the well-known extremist organization RSS and could be used in a false flag operation to blame Pakistan.