The Institute of National Security Studies, Sri Lanka (INSSSL) held its inaugural ‘Security Salon’ at the Ministry of Defence on Wednesday October 5, 2016. The Security Salon created a space in Colombo to foster intellectual, diplomatic and political debate and deliberation on a specific topic by a select audience. The guest speaker on the topic “Indo-Pak Situation” was Professor Emeritus S.D. Muni, Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses(IDSA), New Delhi. The first meeting of its kind in Colombo, the session was chaired by Secretary of Defence Sri Lanka Eng. Karunasena Hettiarachchi with the opening remarks delivered by Director General INSSSL Asanga Abeyagoonasekera. There was participation of research officers from INSSSL,Ministry of Defence, scholars, members of the diplomatic community and armed forces.

In understanding the protracted Indo-Pak conflict as a hindrance to unimpeded regional development, Prof. Muni drew to contextualise the problem as one that goes back seventy years. The conflict may be understood as explained by him as a series of connected events through history which cannot be treated in isolation to one another. However, he restricted his remarks to focus on the current situation.

Prof. Muni addressed the question as to whether the recent attack by the Indian forces against Pakistan was cross-border firing or a ‘surgical strike’ as specified by the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) in India. The Indian Army’s defence is that they were trying to foil a “terrorist attack” with a surgical strike whereas Pakistan argues that it was a cross-border issue. However, the consequences of this incident has led to far greater activity and tensions at the line of control.

His remarks were focused on how the latest exchange differs from previous incursions, as for the first time India has officially claimed responsibility for the attack, the international community has been briefed and Prime Minster Modi has also released a statement in this regard. Therefore he stressed that now Pakistan needs to respond with caution in order to avoid further escalation of the conflict and that both governments need to exercise strategic restraint.

The speaker however noted that there have been some retaliations and threats despite these efforts with statements from Pakistan reiterating that they are a nuclear weapon state and there could be a bigger war. With regard to India’s attacks, he stated that internal pressure on the government from the opposition and media could have led to the strike. As for consequences, Prof. Muni  remarked that new red lines have been drawn between India and Pakistan although in his opinion it will not result in the end of cross-border terrorism, largely because of internal Pakistani politics and dynamics.

The implications of this situation on SAARC and the smaller South Asian states was also a point of debate at the Security Salon. Territorial tension between these two parties has now accelerated to bring out new threats and challenges to dismantle regional security. South Asia being especially vulnerable to regional and international calamities has been facing challenges to maintain its regional solidarity, cooperation and integration. However, Prof. Muni placed SAARC in the context of other regional groupings such as the EU and ASEAN which have their own internal struggles for survival and continuity drawing to the conclusion that  setbacks such as the present situation must be overcome in order to such important organs of regional importance to continue. He concluded his remarks with the hope that the tense situation would not escalate, and slowly regional relations would come to a normal place.

At the interesting discussion that followed, with comments on there was no credible evidence to prove the attack was a surgical strike and also questioned India’s actions in sabotaging the China-Pakistan economic corridor instead of joining to increase productivity in the region was discussed with views from India.

The premier national Think Tank for Security Studies, INSSSL aims to understand the national security environment with regard to regional and global security dynamics and work with the Government of Sri Lanka to craft evidence-based policy options and strategies through debate and discussion in the interest of national security. As such, the first Security Salon was a success in being a platform for debate and deliberation of an important issue in the region at present which could well have implications for Sri Lanka.