By B.G. Verghese
The hubbub over the recent cross-LOC firings appears to be subsiding following some deft handling by the Government of India in the face of an ill-considered clamour for immediate retaliation. There are two national versions of what triggered the action. There is substance in Delhi’s view that Pakistan once again resorted to covering fire to aid cross-border jihadi infiltration into J&K. Be that as it may, the fact is that two patrolling jawans were killed on the Indian side of the LOC by Pakistan fire and left mutilated, with one corpse beheaded. This is utterly barbaric conduct and violative of the rules of war and theGeneva Convention. It is the bland refusal by Pakistan to acknowledge and investigate this outrage that inflamed Indian opinion, with strong demands for a retaliatory strike.
Strong Indian army evidence failed to evoke a credible response, with Islamabad offering a UN Military Observer Group investigation before being compelled to conduct bilateral Brigadier-level and then DGMO-leveltalks. The UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan was rendered effete by the Simla Agreement in 1972. Thereby Pakistan agreed to deal with all future J&K matters on a bilateral basis and to convert the ceasefire line (CFL) into a Line of Control (LOC), thus moving from a military to a political line in a progression leading to its future acceptance as a settled boundary within J&K. This was not a unilateral imposition by a victorious Indian Army, following the liberation of Bangladesh and cessation of hostilities, but a Treaty signed by the two Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
By invoking the UNMOGIP, Pakistan sought to resurrect its role, revive the UN Resolutions and revert from a political LOC to a military CFL. These would undo the Simla Agreement and once again internationalise the J&K Question. If this was the intent, the gambit failed. Even so, it suggests that some elements are working to revive the status quo ante in J&K and move backwards to rekindle “the unfinished business of Pakistan”.
Pakistan’s trump card has been to ask how its troops orjihadis could cut through India’s electrified barbed wire fence along the LOC and then penetrate further into Indian territory to ambush Indian patrols and plant the Pak Ordnance Factory mines found buried there. The answer is that both sides are mutually bound by CFL-LOC protocols to refrain from constructing any structures or defences within 500 m of the LOC. Why this simple explanation was not made widely known once again betrays a continuing communications failure on India’s part. Even the Pak Foreign Minister, Ms Khar, silenced Indian interlocutors with this untenable retort.
The latest LOC spat also saw Pakistan bluster as usualwhen caught with its hand in the till and, when cornered, cynically plead that it would be best to forget the past and move on. The ISI’s sponsorship ofseparatist militancy and cross-borderjihadi terrorism in J&K is no secret. That this trend saw a rise in 2012betrays the growing dichotomy between those in Pakistan who feel that the only way to prevent the country from self-destruction is to come to terms with India, hitherto seen as a permanent enemy, and others who think that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 could see a turnaround in favour of jihadi warriors out to punish India. The Pakistan establishment seems split on this issue and hence the many contrary voices and doublespeak emanating from Islamabad.
The current impasse in Pakistan has witnessed the Judiciary, or a loose-cannon chief justice, taking on the Government with the backing of the mullahs, including a new cleric, Qadri, and the Army. This speaks of a nation at war with itself, with sectarian violence reaching new heights of bigotry as Shias are routinely slaughtered. The military’s two voices are in the open. Genera Kayani and the latest 2013 “Green Book” have been dovish in enunciating Pakistan’s latest military doctrine vis-a-vis India even as the same Kayani and the ISI chief met with a “moderate” Hurriyat separatist delegation from India last December days after theirmeeting HafeezSaeed of the LeT/JUD and Syed Salahuddin, the Hizbul chief. According to a Hurriyat spokesman, both jihadi warriors told them that with the US exit from Afghanistan, the militants would gaina commanding position in Kashmir, compelling India to “bargain sincerely”. Newly-elected sarpanches in J&K are already being targeted.
Rather than fall prey to Indian extremists,Dr Manmohan Singh has quietly but firmly stated that there can be no business as usual until those responsible are brought to book and Pakistan provides evidence that it is living up to its promises. This “delayed” statement by him has been criticised by the BJP and others but marks a sensibly graduated Indian response despite Pakistan upping the ante. Islamabad again postponed the grant of MNF status to India on January 1and then blocked the cross-border bus service in the Poonch sector after the border skirmish on January 8. India was unfortunately stampeded into postponing inauguration of the new visa-on-arrival scheme and putting a brake on sporting and cultural exchanges after crude and ill-informed utterances by ranking BJP leaders. SushmaSwaraj advocated a policy of ten heads for one and NitinGadkari wished India to go to the U.N. Sections of the Indian media went ballistic, with amagisterial Times Now TV anchor displaying what seems to be becoming habitual un
professionalism, irresponsibility, arrogance and open bias in resorting to warmongering in violation of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.Other commentators like YashwantSinhawanted the Government to define its “Plan B” should Pakistan not mend its ways.
This sort of imbecility points to the need for political parties and media houses to train defence spokespersons to comment on such sensitive issues. It also reinforces the need for a regulatory framework for the media, which most democracies have instituted or refined. Freedom cannot mean licence. At the same time we must not shut our eyes to rising faith-based revivalism manifesting itself in denigration of other faiths and by concocting history, Pakistan style, in furtherance of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other right-wing chauvinism by fundamentalists of all hues. The latest exposure of the saffronisation of school texts in Karnataka and opposition to the naming of a new Central University after Tipu Sultan in Srirangapatanamare only the latest examples that cut across faiths and parties within the edifice of India’s hollowing secularism. We must beware the rise of a new divisiveness under the banner of not a two but a five-nation theory that the State is allowing to take root or even fostering.
Meanwhile the Government is moving ahead with taking out its reform agenda from cold storage. The raising of railway fares has been followed by expediting environmental clearance for key projects, and a rise in diesel prices as a first step towards deregulating that commodity and reducing untenable subsidies. As expected, the BJP, Leftists and MamataBannerjee, humbug gurus all, have protested while demanding a tax-the-rich policy and perpetuating ruinous subsidies even as they seek aid-packages for the States controlled by them!