SEEMA MUSTAFA | 5 JANUARY, 2015
India Pakistan Sabre-Rattling Turns Dangerous
Pakistan fishing boat with ‘explosives’
NEW DELHI: The sabre-rattling between India and Pakistan is turning serious. Charges and counter charges are taking a dangerous turn, as New Delhi forces the pace and Islamabad responds with both governments showing little will to stem the tide of fast deteriorating relations.
In relations as vexed as between the two South Asian neighbours there has always been a tendency towards rapid escalation, with the exchange of letters between the Ministers of both Foreign Offices and the boat “blown up”in mid seas now flashing clear ‘danger’ warnings. More so as there is no effort to bring the two warring sides on the same table, with Track 2 initiatives supported by the respective governments usually having run aground.
The ceasefire violations along the Line of Control marked most of 2014, with both sides accusing the other of crossing the breach. While firing across the borders has been fairly commonplace insofar as India and Pakistan are concerned, this time the ferocity resulted in deaths of soldiers and civilians living in the border villages. This then turned into official protests lodged by both sides, with the various steps established after years of dialogue such as meetings, hot lines between the two armies to keep the Loc calm failing in the face of what is essentially a political offensive.
The start of 2015 has pushed the face off into the next stage. And this is visibly more dangerous and inflammable. One, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz wrote to India’s Minister of External Affairs Sartaj Aziz maintaining that the Rangers recently killed along the borders had actually been ambushed while they were attending a ‘white flag’ meeting they had been invited for by the Indian side. In his letter on January 2, Aziz had alleged that two Rangers had been killed in cold blood by the Indian military at the International Border after being called for a meeting on December 31.
Swaraj in her response now has stoutly denied this maintaining that a routine BSF patrol with a flag came under sniper fire from a Pakistan Border Post, resulting in the death of one soldier and serious injuries to another. She has reportedly pointed out that Pakistan escalated the confrontating by using higher calibre weapons and expanding the conflict to other sub-sectors and civilian areas. She said that there had been no white flag meeting at all.
Aziz in his letter wrote that the Border Security Force troops "invited the personnel of the Punjab Rangers for a flag meeting, but greeted the unsuspecting soldiers with a volley of unprovoked fire, causing severe injuries to two soldiers. The unabated Indian firing denied timely medical attention to the wounded soldiers, who succumbed to their injuries".
Upping the ante, Pakistan foreign secretary Pakistan foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry strongly condemned the killing of his soldiers maintaining that India had breached their trust. He communicated the same to Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan TCA Raghavan making essentially three points: 1) India had breached trust; 2) Pakistan was not involved in terror attacks on Indian soil and 3) it was not in Pakistan’s interest to ratchet up tension on the LoC and International Border as it was engaged combating terrorism and militancy across the country.
Significantly Pakistan has formally informed the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the European Union through their representatives in Pakistan, taking the issue to another level altogether. The Pakistan Foreign secretary urged the heads of missions of the specific countries to intervene and counsel India to “refrain from actions that threaten peace and stability in the region.”
India has now claimed, amidst considerable scepticism at home, that the Coast Guard intercepted two Pakistani fishing boat carrying ‘terrorists’, moving towards Indian waters from Keti Bandar near Karachi. And that while one disappeared, the other blew itself up when chased by the Indian Coast Guard to escape capture. The normally gullible Indian media also did not accept this story on the first day, although by the second it was ‘backed’ by the government with reports of ‘intercepts’ that confirmed that the ‘terror’ boats were in touch with the Pakistan army. The Indian Navy has not confirmed the incident. and 1000 odd boats at sea and in the vicinity during the time have not reported any unusual movement or explosion of the kind being referred to.
Pakistan has denied that any such boats sailed from Karachi, maintaining that India was trying to tarnish its image.
Although there is no way of independently verifying these claims and counterclaims, with the media being dependent entirely on the briefings on either side, both incidents suggest a major escalation in tensions. The respective charges that Pakistani soldiers were killed in cold blood, and that a ‘terror’ boat heading towards India was intercepted by the Coast Guard play into the fears of both countries. The first by Islamabad heightens apprehensions in Pakistan about India’s “muscle flexing army” and the second by New Delhi feeds directly into Indian fears of a terror attack from across the border.
Both are emotive issues with the potential of raising temperatures rapidly in India and Pakistan with the voices for peace rapidly disappearing under the belligerence being demonstrated by both governments. After the first visit by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony there has been no bilateral contact between the two leaders for the better part of 2014 despite opportunities proffered by the United Nations General Assembly in New York and the Saarc summit at Kathmandu.
The New Year has registered a decisive turn for the worse, with the two incidents above making it clear that the movement remains towards war and conflict, and certainly not peace. There has been no indication from the new government in New Delhi that it continues to recognise the basis for the composite dialogue that had resulted in some little movement forward over the years in that exchanges of fire between the two countries along the borders had stopped, and a system of contact between the two militaries established.
The composite dialogue had identified eight issues for dialogue including terrorism, Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek. Headway had been made on Siachen and Sir Creek at different points in time, and although neither issue had been clinched both sides maintained progress here, Joint cooperation to tackle terrorism was under discussion as well. However, the abrupt cancellation of the foreign secretary level talks by the Modi government following what had become an almost routine meeting between the Pakistan High Commissioner in station and the Kashmiri separatists has cast a big question mark over the dialogue per se. There has been no commitment from New Delhi about the dialogue, whether it will be resumed at all, and if so in what form?
US President Barack Obama’s visit as the special guest for India’s Republic Day Parade is being seen here as an endorsement of the new government, which includes the current policy on Pakistan. This despite repeated pleas by Islamabad to the US, where even the Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif has informed Washington about their concerns about the escalation of hostilities on the eastern front at a time when all efforts are required for the operations against the Taliban on the north-west front. This has not elicited a major response except for Washington’s usual reiteration of supporting good relations between the two countries.
So far there is no indication of a willingness to back off. Pakistan initially tried to keep tensions from blowing out of hand despite New Delhi’s hard line, but there seems to be a strategic shift now, with both the government and the Army going back to the anti-India rhetoric. The Pakistani defence minister’s recent statement is a firm indication of this."In the past six-seven months, we have tried to better our ties with India so that peace can prevail. But it seems that they do not understand this language," Defence minister Khawaja Asif told reporters in Islamabad. He further added, "I believe, we will now communicate with India in the language they understand.”