India-Pakistan: Substance or Just Rhetoric?
NEW DELHI: India has been shifting the goal post on Pakistan constantly since the Uri terror attack that mowed down 18 young soldiers at the Army base camp. From a military response India has moved to the diplomatic isolation of Pakistan and at the moment of writing is talking of turning off the water taps, as well as freeze trade with the neighbouring country.
The flow of rhetoric has been pushed by an over exicted media, and sections of the strategic establishment that have been insisting on a ‘befitting military response’ since the Uri attack. There was a media led cacophony to retaliate against Pakistan. RSS and now BJP leader Ram Madhav set the tone at the very beginning by demanding a jaw for a tooth.
In the process the government has run through the entire gamut of options, ruling each out one by one. After a meeting of the Cabinet Committee for Security there was an almost immediate scaling down of the military option. PM Modi in Mann Ki Baat said, “I pay my tribute to soldiers who lost their lives in Uri terror attack, the culprits won't go unpunished.” Suggesting what the media insists is the option of covert action he further said,
“For us citizens, political leaders there are many opportunities to talk and we do talk But the Army doesn't talk. They speak through their valour.”
The immediate retaliation that many in the strategic establishment and in the media were looking for has been ruled out after some thought and deliberations as it was clear that military retaliation was not an option that India could take without seriously antagonising the world and opening up the possibility of a nuclear conflagration. Sources said that neither overt nor covert was really an option at this point in time, as the US is working to exit from Afghanistan and will brook no diversion.
It was then made out that the PM had given instructions to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. To support this the media started putting out reports that the UN and the UN Security Council members were all supporting India and had effectively snubbed Pakistan. That this was not true was evident from the statements issued by the UN, US, UK and China that condemned the terror attack, but did not mention Pakistan even indirectly.
It was then reported by the media that Russia had cancelled scheduled military exercises with Pakistan. This was denied by both. It was apparent from the reactions that the world was busy with its own affairs, and strategic equations, and would not prepared to isolate Pakistan at this point at least. More so, as it remains a valuable ally for the US in Afghanistan having been able to influence the return of anti-India war lord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through a peace deal with Kabul.
PM Modi then held a meeting on the Indus Waters Treaty against the backdrop of media reports suggesting that the government was moving to review and abrogate this."Blood and water cannot flow simultaneously," PM Modi is said to have told a meeting on the Indus Water Commission. However, it was made clear after this round of consultations that there was no move to review the Treaty or abrogate it. Only the bilateral mechanism set up to sort out related problems will be suspended for the moment. This, in effect means, that all issues of controversy will now be sent to the international arbiter that is the World Bank. It will have no impact on the working of the Treaty, for the moment at least. As reported again by The Citizen, New Delhi cannot move to abrogate this without serious consequences.
In between PM Modi decided to speak directly to the people of Pakistan at his first public speech since the Uri attack at Kozhikode, Kerala. This was sound on rhetoric but had little by way of substance and concrete suggestions for action. “Sacrifice of our 18 jawans will not go in vain,” the PM said. “Let the terrorists make no mistake, India will never forget the Uri attack… We will leave no stone unturned to isolate Pakistan in the world.” To the Pakistanis the PM said, “your rulers are misleading you by singing songs on Kashmir and reading out scripts written by terrorists on Kashmir. You should ask your leaders why India, which was created along with Pakistan, exports software and Pakistan exports terror… You should ask them why they were not able to handle East Pakistan, and why they cannot handle PoK, Gilgit, Sindh, Balochistan and Pakhunistan…?”
Now the Prime Minister is looking to withdraw the Most Favoured Nation status given by it to Pakistan unilaterally in 1996. Pakistan has not reciprocated, thereby the full impact of MFN having been thwarted. As sources pointed out, withdrawing the MFN status to Pakistan will at best be symbolic as bilateral trade between the two neighbours has still to take off.
Meanwhile the Opposition has started pot shots at PM Modi and the RSS/BJP for not following what it had preached in the past against Pakistan. Congress leaders point to Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj’s speech when Pakistan decapitated two Indian soldiers, demanding the heads of 10 Pakistani soldiers instead. Aam Aadmi Party has started using the social media to mock at the government’s inaction after Uri, pointing to a similar silence after the attack on the Pathankot Air Force base. Instead, the government allowed a Pakistan ISI officer to visit our base, the AAP posts suggest. The loud rhetoric does not seem to have convinced the Indian Opposition.