India Pakistan Turn Back The Clock, Perhaps Irreversibly
An Indian army soldier stands guard as villagers cross a gate that leads to the Line of Control
NEW DELHI: Diplomacy exists, one had presumed, to strengthen relations between countries, to sort out thorny issues, and to move the world gradually towards the soft space with more order, less chaos, and of course greater bonhomie. But after 9/11 militarism has replaced diplomacy, with the United States taking the lead and wannabe countries trying to follow the same approach without a thought spent on the consequences.
The chequered history of India-Pakistan relations has within weeks turned the clock back sharply, with little indication that the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi now have even a shred of the political will required to swing the pendulum back to at least January 2014, if not earlier.
As journalists well versed in reporting on the two countries know that both have the capacity to create shadows where there are none, and fire at the bushes while creating perceptions at home that the ‘other’ and not the ‘we’ are responsible for escalation of tensions. The media---regardless of course of its own over-hyped jingoism that was so much in display in recent weeks---has no choice but to accept the government’s version as it does not have the ability or the resources to investigate the truth for itself. And so has to go with official figures of say infiltrations, deaths along the Line of Control, and as to who started the firing.
That the exchange of fire is taking place is not in doubt as the villagers living on either side of the Line of Control start fleeing in panic, their lives disrupted, their close ones dead, as India and Pakistan indulge themselves in war rhetoric and war action. This time apart from the many dead, over 20,000 villagers have been displaced with their homes destroyed in the aggressive and ugly barrage of continuous firing as both countries sought to exercise their ‘macho’ right to war, and their insistence on teach each other a less, over 60 years after Independence.
Without going into the proverbial chicken and egg story that both India and Pakistan have become so adept at articulating, it is clear that there was a major escalation of hostilities at the border. Who started it is always secondary to why it was started. And why at this stage there was no attempt to even talk to each other, and find a way out of the mess that now has Pakistan reviving its demand for the implementation of the United Nations Resolutions on Kashmir and Plebiscite, after a ten year hiatus.
Clearly there was not just a miscalculation but a deliberate strategy to push matters towards the brink. And while there are many proffered explanations for this---one being the desire of both the Sharif and Modi governments to consolidate at home, the first with the Army and the second with the electorate in Maharashtra and Haryana---this is clearly not the full story. The answer lies in the belief that the natural state between India and Pakistan is animosity and hostility, one that has never been given up by the establishments of both countries that rule the roost. The rest is semantics, or atmospherics.
After the Pakistan Army wrested whatever little power that the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif had tried to acquire, it had to flex its muscles to demonstrate its control over policy on India. Similarly after the RSS/BJP came to power in Delhi, it had to demonstrate that its agenda on Pakistan was as hard line as it had always claimed, and that there was no question of softening its position despite some handshakes and embraces at the onset. Both supported by a permanent hardline establishment that outlives governments have thus ensured that once started, the face off marked by rigid posturing, escalated into positions that have again created uncertainty and insecurity in the region.
The exchange of firing that went on for days registered no movement by either side to activate the Line of Control protocol that had been set up by New Delhi and Islamabad after the Kargil conflict that had brought the two armies to an eyeball to eyeball confrontation and alarmed the world. To reiterate, it is immaterial who started it. It could even be a hyper local commander as has happened at times in the past. The real issue is: why was it not stopped. And why instead has it been allowed to escalate, despite the knowledge that hostilities between the two countries can go out of hand at a moments notice?
Pakistan has now upped the ante, with the letter from its National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon asking for the implementation of the UN resolutions, The significance might have escaped the media here, but has certainly not passed the collective wisdom of the Indian establishment. It is a major setback to bilateral relations with the letter to the UN firmly taking the issue out of the bilateral realm and placing it back on the international forum. And this can set of a chain of responses, not immediately but definitely in the not so long term, that will add to the many complications outside Jammu and Kashmir that India still has to grapple with.
For Pakistan, it is a return to the position always strongly advocated by the Army there. Former President Pervez Musharraf used his clout within to drop the UN resolutions deliberately from the discourse, but now that it has been brought back it is very clear that it will be pursued with the same intensity as in the past. For India, this might prove to be more than just the usual irritant this time around given the changes not just globally, but within Jammu and Kashmir. In other words, it cannot be dismissed as just a routine gesture, as it is one, a reversal in policy and two, has more substance than sound given the absence of a political will in New Delhi and Islamabad to bridge the gap that is seeming more and more irreversible in bilateral relations between the two countries.