Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma


Once more, when better relations between India and Pakistan were on the horizon, expected to be anchored by significant easing of the onerous visa requirements on the citizens of the two countries and a major expansion of cross-border trade, a series of tit-for-tat attacks across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has plunged relations back to the murky depths from which they were due to emerge.


According to most mainstream Indian media, the provocation was a dastardly assault on Indian border guards by the Pakistan army resulting in the beheading of one Indian jawan.  BJP as is to be expected went on the warpath clamouring for 10 Pakistani soldiers’ heads for every Indian one.  PM Manmohan Singh who has doggedly pursued peace with Pakistan, was compelled to go on the defensive and take back much of what he has been saying for the last several years.


However, an article in The Hindu quotes Indian Army officials who had a very different account of the events; of how a relatively small incident spiralled into a series of murderous clashes.  According to these officials, both armies engage in aggressive actions that are driven by the constant need of maintaining an advantage in the still-fraught situation on the Line of Control.  This is only to be expected when hundreds of thousands of heavily armed soldiers confront each other across a murky border, notwithstanding the Eid and Diwali bonhomie that also occurs between their officers occasionally.

India has little to gain from stirring up war-fever with Pakistan and a lot more to lose if the chaotic internal situation in Pakistan is intensified further by jingoist rhetoric.  Denying visas to the elderly, caving in to the Shiv Sena in not letting the Pakistani women’s cricket team play in Mumbai, and expelling Pakistani hockey players or poets and actors and singers are childish and silly acts unworthy of India.  There is nothing that the government can do that can satisfy a rabidly communal group like the Shiv Sena and there is no need to cater to them or their utterly obscurantist views in this matter.

No doubt in the dire scenario unfolding in Pakistan, the Army there has its own compunctions and dilemmas as it seeks to walk a fine line between multiple jihadist groups, some of which it nurtured earlier, the various political parties and groups and civil society.  No doubt also it is loath to relinquish its role in a country which it formally ruled for almost half of the country’s existence.  However, it is in the interest of the region as a whole, which is also India’s interest, that peace be maintained to allow people-to-people contacts to intensify and create a constituency for closer relations.

Diplomacy India-Pakistan: Unrest, Conflicts and War


“After this dastardly act,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday, “there can’t be business as usual with Pakistan.” Dr. Singh’s tired words — and his government’s dreadful decision to postpone the start of visa-free travel to India by senior citizens from Pakistan — suggest the relentless political attacks on his Pakistan policy are taking a toll. This is not good news. It is entirely true that the beheading of Indian soldiers on the Line of Control was a despicable act that must be condemned. It must also be candidly admitted, though, that Pakistan has not had a monopoly of wrong-doing in this case. It was only in March that Defence Minister A.K. Antony informed Parliament of Indian protests against Pakistani construction along the Line of Control. Now, no less than India’s Chief of Army Staff Bikram Singh has confirmed reports in The Hindu that India, too, was doing exactly the same thing. It is pointless to ask who cast the first stone. The need now is to strengthen the restraint regime on the LoC. Few spectacles have been as unedifying as the contemptible baying of warmongers these past days — most of it, it bears mention, emanating from TV studios located at a safe distance from the nearest bullet. It is hard not to contrast Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj’s ugly calls for 10 Pakistani soldiers to be beheaded in retaliation with the studied restraint of General Singh. No one who has seen war casually calls for the blood of soldiers to be shed — or believes they can predict, with any certainty, what the consequences of war will be.


Four propositions must be clearly understood. First, ever since General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani took office as Pakistan’s army chief in November 2007, his covert services and armed forces have engaged in a carefully calibrated escalation of hostilities — hoping to roll back the détente initiated in 2003, but also seeking not to invite international condemnation. Second, India has few military options to address this situation. The potential costs of war, and the risk of nuclear confrontation, far outweigh those of the low-grade conflict India now faces. India has covert and conventional means at its disposal which have been exercised — and could be exercised to greater effect. However, precipitating a crisis serves the interests of Pakistan’s generals — not Indians. Third, denying visas to elderly Pakistanis or stopping hockey players from participating in Indian tournaments will not make our borders or our civilians safer. This is the behaviour of a spoilt child, not a strategic actor. Fourth, real gains have been made since 2003, not the least a ceasefire and de-intensification of cross-border terrorism which has saved the lives of thousands of Indian soldiers. Nothing ought to be done to jeopardise this. Not every malaise has a cure; some can only be managed better or worse, and certainly not through indiscriminate blood-letting. India’s relationship with Pakistan is one of them.

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