Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma


Many of the saner political observers on both sides of the Pakistan-India border have noted with dismay the steady downturn in the relations between the neighbors since the beginning of this year. There was the reported killing of five Indian soldiers on the LOC (Line of Control) in J&K in January, including the gruesome beheading of Lance Naik Hemraj.  This was followed by bellicose propaganda in the Indian media and among right-wing politicians against the Pakistan Army to cut off ten heads of Pakistani soldiers for every Indian one. Ever since then, there are almost weekly, if not daily, reports of cross-border shelling and small-arms fire causing the deaths of not only soldiers but also civilians in both countries.


The Indian media, including both the print and electronic media, have continued to respond in an extremely jingoistic fashion egged on by the cheerleaders of the BJP, as is to be expected. The Indian government led by the Congress has responded in a confused and dithering fashion, which, given its own political and governance problems at this time is also, perhaps, to be expected.  In contrast, the Pakistan media, particularly the English language newspapers, has been both muted and rational. As noted quite correctly in Pakistani newspaper Dawn’s editorial on August 26, “Precious lives have been lost in border firing incidents…  — with each side blaming the other. All these lives could have been saved provided there was in place a corrective system which swung into action at the first sign of tensions.”


Assigning blame in this situation, in the context of the 60-plus year history of tension and incidents along the LOC, may seem to be an exercise in futility given that any random hostile incident by an uncontrolled actor leads to a sequence of events that is entirely predictable. Given that at this time neither government benefits in any way from initiating hostile actions along the LOC, what is clearly needed is a way of managing and de-escalating any flare-up. But this is not going to happen at some lower bureaucratic or military level that can, at best, only execute what has been decided at the highest political level.


The new government in Pakistan, led by Nawaz Sharif, has repeatedly stressed its interest in improving Pakistan-India relations and the Pakistan Army, beset as it is by a full-fledged internal armed opposition led by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, is hardly likely to be launching adventures along the LOC. This leaves, of course, the alphabet soup of jihadi groups in Pakistan, LeT, JeM, etc., some of them no doubt nurtured by the Pakistan Army in the past, and it is very likely that one or more of them could feel their ideological, material, and political interests undermined and threatened by an Indo-Pak rapprochement, which makes them likely candidates for instigating actions along the LOC that will be certain to provoke an Indian Army response. The toleration extended in some parts of India to the wilder fringe of Hindutva is leading to the emergence of similar armed groups in the context of India who have clearly initiated terrorist actions such as the bombing of the Samjhauta Express, the mosques in Malegaon and Ajmer, and so on, but no one has suggested that they have the capability or indeed the motive to initiate terrorist actions along the LOC. So jihadis in Pakistan must remain the main suspects, and since they are also opposed to many features of the current Pakistani state and society, it is as much in the interest of Pakistan’s government as it is in that of India’s that ways and means be found to defuse the ability of these groups to provoke armed clashes between the armies of the two neighbors.


Hence it is imperative that Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif meet as soon as possible to lay down a set of principled agreements that their bureaucrats and military can then transform into mutually agreed-on procedures to ensure tranquility along the LOC. India’s PM should ignore the aggressive posturing of the Hindutva politicians and the armchair hawks on India’s TV channels as it is definitely not in the country’s larger interests.

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