There is so much noise and fury inside Pakistan over the real and imagined motivations of Dr Tahirul Qadri’s Long March and the impact this will have on the country’s future that many Pakistanis have simply missed the sound and fury between India and Pakistan that was mounted after the beheading of an Indian soldier on the Line of Control (LoC).
This is what happened: there was an exchange of fire on January 6 and the Pakistani side alleged that Indian soldiers had crossed the LoC and killed two Pakistani soldiers. The Indians rejected the charge. The Pakistanis retaliated two days later, killing two Indian soldiers. One of the soldiers, Lance Naik Hemraj, was found beheaded — a grotesque, abhorrent act that no self-respecting army should condone.
The beheading has so inflamed Indian public opinion, leading to a sudden ratcheting of tension that Pakistan has halted the cross-LoC passenger bus, as well as trade on the Chakan-da-Bagh crossing point in the Poonch-Rawlakot sector in Kashmir. New Delhi retaliated by asking Pakistani theatre activists and hockey players to leave India and return to Pakistan, one of its most regressive gestures in recent times. Meanwhile, the visa-on-arrival facility for Pakistani citizens of 65 years and above entering India has been put on hold, as if the arrival of old men and women was threatening the unity and integrity of India.
So, let’s ask the basic question that has sparked off the latest nasty furore: who carried out the beheading? And whose interests does it best serve?
Pakistan has denied all knowledge of the incident, something that truly aggravates Indians. The denial has brought the right-wing forces to the foreground in India, leading to familiar tit-for-tat accusations that have succeeded in considerably vitiating the atmosphere. The gains of peace of the last two years that largely came from India, delinking progress by the Pakistani state on the Mumbai attacks to progress in other areas, e.g., in trade and people-to-people interaction, are in real jeopardy.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, has denied that the Pakistan Army carried out the obnoxious beheading and has offered talks on the matter. India should immediately accept her offer, not only because dialogue is the only alternative to diminishing the poison that periodically seeps into India-Pakistan relations but because India should not allow regressive elements to compromise the essence of a secular republic that was forged in similar fires of hate and prejudice. Ms Khar can set the stage by at least acknowledging the reprehensible mutilations of the Indian soldiers. Perhaps, Pakistan, besieged by the fire within, is unable to comprehend the seriousness of the matter and how incidents like these immediately bring up the recurring nightmare of the Mumbai attacks in the Indian mind.
This, then, is the nub of the matter: if Pakistan were to be seen seriously making progress on investigations into the Mumbai attacks, it would strengthen the hands of peacemakers within India and enable them to deflect their own hate-mongers. Pakistan’s inability to make progress on the Mumbai trials is a failure of the government in taking on its own terrorists, as well as a remarkable compromise with terrorist elements.
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists have worn army uniforms to attack military headquarters in Rawalpindi, as well as the Pakistan Navy’s main base. Did the LeT regulars also target and behead the Indian soldier on the LoC last week?
So, what happens now? It would be best for both governments to see sense and immediately call off the hostilities. Once tempers are cooled and the situation is normalised, both sides must seriously think in terms of how greater engagement between Kashmiris from both sides can keep this sanctity alive.
As for India, if it is to continue to think of itself as a unique country and a distinct civilisation, it must look for unique and creative ways in which to transform the behaviour and accommodate the fears and needs of the other country — in this case Pakistan — alongside those of its own citizens. In any case, an eye for an eye is an Israeli speciality, not an Indian one. And as Mahatma Gandhi once said, that will do nothing except end up blinding both sides.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2013.