India is gripped by war hysteria. Its jingoistic media, bereft of editorial responsibility, has come out all guns blazing against Pakistan. Its politicians, especially from the right-wing and nationalist parties, are baying for blood. They want their troops to “behead” 50 Pakistani soldiers and bring home their heads as “trophies” in revenge for the August 6 killing of five Indian soldiers in a cross-Line of Control (LoC) ambush that the defence minister, AK Antony, blamed on “specialist forces of Pakistan Army”.
On the streets, the youth wing of the ruling Congress Party has caused tempers to flare. Its activists organised vociferous protests in major urban centres where Pakistan’s national flag was burnt. In the capital New Delhi, they tried, though unsuccessfully, to mob the Pakistan High Commission. And in Amritsar, they briefly stopped the Lahore-bound Dosti bus and harassed its Pakistani passengers with their menacing slogans.
In the Indian parliament, Antony played to the gallery. He retracted his earlier pragmatic statement and joined the chorus of the hawkish opposition MPs by lobbing veiled threats at Pakistan. Unsatisfied by Antony’s about-face, some opposition MPs urged the Congress-led government to call off a planned meeting between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif on the fringes of the UN General Assembly next month. Others called for scrapping the crucial secretary-level talks for which Islamabad has already proposed dates. Sadly enough, over three dozen top former civil and military bureaucrats also advised Singh “not to rush into dialogue with Pakistan”.
This knee-jerk reaction from India is regrettable. This shows our hyphenated relationship has been caught up in a time-warp since the 1947 Partition. Nothing has changed, at least in India. Rounds and rounds of dialogue haven’t even narrowed down the trust deficit. Detente between the two rivals is as fragile and vulnerable as ever. And one unpleasant incident can undo the gains of years of diplomacy.
India’s overreaction also shows a lack of pragmatism on the part of its politicians. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its like-minded groups used the incident for political point-scoring ahead of next year’s general elections. They are least bothered about the possible dangerous implications of their political short-sightedness.
On the contrary, Pakistan’s response to the Indian belligerence was mature and responsible. Premier Sharif expressed “sadness” over the LoC incident and loss of “precious human lives”. Such an expression of empathy was unprecedented. This shows the statesman-like approach of Sharif, who has come of age. Similarly, the Pakistani media, too, reacted comparatively responsibly and sought to defuse the tension instead of stoking it further like their counterparts in India.
Coming to the August 6 LoC “ambush”. Realistically speaking, the Pakistani military is already stretched too thin. It cannot afford to open another front at a time when it’s fighting two resilient homegrown insurgencies. Also, this is not 1998 nor is General Kayani overambitious like his predecessor.
No doubt, India is a big country. But this doesn’t mean it can coerce Pakistan into some kind of submission. In international diplomacy, sovereign states maintain relations on parity basis. If New Delhi seriously wants to pursue good ties with Islamabad, it has to stop its obsession with the Pakistani military and the ISI, it has to rein in extremists on its side of the border and the Indian media and politicians have to act responsibly. War-mongering will only serve the purpose of hate-mongers on this side of the border and vitiate the atmosphere, which is in neither side’s interest.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2013.
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