Has the hotline that connects the DGMOs of India and Pakistan suddenly gone cold? And have the sector commanders also forgotten the rules of engagements across the Line of Control (LoC)? The unprovoked and excessive Indian firing that we have witnessed recently across the LoC is unprecedented, especially when the targets of such firing are innocent civilians. Why would India resort to such military methods of engagement?
More than anything else, the sudden flare-up at the LoC is a reflection of an Indian mindset that is now ready to play ball. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned from a very successful American visit, where he agreed to play an active role in America’s new Marshall Plan — ‘The Asian Pivot’. Ready to act as the loyal deputy, India is putting up a little show to demonstrate that the agreed-upon ceasefire in 2003 will no more be a barrier for it. This ‘military window-dressing’ is meant to demonstrate the hard Indian military power.
The strategic allies of the new Marshall Plan have agreed to expand their political and economic ties. Militarily, both India and the US have jointly agreed to fight extremism and provide a balance against China’s growing military power in the region. To do that, India needs to demonstrate that its military has not gone soft and is not ‘gun-shy’. Will the most powerful country in South Asia, with a trigger-happy army, be able to execute the American strategy in the region? Can the leadership of a country, which cannot maintain agreed-upon ceasefire agreements across the LoC and which executes the dangerous delegation of authority to its army to commit military abuses, be trusted to act as a major American partner to fight extremism in South Asia? We had Americans giving us many lectures on military morality when we were its major non-Nato ally. Will it now question this unprovoked Indian military abuse that targets innocent civilians?
It’s only during time of hostility that the traditional military command structures delegate maximum authority to the commanders on the ground. There is no doubt that the excessive use of force across the LoC, which has resulted in civilian casualties, has been subjected to ‘preliminary pre-clearance’ by the highest responsible authority in India. Soldiers only execute orders and when such orders result in the death of innocent civilians, they no more remain soldiers but become members of ‘private hit teams’, who kill people on orders of those executing the agenda of state terrorism.
India has accused Pakistan of carrying out heavy mortar shelling and firing in the Jammu and Poonch sectors. It has also accused Pakistan of infiltrating militants across the border. Such accusations are a norm. India claims that the time for such infiltration across the LoC is now — before the winter sets in. Even if we accept Indian allegations, what right does India have to target and execute innocent civilians across the border, working in the fields and residing in their houses?
Indians are internally battling the Naxalite insurgency and the Maoist movement is also active in the country. India is also home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. It is understandable and very much in its interest to check the rise of extremism. But to do that, it needs to engage Pakistan, not as a regional hegemon with a large standing army threatening to overrun its borders, but as a neighbour that is ready to resolve all disputes in an environment of bilateral friendship and cooperation.
The revival of the Indian economy that Prime Minister Modi promised the Indian voters and who gave him the landslide victory will not materialise by becoming a gun-toting loyal deputy marshal to the Americans in the region. India, as America’s new strategic ally and partner, may be ready to execute the US-approved shift of regional order, but it may do well to consider its political, economic, as well as military repercussions. You can change your partners, but you can never change your neighbours.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2014.