Misfire and Fury
With the latest slugfest, both India and Pakistan have painted themselves into a corner from which there are very few rational choices left
Like a Greek tragedy, every new play scripted by India and Pakistan to improve relations between them ends up with either a sad or bad ending. That narrative hasn’t changed despite the emergence of a new actor on the scene: Imran Khan. The cricketing legend-turned-politician and now prime minister of Pakistan had complained during his election campaign that he was portrayed in India as a Bollywood villain. Khan was being presumptuous. Many Indian experts regarded him as a sidekick of the Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, whom they consider the big baddie.
Backed by the Pakistan Army, Khan rode to power on the plank of forging a ‘Naya (new) Pakistan’, ridding the country of corruption and setting right its flailing economy. Khan also signalled that he was willing to start a new innings with India. Just a month into the job, he was writing a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which he said he was keen to move forward on resolving all outstanding issues, including Kashmir (Pakistan’s core concern), terrorism (India’s biggest concern) and trade relations. He suggested that the respective foreign ministers meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly currently on in New York to “explore the way forward”.
India cautiously accepted the offer but, within a day, reversed its stand and said the talks were off because of “deeply disturbing developments”. The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson cited the “brutal killings” of India’s security personnel and the recent release of 20 postage stamps by Pakistan glorifying terrorists who have targeted India as the reasons. He went on to state, with unusual harshness, that “the evil agenda of Pakistan stands exposed and the true face of the new PM of Pakistan Imran Khan has been revealed to the world”. Khan then hit out at Modi, tweeting: “All my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture.”
The Indian statement was found wanting on several counts. The offending stamps were issued in July when Khan was not in power, and it is a massive intelligence failure if India has discovered them only now. As regards attacks on security personnel, the BSF soldier was found dead with his throat slit on the International Border (IB) a day before India accepted the talks offer. The one new development was the abduction and killing of three Jammu and Kashmir policemen. But given that there has been a series of such incidents in the Valley in the recent past, the Indian government’s knee-jerk reaction remains puzzling.
Indian sources claim that our intelligence agencies had solid evidence that Pakistan-supported terror groups had killed the three policemen in the Valley to disrupt the forthcoming panchayat elections. They maintain that if Khan was sincere, he should have got the army to turn off the tap on terrorist attacks in the run-up to the talks. They believe Khan’s effort was more to score brownie points internationally and ease the pressure Pakistan faces from major powers to curb terrorism. If that was India’s assessment, it should not have agreed to talks in the first place and avoided doing a flip-flop that belies any claim of foresight or strategy.
The outcome of the latest slugfest is that India and Pakistan have now boxed themselves into an even tighter corner than before. With both countries adopting even more rigid postures, there are hardly any rational choices left. The Modi government should introspect as to why, despite its professed muscular approach, the political situation in Kashmir remains a mess. And why it is unable to deter Pakistan from stirring up trouble in the Valley at will or even manage relations with it effectively. The onus is also on Pakistan, particularly its army chief. If Bajwa claims that like Khan he wants peace between the two countries, then the minimum requirement is to ensure his army observes the ceasefire agreement on the LoC and stems the flow of infiltrators into the Valley. There is always hope and scope for new beginnings, but the key is to guard against tragic endings.
If India thought Imran’s offer was just an effort to score international brownie points, it shouldn’t have agreed for talks in the first place