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

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