Line out of control?
20 August, 2013
By Yasmeen Aftab Ali
I do not want to talk about the statement of the Indian Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in The Washington Post on January 20, 2013, accusing the Hindu nationalists of promoting terrorism and blaming it on Muslims. I also do not want to talk about the statement of Raj Thackeray, stating that the killing of Indian soldiers at the Line of Control (LoC) was carried out by the Indian government itself to divert the attention of the people from the multiple internal crises faced by the Indian nation and reported on several Indian TV news channels on January 16, 2013.
What I want to talk about is what possible advantages either Pakistan or India may reap, in originating the crossfire at this point of time and the negative fallout of the action. I guess, we need a reality check! ASAP!
Pakistan is besieged by problems. Too many. It has terrorist threat. Sectarian violence has affected the entire country to varying degrees. Some of the worst acts of barbarism have been witnessed in the name of sectarianism. It has spared no one. Neither the old, women nor children. The global jihad has adjusted the sectarian hatred within its fold. Their local objectives are usually supported so long the overall objective does not suffer. Military means alone cannot be the only solution to eliminate terrorism. Causes of terrorism can be social, political, and economic. These issues must be addressed along with the military means.
In an effort to handle the situation going rapidly out of control, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan envisages the establishment of a joint intelligence secretariat and a counter-terrorism rapid deployment force. He stated that it will be established within six months with the aim to make swift decisions on actionable intelligence. The force is proposed to have an initial strength of 500 personnel, which will be subsequently raised to 2,000.
Good intentions notwithstanding but how will this work on-ground? Who is going to head the force will be a crucial factor in the success or failure of the venture. Many other questions also come to mind. Will the force be part of the army? An off shoot of police? Or apart of the police force? Like a pie within a pie? Independent? Will they be based in one province? Segregated province-wise? (If the induction is on political grounds, we might as well forget about it). If concentrated in one area how do they counter terrorists nationwide? (Reminds of my favourite childhood cartoon: the post-spinach-intake Popeye the Sailor Man). Will a force of 2,000 be enough? What kind of training are we talking about? How much time will that take? Who will conduct the training?
With a proposed withdrawal of US combat forces in 2014, Pakistan is deeply engaged at the western border. Facing Pakistan is also an array of other in-house serious issues. Energy crisis being one. Increasing corruption being the other. I do not have the space here to talk about the others. In short, Pakistan is so overstretched; one does not possibly see any advantage accruing to Pakistan by engaging on the eastern border too, when it needs to focus all attention and resources inwards to put its house in order. Unless, one accepts the point of view of J.P. Singh.
In a report by Reuters, Singh, the police chief for northern border operations, stated: "(Pakistan's) agents and their protégés, the militants, are getting disengaged from the Afghan border and they have nowhere else to keep them and engage them, other than to push them to Kashmir. Their presence inside Pakistan is dangerous for the internal security of Pakistan." This suggestion is flimsy at best.
Skirmishes at Pakistan's eastern border have happened before. Things have been heating up since 2013 set in at the LoC. However, the blow up by the Indian media this once was unprecedented. It was not just their media, but also their politicians and others who came out swinging with very strong anti-Pakistan statements.
India faces its sixteenth general elections of Lok Sabha on May 31, 2014.The hype created maybe an election drumbeat. Congress may be bagging appreciation in opening up dialogue with Pakistan. Was this dialogue hurting the Congress opposition in India, is a question being raised at different forums. "Coming on the heels of the rape and death of a medical student, the event was a God-Sent opportunity to put the Congress government on the back foot," states a newspaper. If this suggestion has any authenticity, it reflects sadly on Indian election approach bankruptcy. After 66 years, surely they can come up with something better than Pakistan bashing?
Another reason suggested is to keep the pressure on Pakistan, knowing full well that if Pakistan forces divert their attentions to the eastern border, they will be spreading themselves thin. At the core of the issue lies the US combat force pullback from Afghanistan, vying for greater influence India and Pakistan will lock horns over Afghanistan. It is here that Pakistan government's mature approach will be needed. Not to fall into the trap laid for Pakistan and focus where they need to focus on.
What, nonetheless, this new disturbance has brought in focus rather sharply, is that the cosmetic efforts notwithstanding, the issue of Kashmir and water-war simmers just under the surface, waiting to be blown up into our faces at any given opportunity and excuse.
A more reasonable and logical approach from the Indians would have been to agree upon the setting up of a commission by the United Nations or another such international organisation to inquire into who originated the violation and accept with grace the result of the said commission. Unfortunately, this has not happened. The attitude has gone from belligerent to being more belligerent. From India's President telling Pakistan that its hand of friendship should "not be taken for granted," to that of the Indian Defence Minister, A.K. Antony, stating that India is employing a wait and see policy with Pakistan and that talks of normalising relations with Pakistan were premature. To give the man credit; Mr Antony's statement came only after the opposition angrily accused the minister of deliberately choosing not to blame the Pakistani army for the attack, amid attempts to revive peace talks with Pakistan. This delayed response itself speaks volumes for an effort at balance among saner voices in India.
India's overall belligerency is in sharp contrast to the very positive and friendly posture of Sharif's government ever since it came to power. Even in face of Indian hysteria, he advised that Pakistan and India must take "effective steps" to restore normalcy on the LoC. A restrained attitude towards the issue was also displayed by the local media. What Indian media and Indian politicians are doing most unfortunately, is putting at stake the chance of getting on with improving relations with the fresh incoming government of Nawaz Sharif. This is neither mature nor advisable. A reality check is needed-or do we accept the advice a friend, Anthony Permal, gives in a tweet: "The 'LoC' needs to be renamed 'LooC': Line out of Control."
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.