We all misspeak from time to time but since most of us have a very limited influence on the world beyond our little spheres our misspeaking is of little consequence.
However, when a foreign minister of any country, particularly a country as much in the middle of geostrategic ferment as Pakistan, misspeaks it does draw attention. It certainly draws mine because it is my job to pay attention. Watching an interview with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on CNN-IBN yesterday I was struck by several things but one in particular stood out.
For your background Pakistan has accused Indian troops of having killed one Pakistani soldier and wounded another last Sunday along the border that divides the state of Kashmir on either side. That raid was followed by the brutal killing and decapitation of two Indian soldiers on Tuesday. Khar was responding in the aftermath of those killings.
Khar said in the interview (cue the clip at 1.17) Pakistani soldier Lance Naik Aslam was "brutally murdered because of Indian firing 400 kilometers inside Pakistani territory.”
It was the figure of 400 kilometers that jumped at me. She probably meant 400 meters because the soldier had to be inside Afghanistan, somewhere in Jalalabad area to be 400 kilometers away. The interviewer did not seem to correct her which was just as well because Khar was not challenged even when she vehemently asserted that her government “absolutely rejected that any such incident took place.” She should have been asked whether she was “absolutely” rejecting whether Pakistani troops had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and/or killed the two Indian soldiers or that the soldiers’ bodies had been mutilated or the killings did happen but were not carried out by Pakistani troops.
My post yesterday made a lot of points but given that the situation is so fluid I need to make some more. There was a degree of circumlocution involved in my argument but that is understandable because not all the facts are known. The clearest takeaway so far is that both sides will have to establish through an inquiry exactly what happened.Whether that inquiry is done jointly or under the aegis of an impartial international agency is a matter of detail the two will have to work out. Pakistan was quick to suggest a United Nations inquiry which India promptly rejected for obvious reasons. The obvious reasons being that India does not like a bilateral conflict acquiring a UN dimension. That has been India’s position for decades when it comes to disputes with Pakistan.
I am not sure if there is a need for an international agency’s involvement because both countries have enough institutional depth and, presumably, integrity as well scientific capability to fairly and justly arbitrate a dispute of this nature. If the two cannot show this level of maturity, then what’s the point of calling themselves nation-states?
I suspect the argument from the Pakistani side will probably move towards saying that the mutilation was an unauthorized individual act in violation of its own strict code of conduct. It will become untenable to maintain the position articulated by Khar of absolute rejection of such an incident having ever happened. Just as there is a body on the Pakistani side, there are two on the Indian side to clearly prove that something did indeed happen.
Denial tends to be the default position of most countries in a situation like this but as time passes a clarity has to emerge. These are not notional conversations because there are actual deaths involved. Even if one takes the position that deaths in military skirmishes are commonplace, they still have to be explained at some level. In this particular case the level happens to be at the highest point in both countries because of the decapitation which makes it much more than just the professional hazard of being a soldier.
It is conceivable that once having been killed the two soldiers were mutilated as an act of purely individual demonstration of apathy, although in the current atmosphere in India there will be few takers for such an explanation. Once the Pakistani military accepts that the killing and mutilation did indeed happen, it will have to determine whether it was sanctioned at the particular unit level in defiance of its own rules of engagement or some individual soldiers, with extra army loyalties, went rogue. Of course, as things stand now Pakistan maintains that no violation of the ceasefire took place, nor transgression of the LoC, nor, for that matter, even mutilation. It is almost as if the deaths and the bodies are just some macabre apparition playing out in a paranoid land.
Similarly, the death of Lance Naik Aslam on the Pakistani side, quite like the deaths of Lance Naiks Hemraj and Sudhakar Singh, too has to be explained if India was involved. It is possible that since there are no allegations of mutilation in his case it could be added to a long list of casualties of military conflict that happen as a matter of routine. My worry is that the deaths may eventually get written off as expedient demise of those expendable.