For India, war with Pakistan solves nothing. Peace with Pakistan solves nothing. Is warlike peace India’s only option?
As India rightly rages over the latest killings of five Indian soldiers along the Line of Control (LoC) by men, who at the very least seemed to have the Pakistani army’s cover, the extent of provocation Pakistan has gotten away with is amazing.
The bare facts as reported by New Delhi are that late on the night of August 6 there was heavy firing from the Pakistani side of the LoC on an Indian military post in the Poonch sector in Jammu and Kashmir which killed five Indian soldiers. Whether the armed Pakistani men were jihadists masquerading as Pakistani soldiers or they were indeed uniformed Pakistan army troops is, at this stage, a matter of semantics which does not dilute the inherent perfidy of the action.
It is tempting to argue that perhaps the early tensions between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, asserting his civilian supremacy over the state in Pakistan, and his country’s military assiduously guarding its traditional stranglehold over it, may have played out along the LoC. There are those who might say that Sharif is still very new in his third avatar as Pakistan’s prime minister and may still be sloughing off the sordid remnants of memories of 14 years ago when he was ousted by the same military in a swift bloodless coup by a certain General Pervez Musharraf.
It is equally tempting to argue that in India-Pakistan relationship history repeats itself on a daily basis or even that history is indeed the present and future of the screwed up neighborly dynamic.
There can be any number of explanations for the latest incident, including the one being offered by Pakistan with a tired lack of inventiveness that no such firing took place. Unless the five soldiers killed themselves or were killed by their fellow soldiers in friendly fire, someone other than the Indians is responsible for the deaths.
The winding down of the Afghan war and how it is upending ten-year-old status quos within Pakistan is also being offered as part of this mix of explanation. The point is there are many competing explanations for what goes on along the LoC but none of those has the power to eventually resolve the issues.
Recrimination has forever been the defining element of this absurdly personal relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. India has long run out of ideas on how to deal with Pakistan which has since its inception been trapped in eternally mutating ferment brewed by its own internal contradictions.
There has always been the existence of pro-war lobbies on either side of the LoC which believe that fight till the finish is the only answer. They conveniently sidestep with question fight till the finish of what? The whole countries? Well, you know that’s not going to happen. Even if they both use their entire stockpiles of nuclear weapons, something will survive and plausibly it could be on the Indian side given the sheer size and demographic imbalance.
Conversely, there are pro-peace lobbies in both countries which argue that you love till you pass out which is not practical either.
All that still does not settle this question: We have tried peace, we have tried war, we have tried warlike peace. Now what do we do? Do we just do our best to keep a step ahead of the eternally mutating ferment that forever grips Pakistan? I am afraid I do not have any glib answers.
Sharif did begin on a note of sanguine optimism on the question of his country’s relationship with India. He even let it be known to all concerned who is the boss of Pakistan. It is the civilian government, he said. The LoC killings might suggest that is not necessarily the case. Of course, the prime minister cannot be realistically expected to personally monitor all skirmishes along the border. But if he is being subtly told by the GHQ in Rawalpindi not to get ahead of himself, then we have a problem. Not a new one but a problem nevertheless.
Sharif and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh are expected to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next month. It is appears that the meeting will take place irrespective of the killings. What is not certain is whether it makes any real sense to meet. Dr. Singh can always give a talking down to Sharif on this and many other provocations but that would be as useful as any in the past.
So we come back to the profound diplomatic conundrum. What does India do with Pakistan? All answers are both right and wrong simultaneously unless Pakistan first neutralizes its own internal toxicity.