Thursday, June 11, 2015
Daily Times Editorial June 12, 2015
Dangerous escalation Pakistan and India seem to have descended once again into one of their periodic bouts of provocative statements met by equally fierce responses. The current round of tit-for-tat statements and actions seems to have started with the Indian defence minister’s statement of countering terrorism (allegedly emanating from Pakistan) with terrorism. Then Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a visit to Bangladesh freshened old wounds by boasting in Dhaka about his personal role in helping the Mukti Bahini fighting for the liberation of Bangladesh. As if all this was not enough, the Indian minister of state for information and broadcasting made reference to a claimed Indian military raid into Myanmar to inflict significant casualties on rebels fighting for autonomy or separation from India as retaliation for an ambush last week that inflicted the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, as a message to Pakistan and other countries that India would retaliate at a time and place of its own choosing against terrorism directed against it. As a consequence, both Islamabad and New Delhi have also revived their time honoured practice of visa denial to each other’s citizens, including an official deployed at the Pakistan High Commission in India, ostensibly for alleged links with an intelligence agency, and tit-for-tat denial of visas to each other’s sportsmen. As the track record shows, neither country is above sinking into retaliatory mode at the slightest provocation or for the most spurious reasons. This time around, the Pakistani civilian and military leadership has come out all (verbal) guns blazing and warned India against any misadventure, which in the words of our leadership across the board, would be met with an adequate response (or worse). There is no denying the fact that the present round of aggressive statements has been started by India, and it bears thinking about why the Modi government has chosen this tack of late. First and foremost, it must be emphasised that Modi is no Vajpayee. The latter brought to the office of Indian prime minister a wise vision of making peace with Pakistan, normalising relations between the two neighbours and allowing the people of both countries to breathe a sigh of relief in a less tense atmosphere than periodically assails relations between the two subcontinental neighbours. However, from Vajpayee and India’s perspective, the Kargil war that followed his outreach to then prime minister Nawaz Sharif was seen as a stab in the back and may have soured opinion in India against any rapprochement with Pakistan. Certainly, since Vajpayee’s day, the Mumbai attacks did not help matters and still rankle in New Delhi because there has been no satisfactory closure of the case. Having said that, the kind of response that Islamabad has mounted to India’s provocations can only be described as meeting belligerence with even more belligerence. Whether this is the wisest or most statesmanlike way to respond to obvious provocation can be questioned. From Sartaj Aziz to Khwaja Asif to Chaudhry Nisar, not to mention the army top brass, everyone has jumped into the fray separately and jointly. Perhaps the most appropriate response would have been a considered, cool riposte to India’ s provocations, setting out Pakistan’s position that it desires peace but would not be bullied by threats or belligerence. That may have helped better than anything else to pour cold water over the Modi government’s obvious attempts to ratchet up tensions. While we wax indignant about Modi’s crowing in Dhaka about his and his country’s role in the separation of Eat Pakistan, it may be salutary to reflect before we contemplate going to international forums such as the UN or the International Court of Justice (!) that our own culpability in the crisis of 1971 is likely to be raked up during such attempts. Pakistan has consciously decided long ago to let sleeping dogs lie as far as the events of 1971 are concerned. If now we take up the gauntlet on the basis of perceived hurt, we could well end up getting hurt even more on the touchstone of international opinion regarding the events of 1971. Some day Pakistanis may be able to deal with the wounds of that fateful year in a more objective fashion. Right now, the lack of information amongst current generations and even self-serving disinformation may cloud our vision with the fog of time, distance, and enmity for a neighbouring country that under Modi seems determined to roll back all the hopes for peace and normalisation while continuing a dialogue on the issues that divide us. Let us rise above, not fall into Modi’s trap in a mature, well considered, cool manner. That is likely to get more traction in the world today than even the most apoplectic indignation.