Saturday, October 1, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 1, 2016

Let better sense prevail After a period of sabre rattling from India and a determined response from Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership, better sense appears to be taking hold in New Delhi. According to media reports, India has conveyed through discreet channels to Islamabad that it does not want any further escalation of tensions on the Line of Control (LoC). While the message is positive, it does not yet appear to have travelled down the line to the Indian forces who conducted another cross-LoC violation of the ceasefire on the morning of October 1. This is the second instance of cross-LoC firing/artillery bombardment in recent days after the so-called ‘surgical strike’ the other day, which Pakistan dismissed as anything but ‘surgical’ or even a ‘strike’. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the initiator of the belligerence against Pakistan in the wake of the youth uprising in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) after the killing of young militant commander Burhanuddin Wani about three months ago. To distract attention from the brutal repression let loose by the Indian security forces against unarmed and peaceful protestors, including the use of pellet guns that blinded and injured the eyes of hundreds of youths, Modi embarked on a series of provocative statements, starting from an attempted equivalence between Pakistan’s problems in Balochistan with India’s in IHK (which failed to fly in the face of the former being an internal matter while Kashmir remains a bilateral and international dispute). All of Modi’s and other Indian ministers’ war mongering statements against Pakistan failed to divert attention from the horrendous situation in IHK, where an almost continuous curfew is in place since the uprising broke out, without it or the unfettered repression being able to quell the spirit of the Kashmiri protestors. Nor did the attempt to shift the blame for the situation in IHK onto Pakistan’s shoulders succeed. The attack on the Uri military base that led to the killing of 17 Indian soldiers too could not be pinned on Pakistan despite unsubstantiated allegations by India. The ‘surgical strike’ referred to above seems to have been apiece with Modi’s calculated belligerence against Pakistan for a domestic audience. Modi’s popularity is suffering a dip, both because of his failure to deliver on his election pledge of rapid economic development and his exposure as a leader unable to transcend his Hundutva leanings despite elevation to the highest elected office in his country. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), faces two crucial looming state elections in his home state Gujarat and UP. The prospects for the BJP do not look good. Modi has no one to blame but himself for losing the confidence and support of a wide swathe of Indian political opinion because of his bigoted, exclusivist and hate filled attitudes towards Muslims, minorities and even Hindus who disagree with him. Pakistan bashing, therefore, seemed the time-honoured tactic of blaming an external ‘enemy’ to overcome domestic political troubles. Its failure in the current context is now manifest. Hence India’s suing for de-escalation after raising the stakes to a near-war situation between the two (let us remind ourselves) nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours. If the reports of India reaching out to Pakistan for easing tensions or at the very least not allowing the escalation of the recent days to spiral out of control are true, it can only mean that the costs of the present course are beginning to outweigh any real or perceived advantages in domestic politics. Naturally the shrill pitch of government statements and media coverage in India has proved disconcerting for the global community. Unfortunately, not all our political leaders and media have exercised the maturity and restraint required in the face of obvious provocation, but by and large Pakistan’s posture of not being intimidated by Indian threats while underlining Islamabad’s continuing desire for settling issues peacefully through talks has ensured a better global audience response. It is being reported that the US has played a mediatory role in persuading New Delhi to step back from the brink of what inherently is the danger of nuclear conflict in the subcontinent since at least 1998. China, Russia, the west generally and the UN have all stressed to both India and Pakistan to seek a peaceful resolution. World opinion may not matter too much to Modi and his ilk, but his dream of India becoming a world power cannot be pursued through such shrill belligerence. India’s domestic political audience too is increasingly restive regarding Modi’s present aggressive course. All this notwithstanding, it is a welcome development if better sense starts to prevail in New Delhi.

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