Saturday, October 22, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 22, 2016

Continuing cross-border tensions The tensions on the Line of Control (LoC) have now spilled over to the Working Boundary (WB) in the Sialkot sector. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said Indian troops resorted to firing along the WB on October 21. It said the Rangers befittingly responded to the unprovoked firing without suffering any loss on Pakistan’s side. The ISPR statement characterised the Indian claims of hitting or killing any Pakistani soldier or Rangers during the day on the LoC and WB as false. ISPR also said Indian troops resorted to unprovoked firing across the LoC in the Karela sector in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Pakistani troops responded in befitting manner, it said. At 9:55 pm, the Indian forces starting firing again in this sector and the Pakistani troops were responding. According to media reports, India’s Border Security Force (BSF) resorted to unprovoked mortar shelling on villages in the Bajwat and Shakargarh sectors along the Sialkot WB. Punjab Rangers officials said the shelling on Shakargarh villages began at 9:00 am and continued for 30 minutes. In Bajwat, shelling and automatic weapons fire began at 2:30 pm and lasted 15 minutes. This was the first ceasefire violation on the Sialkot WB for several months and reflected an attempt by the Indian forces to expand and intensify the clashes continuing on the LoC for some months. A section of the Indian media claimed that seven Pakistani Rangers were killed in retaliatory firing by the BSF in the Kathua area of Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). Further, that the BSF neutralised a militant trying to infiltrate into the Indian side of the LoC. While the sabre-rattling and jingoistic war hysteria of the past few months has subsided, reflecting a cooler appreciation by India of the risks of continuing tension and clashes, it seems New Delhi is bent upon keeping up the military pressure. Normalisation of relations, despite lip service, therefore remains as distant as ever. On the contrary, the briefing the new defence secretary gave Senators the other day included the revelation that India had moved an additional army division to the LoC and fighter jets to a forward base. The defence secretary apprised the Senators that India had violated the ceasefire 58 times at the LoC since last month’s attack on an Indian army base in Uri, in which 18 Indian troops were killed. On October 20, the Pakistani Foreign Office summoned the Indian Deputy High Commissioner to lodge a protest over the unprovoked ceasefire violations. It may be that India thinks it can ‘milk’ Pakistan’s economic vulnerability through these frequent cross-border ceasefire violations, which naturally have an economic and human cost. Continuing tension or even escalation on the eastern border could force a redeployment of troops from the western border to the east, with its concomitant negative effects on the war on terror. The global powers that be should take note of this possibility and persuade India to hold its hand. Tensions were exacerbated after the Uri attack, which India tried to pin the blame for on Pakistan. On the other hand, the Director Generals Military Operations (DGMOs) of either side have been in communication throughout, as have the National security Advisers (NSAs). These channels must of course be kept open to prevent the frequent clashes along the LoC and WB from spiralling out of control. Even more importantly, the suspended comprehensive dialogue between the two countries must be restarted as soon as possible. The difficulty in moving to this restart point has been Pakistan’s insistence that Kashmir must be central to the discussion in the light of the uprising in IHK and its bridal suppression by India, while New Delhi wants ‘terrorism’ to be the main point on the agenda. With tact and goodwill, these seemingly disparate positions could be reconciled at least to the extent of making talks possible. And if the perception that the Modi government may be using anti-Pakistan rhetoric and tensions to divert domestic political attention from the make-or-break election it faces in UP has any weight, this would be a risky and counterproductive gambit that may not yield any political dividends at home and cast the Modi government in an unflattering warmongering hue abroad.

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