India’s only option vis-à-vis Pakistan

India’s only option vis-à-vis Pakistan. Source: ITAR-TASS

India’s only option vis-à-vis Pakistan. Source: ITAR-TASS

The dialogue process with Pakistan provides a purpose and at any rate, India would do well to remember that even Cold War adversaries never ceased talking with each other.

The hallmark of a responsible political party in a functioning democracy ought to be the ability to distinguish what is grist to the mill of electoral politics – and, more importantly, to consciously determine what is not and to give it a wide berth.

By that yardstick, Bharatiya Janata Party is seriously failing by its rhetorical stance on the recent incidents of violence on the Line of Control that separates India and Pakistan.

The unkindest cut of all is that a BJP leader who enjoys commendable reputation and unusual credibility for sweet reasonableness and the conciliation, Sushma Swaraj, fired the volley at the government accusing it of being “very weak” in dealing with Pakistan and of being “incapable of taking tough decisions.”

Swaraj’s rationale? She says: “It is a matter of honour of the country. It is a question of morale of our armed forces. The government has to act. And the government has to act tough.”

Of course, as an experienced politician, she (or her party) wouldn’t be drawn into a rational discussion as to what precisely could be the “tough” action expected of the government.

This is political opportunism at its most untimely moment and even the impulsive desire to do some grandstanding over the tragic death of the Indian soldiers cannot justify it. More so, because the circumstances around the recent LOC incidents still remain shrouded in ambiguities, and, simply put, the details are only trickling in. In fact, the world media is asking some uncomfortable questions already about the nature of the happenings. (BBC, Washington Post)

Assuming that Swaraj and her party are honestly indignant, what do they suggest Indian can do? Launch a punitive military attack on Pakistan? Undertake Special Forces operations to teach Pakistan a hard lesson or two? Break off the dialogue process with Pakistan? Take the issue to the international community? Or, at a minimum, marshal the million-strong Indian army from its cantonments and deploy them in a threatening posture on the border with Pakistan so that Islamabad gets nervous?

No, Sir, these are non-options. A military attack on Pakistan will lead to escalation and result in a full-fledged war. Once in the past already in 2001, the Indian army was made to assemble on the border and kept waiting for a year before better sense prevailed and were ordered to return to the cantonments. 

By the way, arm-chair strategists can propose covert operations, but then, Pakistan also has highly trained Special Forces that can retaliate with covert cross-border operations and this is most certainly very unlike the contestation between the United States and the al-Qaeda in Yemen.

The dialogue process with Pakistan provides a purpose and at any rate, India would do well to remember that even Cold War adversaries never ceased talking with each other.

As for the ‘international community’, Pakistan’s centrality to the United States’ regional strategies leaps out from the carefully worded remarks by the state department spokesperson on the LOC incidents. The US has lost time to put its finger on the LOC pie, and while giving ‘bilateralism’ between New Delhi and Islamabad its chance “for the present”, Washington won’t be averse to third party intervention, either.

The message is clear: India-Pakistan tensions have a grave bearing on regional and international security. Equally, the intentions are also clear: India-Pakistan tensions would give the US much-needed leverage with both New Delhi and Islamabad at a juncture when its regional strategies – ‘rebalancing’ to Asia, Afghan endgame, establishment of US military bases, etc. – are in the melting pot. 

Suffice to say, the national security issues of great sensitivity should not be reduced to the stuff of party politics. Mature democracies possess such discerning power. As things stand, there is no dearth of issues on which the present Indian government can be pilloried when the ruling party approaches the people for a fresh mandate in the 2014 general election – rampant corruption, misgovernance, inefficiency, inflation, elitism and so on. Meanwhile, the India-Pakistan peace process must continue. It is India’s best option – even the only available option.   

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