It is an unfortunate coincidence that the border clashes and ceasefire violations between India and Pakistan have come at a time when Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had signed the Tashkent Declaration some 37 years ago to bind the two countries into a peace pact. He consecrated it with his death. Yet, the Declaration could not avert the 1971 war, nor the subsequent skirmishes.
Strange, there was not even a mention of the Declaration either by the media or by the political leadership. It appears that the two countries have remained jingoistic. One incident happens and the entire accumulated bias comes out.
Beheading soldiers is nothing new. The army on both sides has indulged in it before. What is annoying is Pakistan’s flat denial of the incident. The brigadier at the flag-march meeting came with a prepared text and returned to Pakistan after reading the brief. There was no regret, no grief.
The UN probe to verify facts could have been a possibility. However, since New Delhi stopped the International Court of Justice at The Hague from taking up a Pakistan complaint against India on the plea that the two countries settle their disputes bilaterally, it could not bring in a third party.
However, the incident is too serious to be left at that. India should make the evidence public, particularly when it has alleged that Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, was at the border before the clashes. Pakistan on its part should order a probe. Maybe, it is the doing of irregulars who, regretfully, seem to constitute part of Pakistani’s combative force. The country is already experiencing violence from within. The Taliban are killing 20 to 25 Pakistanis daily and there is no place which is beyond the range of their guns.
When there is unabated domestic violence and when Pakistan is fighting against the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, it is not understandable why it should open a front with India. In fact, Islamabad has withdrawn some forces from the Indian border to fight on the West. Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has declared publicly that it will concentrate on the threat posed by internal forces instead of engaging India. Therefore, there is no question of unnecessary hype.
New Delhi should realise that Pakistan is its front state. If it ever goes under, India will be directly threatened by the Taliban and face the danger of destablisation. The policy should be how to retrieve Pakistan from the hopeless situation it is in. A weak Pakistan is a threat to India, however powerful.
Any escalation of tension or a suitable retaliation at an appropriate time will only aggravate the situation. The dialogue is the only way to improve relations and it should never be suspended or downgraded. There is no alternative to talks. Pakistan Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, has said emphatically that the dialogue between the countries should not be affected by skirmishes at the border. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid has shown restraint and maturity in his response. But the government’s decision to keep the new positive visa policy on hold will only lessen people-to-people contact, which is essential for better understanding. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that business with Pakistan cannot be as usual is understandable when the BJP is demanding a harsh reply. Yet, my experience shows that Islamabad resiles from its rigid stand if and when New Delhi steps back and reflects. India has to learn how to live with intransigent Pakistan. Director General of Trade, Ismail Khan, in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, said trade and travel across the ceasefire line will remain suspended until the skirmishes subsided. This is an unwise step which will hurt Pakistan as much as India.
For some reasons, former military officers on both sides have turned out to be more hawkish in their comments. I was shocked to hear Admiral Iqbal of the Pakistan Navy reminding India about the Muslim rule in the country for 1,000 years. Equally jingoistic was the suggestion by a retired army major general that the solution to India’s problems with Pakistan was through a military action. Both should realise that the engagement of the two countries will not be a street brawl. They have nuclear weapons and the worst can happen.
Civil society in both the countries has proved to be disappointing. Instead of analysing the situation dispassionately, they have supported the stand of their respective country. Regretfully, civil society is always on the side of the establishment whenever there is a clash on the border or when a dispute assumes dangerous proportions. Were the two civil societies to put their weight behind peace and call a spade a spade, their voice would matter.
New Delhi’s estimate that the ceasefire violations were meant to give cover to terrorists to sneak into Kashmir may be true, but the security forces in the valley are strong enough to chastise them. The fallout of tension affects the people in Kashmir. They feel more insecure. The killing of elected panchayat (local rural government) members has made 30 others to resign.
On the other hand, the image of the Hurriyat leaders get more tarnished. Most Indians link their visit to Pakistan last month to renewed ceasefire violations. They are held responsible for requesting Pakistan to internationalise the Kashmir problem. Such moves by the Hurriyat alienates in India even the liberals who want a solution that respects the special status given to Kashmir in the Indian Constitution.
What the ceasefire violations have done is a blow to relations between India and Pakistan. They have been improving for the last few years and will have been strengthened after the resumption of trade and the new visa policy. The clashes on the border have pushed the two countries to the starting point. There should be a way to go forward. Hockey and cricket players should not be barred from playing.
I wish the two sides to consider the ceasefire line sacred. This was converted into the Line of Control (LoC) through the Shimla Agreement. The then prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hailed it as the “line of peace” in an interview with me. And it has been seldom violated for the last two decades. Blood at the border has scotched even a limited hope.
Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian high commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.