How does one wage peace when conflict turns macabre and public opinion favours revenge? Logically, policies are not formulated due to pressures of knee jerk public opinion. However, disregarding public opinion too is political suicide.
The brutal killing of two Indian soldiers in Mendhar on January 6 by Pakistanis, whether regulars or ‘non-state’ actors, has put the beleaguered composite peace dialogue between India and Pakistan in sharp focus. In Pakistan, there are those who say that it is India that started the recent tit-for-tat action at the Line of Control (LoC).
Hawks on both sides are calling for an immediate end to the peace process; some are even calling for punitive strikes. Peaceniks caution against derailing the peace process, arguing that a lot of hard work has gone into it; it has held off war and saved lives. Peace is a lovely dream. Every Miss Universe makes it her goal in life. Even the Dalai Lama, who has made India his home, preaches peace though his followers immolate themselves regularly. But peace can be achieved in many ways. By coercion and compliance, by negotiation and dialogue, and by carrot and stick.
India has made several peace moves like removal of trade barriers, and liberalisation of the visa regime in the last two years. But what has India got in return: brutality at the LoC, no forward movement on the 26/11 trial, constant and pernicious interference in Jammu & Kashmir, including openly cavorting with Kashmiri separatists. Pakistani establishment is supremely confident that however extreme be the provocation, India is not going to react any differently.
When both the political and the bureaucratic wings of the Indian government have committed to an unconditional peace process, they have willy-nilly also invested in an uninterrupted one. Pakistan has read the tea leaves correctly that other than a massacre of a few hundred civilians in a major urban cluster, India will not react unfavourably to Pakistan.
Cynical, you think? Perhaps visuals of the funeral of the beheaded soldier have something to do with my opinion. Or maybe it’s the impact of watching the last rites of the other soldier being conducted by his four-month-old son, who had to be carried by an uncle around the
War is always ugly but this is peace. Or that is what we are supposed to believe. We are told that this is not an enemy we are dealing with. It is a neighbour with whom we are talking about trust, mutual confidence and sharing. We are sending our doctors and journalists across and welcoming their musicians, cricketers, writers and civil society members to break bread with us here. Then how does one explain the beheading of a soldier?
The beheading is not the same as being killed by a bullet, a bomb or a missile. This beheading was carried out to teach a lesson and not to elicit information from a prisoner of war or a spy. It was a provocation; it was to elicit a reaction, to send a message that Pakistan will not let its actions be influenced by any consideration for the so-called peace process.
Pakistan officially ‘reiterates its commitment to a peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues through a sustained and result-oriented dialogue with India’. This statement came just days after the skirmishes on the LoC and weeks after a Hurriyat delegation met Hafiz Saeed in Lahore and Syed Salahuddin in Islamabad. Why would the Pakistan army chief meet Hurriyat leaders if not to send an unambiguous signal that it is business as usual in Kashmir regardless of the homilies he spouts or official statements he puts out?
Some western media reports erroneously talk of a new Pakistan army doctrine, a shift in GHQ’s focus from its conventional enemy: India, towards amorphous enemies within its own country and towards its western border. The jehadi culture it so lovingly nourished as the first line of offence against India, is now devouring Pakistan from within. In the cycle of unending violence, over a hundred Shias were massacred in a single day in Pakistan last week.
The attack in Mendhar is a clear indication that there is no rethinking in Pakistan army’s strategic posturing on the ground. This should lead India to pause and rethink its strategy. It may be prudent for us to revert to the carrot and stick policy that we successfully pursued to force General Musharraf to agree to the cease fire on the LoC in 2003.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash