Respond strongly to Pak, but watch the Red lines
The public outrage over the killing of two Indian soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC) refuses to die down.
On January 8, Pakistan Army troops infiltrated across the LoC in Poonch sector, and killed and mutilated bodies of Lance Naiks Sudhakar Singh and Hemraj Singh. The latter was beheaded.
It is not the first time Pakistan army has indulged in such behaviour. During the Kargil conflict, the bodies of Captain Saurabh Kalia and his patrol members were mutilated. Public statements of Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Kalia’s torture during his recent India trip had already aggrieved the Indians. Barely had that anger subsided came this news of abominable behaviour by the Pakistan Army.
The moral outrage over the military ethos and values of a supposedly professional Pakistan Army apart, the recent incidents and their consequent fallout have implications which go beyond the event. And they are not about salvaging the peace process with Pakistan.
If you look at it dispassionately, there is nothing to salvage in the India-Pakistan peace process. The most significant achievement was believed to be opening of trade links between the two countries. But Pakistan has backtracked on its promises of reducing the negative list and granting India the Most Favoured Nation status by December 31 2012. With the parliamentary elections in Pakistan a couple of months away, any further progress is unlikely.
The so-called low-hanging fruits of Siachen and Sir Creek cannot be plucked. Indians are not going to vacate their positions on Saltoro because Pakistan and some Indian Track-2 participants want them to, and Pakistan navy has stymied any solution to Sir Creek by going back on the findings of the joint survey.
This leaves the issue of bringing the perpetrators of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks to justice in Pakistan. Rawalpindi Anti-Terror Court has seen more adjournments than hearings, and its frequent change of judges inspires little confidence. Meanwhile, Hafiz Saeed openly gives press interviews, Jamaat-ud Dawa is not banned despite a UN resolution and Lakhvi operates freely from the safety of his prison cell.
The peace process though has achieved one thing: more free jaunts for the Track-2 tribe. But the real measure of progress, or rather the lack of it, is not the enthusiasm of the Track-2 tribe but the point-blank refusal of Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan.
If salvaging the peace process is not a reason to be wary about the fallouts of the incidents at the LoC, what else is? There are two reasons. One, militancy in J&K has seen a consistent decline since the ceasefire came into force on the LoC in 2003. The ceasefire allowed India to fence the LoC, and strengthen its anti-infiltration grid.
In fact, 2012 was the most peaceful year in the state since 1989. While jehadis continue to attempt infiltration from across the LoC even now, they can never match the success of the pre-2003 era when Pakistan army covered their ingress with heavy firing and shelling. A lifting of the ceasefire at the LoC is clearly in Pakistan’s interests for that makes it easier to send jihadis across, and reboot the militancy in J&K. With the US withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014, India wouldn’t want a repetition of the 1990s: veteran jihadis from Afghanistan making their way into J&K.
Two, Kashmir is no longer an issue that excites the international community. Although the last time J&K was discussed in the UN Security Council was in 1965, Pakistan is desperate to get it featured in international fora and put India under diplomatic pressure. Thus, Pakistan promptly offered to hold an inquiry into recent ceasefire violations through the UN Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).
Consequent to the Simla Agreement of 1972 where both sides agreed to resolve all issues bilaterally, India doesn’t recognise the UNMOGIP. Meanwhile, US has bolstered Pakistan’s diplomatic assurance by conceding it a critical role in the Afghan reconciliation process. As it did to Holbrooke in 2008, India needs to send a clear message to officials of the new Obama administration to stay off Kashmir.
These ought to be the two Red lines for any Indian response to Pakistani actions on the LoC. No lifting of the ceasefire on the LoC, and no internationalisation of Jammu and Kashmir. All options, within these Red lines are open for India to exercise. And they must be exercised, at a time and place of India’s own choosing.
Sushant K Singh is a Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review