When a soldier is beheaded or his body mutilated, the concomitant public outrage forecloses the option of dialogue. Not that talks were about to open between India and Pakistan. It’s just that the signal from across the border is that Islamabad, nay Rawalpindi, is mighty pleased with the way things are flaring up on our side of Kashmir.
The anatomy of the latest conflagration on the Line of Control is no different from what has happened in the past: Pakistani troops fired on two Indian forward posts on the LoC while their Border Action Team (BAT) that was a mix of terrorists and army regulars assaulted our patrol between the posts. Bodies of two Indian soldiers killed in action were mutilated by attackers from across the border.
Our troops are capable of and will avenge the assault. But the dastardly adventure lends a peep into the mind of Pakistan’s army brass euphemistically called the Rawalpindi based General Headquarters. They’re the one who control Islamabad’s India policy.
It was no coincidence, therefore, that a day before the May 1 mutilation episode, Pakistan’s chief of army staff (COAS) Qamar Javed Bajwa reaffirmed support for what he called the “political struggle of the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.”
The General’s statement during a visit to the LoC was an unmistakable message to elements in the Valley that the Pakistan army was one with them in their fight against India’s security forces. The brutal, headline-seeking treatment of our soldiers seemed to deliver on that resolve —besides triggering in mainland India a clamour for tougher military action against protesting Kashmiri youth with inbuilt risks of accidental, unintended or provoked excesses.
That indeed is the external dimension of the internal security crisis in the Valley. The ostensible Pakistani gameplan is to exacerbate the ongoing unrest in Kashmir towards realising its delusional Mukti Bahini moment in the Valley. Or at least push things to where they were in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
That was the time when Islamabad would lecture New Delhi on building the right climate for bilateral engagement. “Propitious climate for talks” was actually the phrase it hurled at then Indian foreign secretary J N Dixit at the failed FS-level discussions in the first week of 1994.
India needs to counter-strategise. For now, the Narendra Modi regime isn’t inclined to open talks --- internally or bilaterally—until terror remains the instrument of state policy of Rawalpindi-Islamabad. The same was unequivocally conveyed to Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti and Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan who saw a role for himself in the multi-lateral approach he advocated on Kashmir.
Television clips of schoolchildren including girls taking to streets against troops had lately prompted saner civil society voices to advocate dialogue to cool things down. Among them was former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha who led a Track-2 initiative in the restive State.
It’s that element of sanity the Pakistani atrocity on the LoC has sought to kill by mauling dead soldiers. The beheading of Indian soldiers is another shot in the arm for hawks and a fatal blow for peaceniks. Waging peace looks an impossible idea in our increasingly jingoistic milieu.
The ‘appropriate’ response our army has promised to avenge Pakistan’s “un-soldierly act” might come sooner than later. Given that the talks between Directors General of Military Operation (DGMO) of the two sides haven’t yielded much, the retributive strike will be par for the course.
When bilateralism fails or is abandoned, retaliation is the answer, not third party arbitration or intervention that Islamabad or the likes of Erdogan are prone to propose. The leader from Turkey is unaware perhaps that India doesn’t even recognise the United Nations Military Observers’ Group on India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) that could have played the referee.
The UMOGIP is allowed a “holiday posting” presence in India because the UNSC resolutions (39 and 47 of 1948) under which it was constituted haven’t since been amended.
From the Indian standpoint, the military observers’ mandate became infructuous post-1971 when the UN brokered ceasefire line became the bilaterally negotiated Line of Control (LoC). That position is strengthened by the letter and spirit of the 1972 Shimla Accord the sum of which is that all pending India-Pakistan disputes will be addressed bilaterally.
Be that as it may, Kashmir looks destined for a long summer of discontent—and cross-border attrition. Rawalpindi’s aggressive posturing could be on the nudging of Beijing that has heightened its stakes in PoK with the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It’s unhappy as much with the paradigm change in India’s Balochistan policy and the Modi dispensation’s refusal to keep the Dalai Lama from visiting Arunachal.