Modi govt has missed the chance for lasting peace with Pakistan

  • Prem Shankar Jha
  • Updated: Nov 07, 2014 18:14 IST

Contrary to a widely held belief in India, peace on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has always been relative. In 2011, when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, there were 61 incidents of firing from the two sides of the border. There was a similar number in the first 10 months of 2012.

But the exchanges of fire in October this year have been qualitatively different. Not only have these seen the heaviest bombardments that villagers can remember, but most of it has been by India. In a single day, October 9, Indian forces fired more than 1,000 mortar shells into Pakistani Kashmir.

This was preceded by a week of heavy firing from both sides that, by Indian estimates , has killed 35 civilians in PoK and 20 in J&K, and forced thousands to flee from their homes.

It has been different for three reasons: First, although it too may have started as a local exchange of fire, unlike the myriad exchanges of yesteryear, it has not been allowed to remain local. Instead, in a manner disturbingly similar to the way the 150-year-old local dispute over the Babri masjid in Faizabad was politicised by the BJP in the 1980s, the Modi government has chosen to read a new aggressiveness in Nawaz Sharif’s government.

Second, instead of relying on diplomacy to straighten things out, the Modi government has deliberately chosen coercion. Not only has India’s response to Pakistani firing been disproportionate, but the Modi government has not bothered to hide its desire to teach Pakistan a lesson. The Modi government has decisively closed the door to a return to diplomacy.

Third, unlike the UPA and Vajpayee governments, Modi has not hesitated to make domestic political capital out of an aggressive response to Pakistan. At a pre-election political rally in Mumbai on October 9, he proclaimed “it is the enemy that is screaming … the enemy has realised that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” “The enemy”; note the choice of phrase.

An aggressive response to Pakistan would be justified if there was no doubt that it had opened unprovoked fire on Indian border posts first. But we have only our own government’s word for this. Pakistan has stoutly denied opening fire first and Islamabad has lied far more often and habitually than New Delhi. But the Indian media have treated South Block’s press releases as gospel without once publishing a Pakistani refutation.

The weak link in the government’s construct is the absence of motive. The Modi government ascribes its new-found aggressiveness to its frustration over failing to internationalise the Kashmir issue. But it does not take a dispassionate observer even five minutes to see that Pakistan has never had as strong a reason to let sleeping dogs lie in Kashmir as it does today. For, under a succession of military governments it has been sowing the wind in its international relations for five decades, and is now about to reap the whirlwind.

In the next few months Pakistan’s army-backed democratic, and moderately Islamic, state is going to face a convergence of challenges to which it has no answer. In Afghanistan, as the last American combat troops prepare to pull out, the Taliban have begun to show their power.

The Afghan National Army itself is subject to some of the same tribal and sectarian rifts that have made a joke of the Iraqi army. There is thus the real danger of desertions, collapse and the acquisition of modern American arms by the Taliban. The future of the new Afghan government is therefore in considerable doubt.

Had this been 2010 there would have been some reason to believe that Pakistan would welcome these developments, for at that time the former chief of the Pakistan army, General Kayani, had harboured visions of controlling Afghanistan through the Taliban. But those days are far behind us. The Taliban are split; Mullah Omar’s influence has waned, and the link between Pakistan and the Haqqani Taliban has been eroded by incessant US drone attacks upon the latter.

Finally, whatever Imran Khan may say, the Pakistan army harbours no illusion that a deal with the FATA-based TTP is possible. General Raheel Sharif is no friend of India, but knowing the bestial cruelty with which the TTP has treated captured Pakistani soldiers, he is adamant that it has to be fought and eradicated. To pursue this fight he has already shifted more than 150,000 soldiers from the Indian border to FATA, and may have to shift more.

If the Taliban seize eastern Afghanistan the TTP will have an endless sanctuary from which to attack the Pakistan army. Pakistan therefore faces the prospect of a war without end. Worst of all, it will have to fight this war without resources, for the US has already indicated that its aid will be tapered off after it leaves Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia has made it clear that future aid will be conditional on its making peace with the TTP.

The difference between Manmohan Singh’s UPA and Modi’s BJP is that Singh foresaw Pakistan’s impending crisis and knew that it would create a unique opportunity for the two countries to bury the poisoned legacy of Partition and make a new start towards lasting peace and amity. Singh also knew that the Pakistani State was too weak respond to its own crisis in a coherent manner and would need a lot of forbearance from India. But the BJP seized upon his forbearance and projected it as cowardice and weakness. Today it has made India a prisoner of its own hawkish past.

Prem Shankar Jha is a political commentator and senior journalist

The views expressed by the author are personal

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