The exertions which have gone into conveying what happened at the LoC require us to rephrase Sir Walter Scott’s immortal lines. In our context they should read, “Oh what a tangled web we weave/When we practise to explain ourselves in clear terms.” Defence minister AK Antony was quick off the block, far too quick it would now seem, to say that the killing of our jawans was the handiwork of gunmen dressed in Pakistani army uniforms. Under severe attack for giving Pakistan a pat excuse, he then went on to say that the army chief had gone to the spot and would revert upon which we now learn that these were Pakistani specialist troops. In the ensuing din, and of course, jingoism, the real issue has been lost – that of how to deal with Pakistan.
It is no surprise that the ghastly attack came as talks were being slated between the prime ministers of the two countries. This is a tried and tested trick by Pakistan’s army and its various jihadi hangers-on. The situation on the ground has also been vitiated by the triumphalism of the jihadis in anticipation of the US pull-out from Afghanistan. But, for India, geographically bound forever to Pakistan, the responses to such grave provocations have to be tempered with pragmatism. It would really have helped if the government had come out with a coherent response. It would also have helped if the issue had not become a political bone of contention as usual.
But, however much it may stick in our throat, there is no getting away from engaging Pakistan. A new prime minister has made the right noises about peace, though it is a different matter that his writ does not seem to run in the army. A new president is in place. At the moment, to be very realistic, India’s best bet is to talk to them and at least gauge what measures can be taken to avert such incidents in the future. No one in their sane minds would want the region to be plunged into a war, so it would be better for our politicians not to echo the belligerence seen among the public. We can only hope that the restraint shown by our foreign ministry and our army is not taken for cowardice and that the civilian establishment in Pakistan is able to assert itself. Even if the meeting between the two prime ministers does not take place, it is still imperative to keep lines of communication open. It is bad enough that we have to live with a violent state like Pakistan at our doorstep, it would be even more dangerous to be completely in the dark about what goes on in that country. There are times when we run out of too many choices, and this is one of those times.