Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unexpected stopover at Lahore in December 2015 on Nawaz Shariff’s birthday was hailed as a diplomatic triumph everywhere. The two hugged it out and walked hands in hands, reigniting the hope of a prospective peace in Kashmir. However, a visit made with many regards, and much less thinking, was returned very modestly with a puny bill of Rs 1.46 lakh that Pakistan sent to Indian Air Force as route navigation costs, reflecting the truth behind such farcical over-the-top gestures.
Numbers further ridiculed this. Since 2015, the number of infiltrations bids by militants across the LoC increased by 230 per cent. The shift has been quite dramatic with 121 bids in 2015, to 371 in 2016 and 406 in 2017. Moreover, in a recent Parliament session, Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir informed the Lok Sabha that Pakistan violated the ceasefire along the international border 881 times in 2017, almost three times that in 2016.
Civilians living on the borders that get caught up in this violence, end up being mere footnotes in the larger military games played by both the armies. And such casualties could have meant something if this strategy was a brilliant one that would bring an era of perpetual calmness in Kashmir, but brinkmanship is not a full proof plan to fall back on.
For the past few years, the two countries have been aggressively pursuing a policy of unrelenting tit-for-tat. Where Pakistan augmented the infiltration bids, India demonstrated its will by using heavy artillery for the first time in 15 years in the Uri sector last month. Recently, this relationship stooped to a new low with the war on border making its way to the diplomatic enclaves. On March 15, Pakistan called back its High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood in the wake of allegations of harassment. These allegations are mutual on both sides with incidents like cutting off power and water or even intimidation of diplomats’ children.
What’s worrying here is that instead of taking measures to lower the tension, both the countries are engaged bullying each other. India needs to give up both Modi’s ‘hug-tactics’ and relying on the ratio of killing 4 Pakistan soldiers against one Indian soldier. It needs to grasp that sense of responsibility expected of a regional power and that if years of firing on the border could not bring about a solution, the matter should be brought back on the negotiating table.
There couldn’t be a greater indictment of this government than its own General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Lt Gen MM Naravane stating: “Peace on the border is difficult to achieve at tactical level alone. Restoring ceasefire requires statesmanship, not brinkmanship.” And the first step towards that would be a comprehensive discourse between all stakeholders, the foreign ministries of both countries, including the separatists.
An extremely beneficial and much needed measure here would be if our PM stops taking over the task of a foreign minister, which he undertook initially as Sushma Swaraj faced health concerns, and allow the assigned authority to do the job. Her duties involve much more than getting people stuck in other countries back home, which I assume she can perform as strategically now that she is in perfect health.
It is important to understand the urgency in reciprocating on these issues. This is because if Pakistan-China relationship that is being built at present through the One Belt One Road initiative, takes an ugly turn for India, we could be facing a two-war front - fighting Pakistan while simultaneously striving to hold off China.