Sunday Pioneer, January 13, 2013
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Pakistan provocative, India squeamish
By Swapan Dasgupta
There were two template reactions within India to the killing and mutilation of two jawans by Pakistani troops along the Line of Control last week.
First, apart from an influential minusculity that is disproportionately represented in the media and among the power elite of Lutyens’ Delhi, few Indians were surprised by this latest example of Pakistani butchery. They, in fact, saw the decapitation of a slain Indian army jawan as just another instalment in a saga that began with the monstrous genocide in East Pakistan in 1971 and became the new normal with the Pakistan army’s emergence as the operational hub of insurgency and terrorism throughout South Asia.
I think it is wrong to refer to Pakistani perfidy. With Islamabad’s sponsorship of the war of a thousand cuts, the Kargil war, attack on Parliament, blasts in numerous Indian cities and the 26/11 massacre in Mumbai, the shedding of Indian blood has become an addiction to the Pakistan Establishment. Its nationhood, it would seem, depends on its ability to cause grief across its borders. Those who believe that Pakistan will somehow change are hallucinating. For them, it is a case of ‘Daman ki asha’.
The second predictable response was from the Indian Government. Since its election in 2004, the Congress-led UPA Government has proceeded on the principle that India is obliged to seek the normalisation of relations through “uninterrupted and uninterruptable” engagement, come what may. True, the ferocity of public indignation forced it to put a halt to the process in the aftermath of 26/11 but that was treated as an unfortunate aberration. Like the Panchshila doctrine that beguiled Jawaharlal Nehru into lowering India’s guard against China, the Manmohan Singh Government has reposed all its faith in the spirit of the Sharm-el-Sheikh.
In practice this has meant that every Pakistani provocation (barring the 26/11 attack) has been met with hand-wringing squeamishness. It has almost appeared that the victim is embarrassed by the brazenness and audacity of the perpetrators of crimes against itself. This seems to be the precise meaning of the “nuanced” and “calibrated” responses that South Block has forever promised. No wonder the Pakistan High Commissioner was caught on TV with both a smile and a smirk when he entered South Block last Wednesday. It was as if he knew that the diplomatic rebuke was a meaningless ritual New Delhi had to undertake to placate an angry public.
The charade doesn’t end here. There are the odd occasions—as was the case last week when TV channels competed with the social media to wave the flag and express indignation over the killings and mutilations—when it becomes impossible to fob off the sense of outrage. In those times, ministers take turn to assure the nation that the sacrifices of the martyrs will not go in vain and that a “fitting response” awaits the blackguards in Pakistan. The calculation is that the dust will soon settle, the media focus will shift elsewhere and then it will be business as usual.
This is not to suggest that that our ministers aren’t patriotic or that people who have been entrusted with providing a holistic view of national security are disciples of the late but unlamented Neville Chamberlain—the British Prime Minister who believed that the best way to maintain peace was to concede everything to the adversary (and even pretend that the enemy was actually a friend). Yes, India’s decision-makers are fully aware that no belligerent action can be taken casually because we are, after all, dealing with a nuclear power. They are also aware that unilateral action risks internationalising a bilateral problem—something that Pakistan craves for.
Yet, behind these legitimate constraints is a far more acute problem about which India chooses to be in denial: New Delhi’s institutional awareness of the cross-currents in Pakistan is imperfect and its capacity for punitive action (that is, at the same time, deniable) is almost zero. In plain language this means that there is no worthwhile Indian network inside Pakistan, either for intelligence gathering or for covert action. Whatever little we know is courtesy friendly third countries.
This was not always so and there was a time (at least till the end of the 1980s) when India’s decision-makers knew exactly what was going on inside both civilian politics and the cantonments. The descent into ignorance came sometime between 1997 and 1998 when, in an act of monumental folly, the I.K. Gujral administration wound up the networks—some of which dated back to pre-Independence days. This dissolution was more than a casual administrative order. It even resulted in the betrayal and physical elimination of deeply embedded ‘assets’. Predictably, Pakistan did not reciprocate India’s unilateral genuflection at the altar of asymmetry. Its ability to cause pain to India is unimpaired. But the damage this early variant of Aman ki asha diplomacy did to India’s strategic interests is incalculable.
Sunday Pioneer, January 13, 2013