Indo-Pak face-off

Hot tempers apart, the dialogue must go on



The Line of Control is simmering again. The knives are out. And the prophets of doom have something to rejoice. The brutal killing of two Indian soldiers in an apparent incursion by their counterparts from across the border has left the entire nation bruised and calling for a retaliatory action. The Government of India is still cautious and calculating its response and is faced with an equally defiant dispensation in Islamabad which is finding it hard to come out of a perpetual denial mode.
This is the scenario prevailing as of today and which is not an easy one particularly for the Indian Government to deal with. They have to stand up to the expectations of over a billion people and at the same time keep the Indo-Pak bilaterals afloat.  There is no denying the fact that the two nations are facing testing times once again but it is imperative that the situation is dealt-with on both sides with pragmatism without surrendering even an inch of ground to the fanatics.
At stake is the mutually agreed ceasefire between the two countries which this time has lasted longer than expected. That is a positive and a happy augury in the fledgling Indo-Pak relations. It is ironic that the ceasefire is in danger while entering its 10th year and that too just at the beginning of a new year.
Should the Indian Government up the ante and play to the popular sentiment? The answer is a clear no. War between the two countries in the 21st century is no option and restrain is the key word on both sides of the border. The immediate challenge is to protect and sustain the decade old ceasefire. Any failure on this front will derail the entire peace process which has been painstakingly built not only by both the Governments but also the civil societies on either side.
Both the Governments have shown commitment towards a sustainable peace effort and even gone ahead with enacting a series of Confidence Building Measures although some very significant ones are still in the pipeline. The two countries should continue working with the same spirit. The Indian Government was quick to clarify that there is no going back on this front and was quite restrained in its response to a public cry for hard options.
The response of Islamabad has not surprised anyone in India. What is more worrying is the fact that Pakistan is soon going to face elections in the next few months and incidents such as the one occurring on January 8 in Mendhar sector on the LoC have the potential to become a vote garnering mechanism. It is in the interest of the two countries and the entire Indian sub-continent that the political parties in Pakistan should see a strong reason in projecting Indo-Pak friendship as a key ingredient of their respective manifestos rather than harping on raising and exploiting anti-India sentiment. So should be the case with some of the Indian political parties who survive on anti-Pakistan sentiment.
There are internal compulsions on either side. But these weigh more heavily on any Pakistan Government in the absence of a clear cut model of governance. The army and the ISI still have their feet firmly grounded and no ruling class can survive by antagonising them. In this the two units of the Pakistan’s administrative structure are fully aided by extremist elements such as Hafeez Saeed and his ilk.
The task is as daunting for the Pakistan’s ruling class and political spectrum as a whole to keep these elements under check as ever before. The fact that a very loose coalition is currently ruling in Islamabad, makes things more difficult for the incumbent Government to take on the combined might of military, ISI and the extremists.
The Indian scenario is quite in contrast to what is in place across the border. The biggest challenge before the Government will be on how to respond to the public outcry for counteraction to avenge the gory killings of two soldiers. The armies world-over have their own mechanisms to deal with such extreme situations which at many times are governed by the need to keep the forces’ moral high. But in the Indian context, the Government should ensure that any such option is either avoided or exercised with utmost caution.
 Politics or no politics, elections or no elections, no one should lose sight of the fact that the two countries have to co-exist for all times to come. And no one should also lose sight of the fact that the six decades of hostilities including three wars have heaped more miseries on either side than resolving any issue.
The extremists have their own agenda to foment trouble between the two countries. Although many of them have turned peaceniks over the years, the others like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Syed Salahuddin and Hafeez Saeed are incorrigible. The best course is to leave them alone and starve them of any patronage.
There is immense goodwill among the people on the two sides of the border for each other. There is a strong yearning among them to live in peace and share the fruits of economic liberalisation. That is a strong silver-lining. There is no doubt that this feeling of mutual goodwill will help the Governments also to overcome occasional road-humps such as the present one.
The people of India and Pakistan have solidly stood behind peace efforts made during the last decade or so. And that is one strong reason that the ceasefire could be sustained for so long. The entire gamut of Indo-Pak relations should be guided public pressure and aspirations and not by any other extraneous reason.
 The two countries need to bury their past, strengthen the present and look towards future. The resolve should be to remove all irritants through dialogue. Notwithstanding the occasional problems arising due to acts of omission of vested interests, the dialogue must go on to build an atmosphere of goodwill. The key lies in further strengthening the people to people contacts.

(The author is New Delhi Bureau Chief of Greater Kashmir. Feedback at:

Lastupdate on : Mon, 14 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 14 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 15 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST

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