Manmohan to Pakistan

‘Don’t mess with us’


GROUND ZERO

RAJ CHENGAPPA

The Prime Minister took a calculated risk of raising the stakes with Pakistan because in any case India expects no progress in its relations with its neighbour till the general elections are over this summer.

As the heat over the LoC incident in Jammu and Kashmir begins to cool down with Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid saying he is willing to consider the offer of Hina Rabbani Khar, his Pakistan counterpart, for a dialogue on the subject, it’s a good time to take stock of whether India’s response was adequate and appropriate.
While initially the Manmohan Singh government exercised caution in its response, the Prime Minister upped the ante apparently when faced with strident criticism for his “weak” action from Opposition parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Sushma Swaraj, BJP leader in the Lok Sabha, while conveying her condolences to the parents of Lance Naik Hemraj Singh, whose body was found decapitated at the LoC, demanded, “We should take revenge. Today the country is demanding that we should not be proved a weak government… If we do not get his head we should get 10 of theirs (Pakistan soldiers).”
BJP President Nitin Gadkari even demanded that India take up the matter with the UN, forgetting that this was precisely what Pakistan wants, which is to internationalise the border issue again. In fact, the Pakistan government’s first demand was that the incident be referred to the almost defunct UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), which India turned down.
Realising that the situation was getting out of hand, Manmohan Singh undertook a series of damage control measures. He dispatched National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon to brief the BJP leaders about the incident. Then the Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, used his Army Day press conference to talk tough to Pakistan on the border, stating, “My directions are clear, I expect my commanders to be aggressive and offensive on the LoC.”
At the Army Day reception at the Chief’s house, the Prime Minister came out with an unusually tough statement on the episode: “After this barbaric act, there cannot be business as usual with Pakistan.” India sent back a group of Pakistan hockey players who had been invited for the Hockey India League tournament and put on hold the visa-on-arrival scheme for elderly visitors from Pakistan.
The big question was how far would the Prime Minister walk his tough talk? When he said it wouldn’t be ‘business as usual’, would he take the drastic step of breaking diplomatic relations or suspending the composite dialogue that both sides had worked so hard to make some progress? Before the Prime Minister needed to take this call, Pakistan seemed to have got the message. Soon after, the Directors General of Military Operations of the two countries spoke to each other and agreed to deescalate tensions on the border. Next, Hina Rabbani toned down her aggressive rhetoric and called for a dialogue with Khurshid to sort out concerns about the LoC.
The real problem for India is that despite such reassurances it is finding it increasingly difficult to deal with a Pakistan government that lacks both cohesion and a clear centre of power. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led coalition government is on its last lap with elections due this summer. According to Pakistan’s constitution, an interim government is to be appointed after the dissolution of Parliament to oversee the elections.
India suspects the Pakistan Army is up to its old tricks to ensure that in the coming elections there is a fractured polity and thereby a weak civilian government that it could manipulate. With the extended tenure of Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s Army Chief, coming to an end in November, there is speculation about his post-retirement plans.
Given the domestic turmoil in Pakistan and a crucial transition in Afghanistan underway, the Pakistan Army is not likely to stage a coup in the coming months and capture power. Instead, Kayani may be looking to be elected President if a weak coalition government comes to power. Though, as history has shown, his successor as Army Chief may ensure that Kayani retires quietly or is banished abroad, like Pervez Musharraf was.
Manmohan’s tough talk and the Indian Army Chief’s belligerence appeared to have sent a clear message to the Pakistan Army that it should not mess with India. It was a warning to it not to internationalise the issue, including getting the US involved. Pakistan has some leverage over the US Army till it pulls out of Afghanistan and it hoped to get it to put some pressure on India. But the US (and China too) quietly desisted, stating that the matter should be sorted out bilaterally. India also took a calculated risk of raising the stakes because in any case it expects no progress in its relations with Pakistan till the general elections are over.
Despite the hard talk, the Indian government did indicate to Pakistan that it had narrowed down its concerns to “the beheading” and the LoC and wanted someone in Pakistan to be held accountable. This enabled Pakistan to make the right conciliatory noises. So in that sense, after a sluggish start, the Manmohan Singh government seems to have recovered ground without pushing itself into a corner while dealing with Pakistan. That is a good move, but in the coming months India must not lower its guard while dealing with Pakistan.

(THE SUNDAY TRIBUNE, 20 JANUARY 2013)

Lastupdate on : Sun, 20 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 20 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 21 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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