Vol. XL No. 41 October 09, 2016

End Strident Jingoism, Reduce Tensions

A WEEK after the official announcement about the surgical strikes conducted across the Line of Control, there is much which is unclear about this operation and what it has achieved.  Through briefings to the media, it was put out that seven terrorist launch pads were targeted by two groups of special forces. It was also claimed that 38 terrorists and their assistants were killed.

Sections of the corporate media, particularly the television channels, went into jingoistic frenzy.  However, days after this event, there is still an opaque curtain on what actually was undertaken that night.  Whatever was done in terms of a military operation is now sought to be projected more to cater to the domestic constituency of the RSS- BJP and to create an aura around the prime minister as one who brooks no nonsense from Pakistan. 

The jingoistic statements made by senior ministers of the cabinet display an infantile triumphalism.  The defence minister Manohar Parrikar has declared that Pakistan has not yet come out of the anesthesia delivered during the surgical strike.  Venkaiah Naidu has characterised Pakistan as a thief which was bitten by a scorpion but cannot cry out. These statements seem to be meant to provoke Pakistan to retaliatory action which can then be used to escalate the military situation.

Pakistan has responded by taking a group of media persons from the international media to their side of the LoC to confirm the position that Pakistan has taken that no surgical strikes were conducted.  The CNN, BBC and the western media have broadcast reports alluding to the peaceful and normal environment in the areas where the military strikes were said to have occurred. 

The Modi government has not released any video footage or evidence of the strikes conducted and their effects. While the war of words goes on between the Indian and Pakistani media, it is incumbent  upon the government to report to the people the nature of the military action that was taken.  Without doing so, the suspicion is growing that the government and the ruling party is seeking to convert what was claimed to be a pre-emptive counter terrorism strike into political grandstanding and to whip up jingoistic chauvinism. 

On both sides of the border, additional armed forces have been deployed to meet any contingency.  After the military action, villages alongside the LoC and the international border have been evacuated. In Punjab alone, people in around thousand villages have been ordered to move out.  This step has been badly resented by the local people who face dislocation and disruption of their livelihood.

A few days after the announcement of the surgical strikes, there has been an attack on an army-BSF camp in Baramulla in which a BSF jawan was killed.  This indicates the type of response which is going to emanate from Pakistan.  There will be a stepping up of militant attacks in Jammu & Kashmir.  The security forces are going to be tackling this threat in a much more difficult and hostile situation as much of the people in the valley are still in a state of mass agitation against the Indian State. 

In an editorial “After Uri, What”, we had argued that a military response to the Uri attack would be futile and will not address the basic problem between the two countries.  That requires a prolonged political and diplomatic effort. 

The Modi government cannot ignore the geo-political realities which are prevailing in the region.  Three days after the Uri incident, the US-Pakistan Defence Consultative Group met in Islamabad.  This is equivalent to the India-US Defence Policy Group. Notwithstanding Uri, the joint statement highlighted the two countries commitment to a strong defence relationship geared to achieve common strategic objectives particularly related to counter terrorism, regional stability and other areas of security cooperation.  The National Unity government in Afghanistan headed by Ashraf Ghani is besieged and the Taliban forces are making steady headway.  In such a situation, the United States acknowledges the centrality of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.  A few days after Uri, the first joint exercise between Russian and Pakistani armed forces was held on Pakistani soil.  This must be seen in the context of the growing military alignment between India and the United States.

The Modi government has been told by all the major powers – the USA, Russia, China and the United Nations – to exercise restraint and not let the situation get out of control.  The Pakistani government has also been given the same message.  The fact that the National Security Advisor to the Indian prime minister contacted his Pakistani counterpart on September 30 indicates that the Modi government is not immune to international opinion.  But the narrow compulsions of the prospective elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh dictates a strident and shrill rhetoric which undermines any steps to be taken to defuse tensions. 

If the Modi government has a modicum of national interest in mind, it will desist from sabre-rattling vis-à-vis Pakistan and bend its energies towards strengthening the border security apparatus to counter cross-border terrorism. It should make it prohibitive for any extremist group to cross the LoC.  At the same time, the Kashmir situation requires urgent political attention. Putting an end to State repression and beginning a political dialogue with all concerned is an imperative need. This must be accompanied by India starting the political and diplomatic process of engaging with Pakistan in a productive fashion. 

(October 5, 2016)