Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Let Army retaliate and avenge….but don’t stop talks with Pakistan

One more border incident. One more attack on Indian soldiers. One more raucous political debate on India’s “soft” foreign policy. One more round of Pakistan bashing, against rightfully. One more demand for calling off of talks. One more round of TRP-boosting TV jingoism. Even one more wasted session of Parliament maybe. None of this is necessary really. Border skirmishes should be handled by the army in a routine way. Pakistani army got into Indian territory and killed five soldiers. Indian army must find its own ways to retaliate and avenge this. Keep politics and media out of it.

The Army is well capable of doing this. But is our media and politics capable of staying out? For an opposition looking for a fight every day, and now for excuses to stall the working of Parliament, this incident has come as a god-sent. This incident allows yet more pouring out of fake vitriol, of showing “deep concern” (Ravi Shankar Prasad’s favorite words) for our Army, of calling the government ineffective. But in terms of constructive ideas, there is nothing to offer. The only solution to every border skirmish is “India should stop talks”, as if that is the solution for world peace. Stop talks with Pakistan. Stop talks with China. Stop talks with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan….even Nepal. And then wring your hands in pity when China grabs all our neighbors.

Thanks to the BJP’s “muscular” brand of diplomacy, relations with Bangladesh are at a sorry low. Bangladesh’s government has been a friend of India’s for the last five years. It has helped curb terrorism from its soil. In return, India was expected to behave like the big brother, indulging a small, friendly neighbor. This is how diplomacy works right? But no, thanks to Mamata’s juvenile brain, and very importantly, thanks to the BJP’s support to Mamata, and their constant mocking of the Congress, India couldn’t sign the Teesta waters deal with that country. Relations with Bangladesh have thus plummeted. As if Mamata was not enough, the BJP had more silly politics of its own to conduct. It opposed the government’s plan to swap colonies on either side of the border, on the specious argument that we were giving away a little more than we were getting back. This is not the way you handle a neighbor. The same thing happened in Sri Lanka when yet another opposition party, the AIADMK raised the pitch so high that the government was forced to do what it did on the UN resolution against that country. In the highly competitive politics that prevails in that state, the DMK raised the pitch even further and quit the UPA. Why all this politics over foreign relations?

So we now have a hostile neighborhood, mostly of our own creation. We can mend relations with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka immediately, by just pulling diplomacy out of the hands of regional parties. We can amend relations with Pakistan by continuing to talk with them, even as our army gives an appropriate localized response to their attacks. The BJP may demand that we stop talks, but they should remember that even at the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet and Western nations were engaged in a virtual war, talks between the two sides were not stopped. Even when there is a real war between Israel and its neighbors, talks are not talked. The only place where talks are not being held – between the two Koreas – the situation is at breaking point. Even here, efforts are being made to engage in dialogue. The only way out of a messy situation is via talks.

The problem with saturation media coverage of every border incident is that it raises the nationalistic pitch so high that one feels compelled to take a belligerant stand. We feel like saying “Lets attack Pakistan and pummel them”. This is low-level intellect. This kind of attack is merely verbal. This kind of verbal attack is consumed only by the lowest levels of our society, the fiery-with-words-cowardly-in-action brigade of TV-studio-debate-specialists. None of them have the guts to advocate strong restraint. Or push for localized action, but maintenance of talks.

The brief to the Army should be to repulse such attacks so strongly that it brings the enemy to the discussion table with folded hands. But come to the table, they must. Come to the table, and agree to make amends. Promise to leave us alone. But when the Army doesn’t do that, then the enemy becomes more brazen with each passing incident. In any case, the PM of Pakistan hardly has any control over his country’s turf. What kind of a country allows terrorists to merrily walk into a jail and release hundreds of dreaded fellow-buddies? Now we know why Obama had to send his own troops deep inside Pakistani territory to nab and kill Osama. Our Army has to respond in a similar way. Our Army must provide the leverage that our diplomats require to break Pakistan’s back.

If our government has held the Army back from this, then it’s unacceptable. And it must be attacked. But to attack the Defence Minister for his choice of words – whether he said “Pakistani Armymen” or “people in Pakistani Army uniforms” hardly matters. It doesn’t give Pakistan an escape route, no matter what Arun Jaitley says. Pakistan would have denied its involvement in any case. They did so after the Mumbai attacks in a most brazen manner too. The Defence Minister doesn’t need to be attacked because of his poor English. He might need to be attacked if he has indeed gone soft in his directions to the Army. But does anyone in the BJP care for this little nuance? Does anyone in the media care for that matter?

The real truth is that talks must continue. But border skirmishes must be rebuffed locally with requisite aggression. If the government has stopped the Army from doing this, it is wrong. But if the opposition believes that we must stop talks, it is wrong too….

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