India and Pakistan Must Return to the Negotiating Table

WHEN VAJPAYEE exhorted the jawans to get ready for a “decisive battle” while addressing them at the Kupwara brigade headquarters it marked a new stridency in the renewed rhetoric. Asking Ashraf Jehangir Qazi to pack up his bags and leave has completed the process of steady diplomatic disengagement. Putting the armed forces once again on high alert, accompanied by troop and naval movements and other such military postures has pushed the brinkmanship to a new and menacing high. The Kaluchak incident in which terrorists killed 30 people is said to be the immediate provocation. Vajpayee however has left the nation and the world wondering why Kaluchak should land India into a disastrous war with Pakistan when even Kargil and December 13 didn’t.

Having propounded the theory that war is the only counter to terrorism and refusing to demobilize and resume negotiations, the Vajpayee regime has created a bind from which it finds it difficult to extricate itself. All that it requires for a handful of terrorists is to lob a few grenades to either call the Indian government’s bluff or push it to the brink. Five months of warmongering has not put an end to isolated acts of terrorism. Nor have the full-sale troop deployment and futile ‘coercive’ diplomacy succeeded in bullying the neighbour. Pakistan, on its part, has played it cool and time and again offered to talk. Frustration at its own diplomatic bungling now pushes India into toying with the idea of military adventures.

The outcome of the so-called diplomatic offensive can at best be described as barren, if not counter-productive. The government obviously cannot claim any success in terms of its own parameters and standards. In fact, the strategy is only liable to land the country in greater trouble and possibly war. It is clear to all sane and right-thinking people on both sides of the Indo-Pak border that a war between the two nuclear-powered neighbours is and should no longer be an option. This leaves India and Pakistan with the only option of a direct and effective bilateral diplomatic engagement. The Indian course of action however amounts to a movement in the opposite direction of diplomatic disengagement. This can only mean greater leeway for the Americans and their British lieutenants and loss of initiative for India. Just witness the flurry of diplomatic activity underway and the list of foreign dignitaries coming down to ‘troubleshoot’.

Indian government’s accusation is that Pakistan is behind the recent acts of terrorism in J&K which are intended to disrupt the oncoming elections in the state. Even if this is true, it needs to be countered on a different plane and not by threatening to jump to war. Advani, revealing once more his political bankruptcy and ‘hardline’ mindset, declared a ‘change in tactics’ in Kashmir, later spelled out as harsher steps against pro-Pakistan elements in the Hurriyat. Ironically, within a couple of days it was Abdul Gani Lone, described as a ‘Man of Peace’ by none other than the PM himself, who has been assassinated.

The growing incidence and scale of terrorism also signifies a total failure of the Indian Government’s policy of tackling Kashmir with the help repressive legislations like POTA. Evidently over the last five years there has been no forward movement in Kashmir in terms of creation of a credible political environment conducive to free and fair elections. The thoroughly opportunist and increasingly tenuous alliance of convenience between the BJP and the National Conference only heightens the bankruptcy and hypocrisy of official politics in Kashmir. When the Home Minister keeps talking tough and senior leaders including Yasin Malik are put behind the bars under POTA, the people of Kashmir can only feel alienated from the routine motions of formal politics. And, let there be no mistake, alienation and anger of the people is the mother of all terrorism, imported or home-grown. The secular democratic opinion in India must not allow the NDA government to deepen the mess in Kashmir with its current policy of short-sighted adventurism and the so-called diplomacy of disengagement with Pakistan and dependence on Washington.

War and jingoism must be out, diplomacy and dialogue must be in.