Restore Normal Diplomatic Ties with Pakistan and Resume Dialogue

Marriages, some say, are made in heaven and broken on earth. The heaven in which the recent marriage of Indian and Pakistani postures regarding the pulling back of troops from the border has been made is anybody’s guess. But this is one marriage which only thoroughbred warmongers would like to see broken. Everybody else would wish this marriage to continue even if it is a marriage of sheer convenience without a shred of conviction.

The official justification provided for the decision to pull troops back to their peacetime level and location is as specious as was the last December decision to rush troops in the first place. Going by the periodic statements made by senior ministers of the Vajpayee cabinet or official spokesmen, there has been no decline in what they call incidence of cross-border terrorism or infiltration from across the border. Elections are of course over in Jammu and Kashmir, but they have been far from what the government could have propagated as a model of peace. There is therefore no factual basis to claim that the troops are now being pulled back after the deployment has achieved its officially proclaimed objective.

In fact, most defence strategists admit in private that Operation Parakram failed to have any impact except provoking a matching stance of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation from Pakistan. Even those pro-establishment analysts and military planners who would not go as far as to dismiss it as a counter-productive exercise have no hesitation in accepting that such military moves are clearly being governed by the law of diminishing returns. The belated decision to phase out an exercise that should not have been undertaken at all amounts to nothing short of a statement of failure of the so-called line of coercive diplomacy and belligerent posturing.

It is not easy to calculate the real cost of an exercise like Operation Parakram, the biggest deployment of troops since the 1971 war. The estimate of a few thousand crores of rupees suggested by defence analysts leaves out the entire dimension of hidden cost of such a massive operation. It is reported that in Rajasthan alone, the number of peasant households affected is not less than 1,50,000. Imagine the vast stretches of agricultural land that remained fallow for one full year.

Another estimate has it that in Jammu and Kashmir alone, the Army laid mines on around 25,000 acres of land. And then clearing these mines is much more hazardous than laying them. Even without any real war, every time mines are laid and hopefully removed - some areas are never really de-mined - the exercise claims an unknown number of civilians and military personnel.

Unable to come to terms with the fact that Operation Parakram has had to end in such a great fiasco, the Vajpayee government is grumbling in frustration. Instead of backing up the decision to pull back troops with urgent measures to restore normal diplomatic ties with Pakistan and resume a comprehensive dialogue on all outstanding issues including Kashmir, it is therefore trying to queer the pitch of a possible Indo-Pak reconciliation by every other means. And this is one area where it is assured of ungrudging support from the Congress and most other opposition parties. By creating a stalemate in Kashmir over the issue of government formation, the Congress has already made it clear that neither has it learnt any lesson from the crisis in Kashmir nor is it prepared to mend its ways in this regard.

While welcoming the belated withdrawal of troops from the border, we cannot therefore afford to forget that only a powerful and vigilant democratic opinion on both sides of the India-Pakistan border can force the two quarrelsome regimes to move towards a new phase of enduring peace and cooperation.