Have we been too uncharitable to our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government over their handling of violations of the ceasefire along the Line of Control culminating in the brutal deaths of two Indian soldiers and three Pakistanis? Columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta certainly thinks so.
Even while television anchors deem the death of the Indian soldiers the gravest provocation possible and the BJP varies in its demands from seeking "ten heads for every Indian one" to a "controlled military response", the government has largely allowed the Indian Army to take its own decisions at a tactical level, taken a few steps back diplomatically and assured the Pakistani government that it won't be business as usual.
According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, it is the restraint shown by India throughout, even in the face of incidents like the terror strikes in Mumbai and the killing of two soldiers along the Line of Control that has served the nation better than aggressive posturing or even dramatic action.
Arguing for the Prime Minister to be given more credit for his handling of this incident in the Indian Express, he says:
It is such realism that has increased the asymmetry between Pakistan’s and India’s standing globally. Of course, we need options to deal with a situation like this, and our governance problems are gnawing away at defence capabilities, but it is not clear that stopping talks, trade or civil society relations gives us any more options. This engagement will give you more options in the future not less, which is why the Pakistan establishment abhors it.
However, while we can thank our stars that some of our television anchors don't have their fingers on the button that launches nuclear weapons, there isn't reason to really go gaga over the handling of the entire incident by the Indian government as well.
Pakistan may preach peace and white doves presently, but it doesn't mean that we don't have infiltration across the border and assymetric tactics employed by the Pakistani Army like the use of terrorists in regions like Jammu and Kashmir.
Perhaps what India needs, as columnist Amitabh Mattoo points out in the Hindustan Timesis a long term strategy against Pakistan, its Army and its convoluted internal politics:
Today, there is no Indian strategic policy towards our most troublesome neighbour, only tactics. No long-term goals, only endless ‘debates’ over short-term gains and losses. No national consensus over Pakistan, only national confusion. We, as a nation, are not even clear about the kind of Pakistan that we want in the future: a stable and prosperous country; or a fragile and failing State; or disintegrated multiple Pakistans. While it may not be possible, as Singh stated, to have “business as usual” with Pakistan, can we at least have a long-term ‘business’ plan?
So while the UPA government can pat itself on the back for its handling of this incident, generous compliments might be misplaced given it evidently seems to have been unable to draft a policy that deals with the curveballs that Pakistan will continue to throw at it. And more worryingly, if the Indian government does have a plan, it is surprisingly unwilling to articulate it to its own people apart from saying it involves maintaining of peace.
India will not be able to adhere to a foreign policy which isolates Pakistan and leaves it to its own devices, while it suffers the repercussions of it. But it also can't afford an approach that is dictated either by outrage or over isolated incidents. As Firstpostpointed out earlier, all that's needed is an accepted carrot-and-stick policy towards Pakistan where its India that's holding the stick.