It cannot be mere coincidence. Whenever there’s a hint of the troubled diplomatic equations between India and Pakistan looking up, there are well-directed acts from across the border to escalate tension and pull things back to status quo. There are two possibilities here: one, there are powerful elements in the Pakistani establishment who would like the peace moves to be a non-starter; and two, Islamabad is playing a clever double game with India.
In a massive confidence-building initiative, India allowed the Pakistan cricket team to visit the country and play a few matches - the first such move since the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. It also allowed Pak Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, to visit New Delhi and unveil a new liberalised visa regime for greater people-to-people interaction on both sides. After a long season of chilly vibes there were signs of thaw.
Intriguingly, the same period witnessed a sudden escalation in cross-border violence along the Line of Control after a lull of a few months. There have been more than 10 ceasefire violations over the past four weeks alone. While skirmishes between defence personnel on both sides are not unusual, what strikes about Monday’s incident is the brutality involved. The Pakistani troops which allegedly crossed over the LoC on Monday mutilated the bodies of two Indian soldiers killed in the gunfight.
The savagery seems to have been intended to serve a purpose. It was a message to the peaceniks on both sides, more specifically to those in India. It’s possible that the perpetrators were under instruction from their bosses in Pakistan to carry out the brutal mutilation. The latter could not be unaware that the public reaction to the act would be much sharper in India than deaths from gunfire exchange. This would put the brakes on the peace moves.
“Pakistan Army’s action is highly provocative. The way they treated the dead bodies of Indian soldiers is inhuman,’’ said Defence Minister AK Antony. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid termed the mutilation 'ghastly' and 'extremely distressing’. There have been similar reaction across the political spectrum in India. Khurshid talked about `proportionate reaction’ to the act from India.
The response from Islamabad has been on predicted lines. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has already denied the role of Pakistan’s Army in the incident and said they're willing to accept a third-party probe into the matter. Everyone knows a third-party probe does not mean anything. And, knowing the insincerity on the Pakistani side in such cases earlier, it’s only safe to predict that this case will also hit a dead end soon.
In such circumstances, what could be the proportionate reaction from India? Frankly, nobody has an answer. The civilian government in Pakistan is too powerless to act against the Army. The Army is beyond any accountability. Moreover, the intent of the civilian government in pursuing the peace agenda is always suspect. There will always be questions on whether the peace moves from Pakistan are only a tactic to distract attention from planned operations by its Army across the LoC. Of course, there will be questions whether any peace talks makes sense when the civilian government is not in control of the country.
The dilemmas are bigger for India than Pakistan. War with a nuclear-power is not an option. It has more to gain from good equations and peaceful coexistence with its neighbour. However, with different equally powerful elements in the Pakistani establishment not in agreement with India's policy, it is difficult to move ahead with a peace plan. It makes matters worse that the national identity of Pakistan is built around the anti-India sentiment. Diplomacy is useful. But it can only serve the limited purpose of averting an open war.
It’s a tricky situation indeed. India needs to tread with great caution.