By Rajeev Sharma
For those who were expecting a major turn-around in India’s Pakistan policy in the wake of the gruesome killing of two Indian jawans and mutilation of their bodies in the Mendhar sector of the Line of Control on 8 January, here is a reality check. The UPA government is in no mood to take tough retaliatory measures against the difficult and troublesome nuclear-armed neighbor.
The issue came up for some intense discussion on Thursday at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the country’s highest decision-making body with regard to issues pertaining to national security. The CCS is headed by the Prime Minister and has ministers of home, defence, external affairs and finance, National Security Advisor (NSA), chiefs of army, air force, navy, Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) as members. The CCS discussions are never shared with the media as a matter of unwritten rule and it is extremely rare when the government briefs about a CCS meeting. This explains and puts in perspective the importance of CCS meetings.
Thursday’s meeting of the CCS was no exception and the government held no formal briefing for the media. However, feisty journalists forced three of the CCS members who attended today’s meeting to speak on record about the LoC incident. Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who briefed the media on Thursday afternoon in Shastri Bhavan about the meeting of the union cabinet and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), was asked about the CCS meeting. Chidambaram reluctantly confirmed that the CCS met and discussed the LoC incident and tersely remarked as follows: “We are certainly not going to agree to internationalise the issue or allow the United Nations to hold an inquiry (as suggested by Pakistan). That demand is obviously rejected out of hand. We take a serious view of what happened. Whatever has to be done will be done.”
Shivshankar Menon, who briefed the media about the first-ever stand-alone meeting of the BRICS’ NSAs in New Delhi on Thursday, initially dodged a volley of questions on the LoC incident. He was even sarcastic to a scribe who asked whether the LoC incident would force India to rethink its Pakistan policy and snapped back at the young journalist saying: “If you want to make a statement, come and sit here and make it. Do not put words in my mouth.”
The NSA said that neither had he on his own briefed his BRICS counterparts about the LoC incident nor any of them inquired about it. When the journalists still nudged him on the issue and asked him why he did not discuss the subject with his BRICS counterpart, he said “I do not expect BRICS to do something about it.”
Menon, in his characteristic diplomatic way, gave a broad indication that no major change in India’s Pakistan policy was in the offing. Sample his quote in response to a question whether the Indian government was going to revise its Pakistan policy: “All this is speculation. You have heard what the Foreign Minister said. He has made it quite clear that he is not jumping to any conclusions at this moment. So, I suggest you wait. After all he has been speaking to you even today. So, I think you need to at least give him more than fifteen minutes before you ask, have you reevaluated, have you changed policy again. I think it is quite clear. Government has said what it has to say on the event. You have a selection of adjectives – reprehensible, barbaric, dastardly, whatever you want. Sadly, it is not the first time this has happened. I hope it never happens again. But we have also told you exactly what we intend to do. So, now I think you should let Government go about its business. But you would not hear anything different from me from what he told you.”
The third important CCS actor who spoke on the subject on Thursday was union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. And he also had a similar indication to give: no drastic change in India’s Pakistan policy. Asked whether the new India- Pakistan relaxed visa regime would be put on hold in view of Pakistan’s latest provocation, Shinde said: "Whatever agreement has been entered into, it will be carried on. There is no rethinking on visa agreement."
Even the proposed visit of Pakistan’s judicial commission to India for cross examination of four persons in connection with the 26/11 Mumbai attack trial would not be cancelled by India, though a firm date for the visit is yet to be worked out. "It (the Pakistani judicial commission’s proposed India visit) is a very positive step. The way they would be coming, we would also go...We want this case to be concluded as early as possible," Shinde said.
However, Shinde hinted at the possibility of Pakistan-based terror fountainhead Hafiz Saeed, the founder chief of Lashkar e Toiba, having played a role in the latest escalation in Indo-Pak ties because of the LoC incident. The minister said Saeed had visited the border areas in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir a few days before the LoC incident and had talked to some people. In response to a question whether he felt that the Mendhar incident was choreographed by Saeed, Shinde said: “I do not have that information. But we are very keen to get such information. We are on the line".
Now, to deconstruct what the three important CCS actors tried to communicate to the media subtly from their different platforms.
The sum and substance is that the UPA government is not going to have any drastic changes in its Pakistan policy. Well, it may not be business as usual and the Indo-Pak relations may inch forward, or stay where they are, but India would not be too keen to push the CONTROL ALL DELETE button on its ties with Pakistan; not just yet.
Perhaps it will be unpalatable and unacceptable to the man on the street in India – and the UPA government won’t be unmindful of the people’s anger in this regard – this may not be the end of the Indo-Pak engagement process. The two sides have invested heavy political capital into this process. Both governments will be equal losers if the peace process were to go awry. The biggest challenge for the Manmohan Singh government would be to manage the opinion of its aam aadmi – the oft-repeated UPA mantra which brought it back to power.
Last, but not the least, it would be the biggest challenge for the UPA government in all its future dealings with the untrustworthy Pakistanis to ensure that not only its Pakistan policy does not boomerang but also it is seen to be delivering.
The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.