The Season of Pakistan
Posted on 1-November-2016
On 18th September this year a number of infiltrators from Pakistan managed to enter an army base located at Uri on this--that is, Indian--side of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and killed 18 Indian soldiers. Government of India not only publicly denounced the attack but handed over proof to the Government of Pakistan that people responsible for this act had come in from Pakistan. Pakistan denied the Indian accusation as it has always done in the past. Indian media, especially the electronic media whipped public opinion into an anti-Pakistani frenzy. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and to a certain extent, Government of India, persuaded themselves that there was popular demand for some retaliatory action. People in India were led to believe that there was disapproval of Pakistani action in some of the important capitals of the world. On 29th of September, the Indian Director General of Military Operations announced that during the preceding night Indian Special Forces had crossed the Line of Control and struck at a number of places and killed a number of persons who were at the point of being sent to the Indian side with the purpose of performing several acts of terrorist violence. The Indian Army's operations on the night of 28th September were soon named surgical strikes by the Indian media, apparently at the suggestion of the Government's spin masters. Anti-Pakistan talk and boasting about the bravery and the capacities of the Indian Special Forces continued into the month of October. At one point the boasting acquired such a pitch that the Indian Prime MInister cautioned people against chest thumping.
Pakistan denied that such strikes had taken place. This provoked different people in India, politicians, pundits, pressmen, and Pakistan experts into making inflated claims about the effect on Pakistani morale of the Indian Army's action on 28th September. Stories about apparent confusion in Pakistan about how to respond to the Indian action or about how there was not only no international condemnation of the Indian action but quiet approval too in some quarters were eagerly consumed by those who read newspapers or those who watch television. No one in the media even paused to wonder whether the Pakistani denial of the Indian army action might not have the positive purpose of the Pakistani government being unwilling to be pushed into any retaliatory adventure. There was talk of isolating Pakistan internationally. There was talk of other action to make Pakistan realise that its continued encouragement of terrorist violence on Indian soil would not be without cost. Government of India announced that it would not participate in the SAARC summit in Islamabad in November this year. When four other members of the organisation announced they would likewise not participate in the summit there was unconcealed joy in India. Then Government of India went first into a publicised review of whether to unilaterally abrogate the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. Mercifully that review concluded with the supposed decision that India would move towards full utilisation of its share of the waters of the Indus system--an act that will take several years to complete because it will entail the construction of a few dams. Then came the equally publicised examination of the question whether India should withdraw the the Most Favoured Nation treatment to imports from Pakistan which it had extended unilaterally in 1996. Someone in Government of India must have seen that such an action will cause practically no pain to Pakistan.
In the month of October the Indian Prime Minister participated in two summit meetings: the G20 summit in Hangzhou and the BRICS-BIMSTEC summit in Goa. These three groups--of none of which Pakistan is a member--have numerous points on their agenda. Indian media reports suggested that the Indian Prime MInister's interventions were about cross-border terrorism from Pakistan to the exclusion of every other issue these summits were concerned with. If this was so it was obviously because that is how the Indian government's spin masters wanted the Indian Prime Minister's interventions to be reported. Thus throughout the month of October Pakistan's encouragement of violence, or the bravery and sacrifices of Indian men in uniform dominated Indian news reporting. High on the adrenaline of patiotism the Government's supporters, men and women of the Bharatiya Janata Party and various other adherents of different shades of hindutva took control of political discourse, ready to denounce as anti-national any expression of doubt about some of the anti-Pakistani hysteria or about all the jingoistic rashness of speech. Even the stars and starlets of filmdom jumped into the fray. A political group in Maharashtra which feeds on Maratha sub-national chauvinism launched a call for boycotting Indian films in which there were Pakistani actors and actresses, in the event forcing the hand of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra who negotiated a settlement between this group and one film maker whose film with a Pakistani in it was to be released at the end of October--a settlement the terms of which were roundly denounced by some army men. Simultaneously with ratcheting up of anti-Pakistan rhetoric, there was regular glorification of the Indian armed forces culminating with the Prime Minister personally asking Indian citizens to send diwali greetings to Indian fighting men on the day of diwali on 30th October.
The Indian army action on 28th September has not resulted in abatement of violence in Kashmir. On 2nd October an army base in Baramula was attacked. Also since then there has been shooting across the Line of Control at different places almost daily. Indian media has reported the firm military response to Pakistani provocations and causing significant damage to the attackers. Also from time to there have been reports of terrorists being neutralised while crossing the line of control. All these developments have helped create an atmosphere in which the government's defence policy and its policy towards Pakistan cannot be criticised, for the critic is promptly denounced as anti-national. Yet soon after the first round of expression of support for the army action of 28th September, different political parties and individuals started raising doubts about the government's motives in giving publicity to the 28th September raids across the Line of Control. Many suggested that this was done with an eye on elections in spring next year to legislative assemblies of five Indian states among whom is the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh. If this were true, it would follow that tensions along the Line of Control as well strident ant-Pakistani rhetoric would be kept up till after the elections. If this were true then it would follow that by raising the temperature along the Line of Control, Pakistan would be improving the prospects of Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janta Party in the next spring's election. Conversely by keeping up the tension along the Line of Control, India would be strengthening the hand of the Pakistani army especially when the elected government of Nawaz Sharif is in serious trouble. Is there room here for a conspiracy theory?
I have held the view for a long time that the country most responsible for enhancing the importance of Pakistan in the eyes of the world is India. I have expressed that opinion at least once in official paper. Looking at news and views in India over the last two months gives me the joy of saying to myself that I have been right all along. Pakistan by its actions over the last seven decades has convinced large numbers of people in India that it will never miss an opportunity to create trouble for India at home and abroad. Policy makers in Delhi have no choice but to make the assumption that Pakistan will always be a troublesome neighbour. Policymakers must therefore plan and put into action countermeasures. But it is not necessary--even undesirable--to talk and boast about the counter measures India takes. Also India needs quietly to improve the security of its military establishments so that outsiders--Indian or Pakistani--cannot enter them as easily as they did in Pathankot and Uri. In other words the less India talks about Pakistan, the better. But without a convenient enemy like Pakistan, how does a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist government mobilise opinion behind it? The result is that from time to time India has a season of Pakistan. The present one is not the first one, nor the last, unless the two countries incinerate each other.