Dialogue, not bellicosity


Need to shed the language of revenge and animosity

The orders by top military commanders of India and Pakistan to their respective armed forces to respect the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) and the toning down of war rhetoric by the leadership and the military top brass are welcome steps since they renew hopes of revival of a truce that has held out for the last ten years on this dividing line. However, there is much more that needs be done simply to reverse the losses of the last fortnight. The first and foremost loss was the casualty of soldiers on both sides, which is irreparable and cannot be undone. But the insecurities and the firing can certainly be brought to a halt and mercifully, Thursday happened to be a calmer day and one can only wish that this truce holds out promisingly in the future as well. The brinkmanship in Islamabad and in a much larger measure in New Delhi in perfect symphony with the tensions and incidents of repeated firing in some sectors of the LoC damaged and destroyed much more. For instance, it brought to halt the trade and the bus service via the Poonch-Rawalakote route. It put on hold the visa on arrival for senior citizens at Wagah and sent back Pakistani sports teams marching back unceremoniously.

These are severe damages in too short a span of time to the peace process and to the ties between India and Pakistan, which had just begun improving after a long time. So there is need to make amends and revive these much needed confidence building measures with a sense of immediacy. And that is what is problematic in the callous manner that the Indian external affairs minister Salman Khurshid outrightly turned down the offer of foreign ministers level talks with Pakistan and said that the issue is being sorted out at the DGMO level. If indeed the military level talks, even though they are not quite in place and only visible in the mutual orders to act with restraint at the borders, have the potential of undoing all the damages to the peace process suffered in the last fortnight or so, there may be nothing to worry about. But past experiences have revealed that while it takes a few days to upset the CBMs, it take years to build them and re-build them. The sooner that happens, the better it is for both sides. Revival of the ties to the point they were when the hostilities at the LoC took an ugly turn earlier this month may really not require immediate Foreign Ministers level talks, but they certainly need some serious dialogue at a much higher political or official level and not just the military level. 

At the same time, both India and Pakistan need to begin some introspection to resist the temptation of falling into the war mongering mould in future. The onus lies more on India which seeks for itself a bigger role in the SAARC partnership and therefore needs to desist from aping the western model of Big Brother attitude; instead it needs to emulate the big brotherly attitude of the oriental tradition, playing the more tolerant role and acting as the guardian of not only its own interests but also that of the neighbours. Pakistan, with its multiple problems can ill-afford to engage with India in hostilities, yet it gets pushed into responding with whimpers of belligerence when India’s echoes of war bugles get louder. The onus of restraint lies more on the Indian side which should shun the language of revenge and animosity so that it can hear the resonance of peace on the other side of the border as well. The tensions at the borders and the bloodshed are deplorable but there is nothing that hawkishness and belligerence can achieve; however diplomatic ways of sorting out issues certainly can. The latter is the only course if the ambition is achieving peace and fostering a healthy SAARC region.