Yet another attack across the Line of Control between India and Pakistan and yet more casualties; weeping families, opportunistic politicians with blood money, and salivating TV anchors; angry retired servicemen, a chest-thumping public, and the usual peace activists. When all is said and done, more is said than done.
India’s military options have been spelled out each time there has been an incident on the border, but to reiterate the past wisdom our parliamentarians seem to keep missing: 1. better equipment, 2. more border posts, 3. more and staggered patrols, 4. better SIG(nals)INT(elligence), and finally, remember 5. the border zone is its own wild, Wild West with its own rules.
Yet beyond a purely tactical response, Indians either ignore or lack a framework with which to approach a rogue state like Pakistan. This applies to both, the mindlessly jingoistic and opportunistic Opposition as well as the cravenly supplicating Indian government. Most irksome is the unrestrained “hydraulic pressure” on television that is supposed to somehow stand in for an intelligent argument.
Some “peace” activists try to conflate the personal with the state. As the late Kenneth Waltz theorised, conflict can be analysed at three levels – the human, the state, and the international system. These three are undoubtedly interconnected, but one cannot substitute for the other. Thus, the human tragedy of a conflict cannot necessarily dictate that violence be avoided; the bullet-ridden corpse, the crippled teenager, and the weeping widow, regardless of sides, are all rightful claimants of our deepest sorrow, but personal tragedy cannot be inflated to national proportions. In the case of the killing of five Indian soldiers, the grief is at the personal level, but the tragedy experienced at the national level is not their deaths, but that the deaths probably happened due to Delhi’s negligence.
There is another brand of observers who prefer the faults-on-both-sides argument. If five Indians were killed in Poonch, it was because five Pakistanis were killed in the Neelam Valley, which was because, someone else…Kupwara…Nazia Peer… I am holding my comments until this is dragged all the way to Cain and Abel. To be fair, this line of reasoning is academically interesting and should indeed be considered in formulating a broader strategy. Yet war is about physical dominance, while negotiations may more resemble high school debating club. The testosterone-drenched environment during the Wagah Border Ceremony is not merely a matter of aesthetics but psychology too; it is a subtle reminder that when the enemy violates the border again, they will face a Rambo and not a Steve Urkel.
There is also a loud clamouring for talks between India and Pakistan, peppered with clichés about guns vs. butter, peace, love among the common citizen, brotherhood, and the nuclear shield. In principle, this sounds fine. To paraphrase US President John F. Kennedy in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly in 1961, India should never negotiate out of fear but neither should it fear to negotiate? It must be accepted, however, that dozens of rounds of official and Track II diplomacy has nothing yet to show for it. Worse, Pakistan has not even kept its word on issues it has agreed on. To repeat the same thing over and over again and yet expect different results, they say, is the mark of insanity. What is India to do?
The value of talks cannot be denied but it Pakistan seems to be the only one accruing benefits. As a rogue country filled with Islamists desperately trying to get hold of its nuclear arsenal, Islamabad is held to a lower standard of conduct; the fact that they are holding talks in an attempt, however false, to resolve the Kashmir issue turns on the taps in Washington and aid starts flowing. India needs to take a page out of Israel’s book on this matter.
What would be the result if Delhi refused to hold talks with anyone in Pakistan who could not deliver on promises made? This would cut out the civilian government, but it is a myth that Pakistan’s civilian prime ministers have been friendlier towards India – on the contrary, they have been more hawkish. Any accord between India and Pakistan can be delivered upon only by Pakistan’s Army and intelligence agency, the ISI. As the Democratic Senate leader, Mike Mansfield, is often paraphrased, it takes a Nixon to go to China.
India needs to raise the price of even talking to Pakistan. Furthermore, it must not accept any talks with feckless leaders who cannot deliver on whatever they agree to. A pre-condition for further talks must be the extradition of wanted terrorists like Hafiz Saeed who are moving freely and openly in Pakistan. If international pressure mounts on Delhi, any negotiation with an impotent Pakistani leadership must be limited and conducted via a third party so there will be a witness to the perfidy from Islamabad. Diplomatic ties can be downgraded to the consular level, and trade limited or taxed. India must use its weight in international bodies to throttle aid to Pakistan whenever possible, or at least affix conditions that demand that the aid be sanitised from contact with terrorism via sub-contractors, finance, labour, etc.
Whatever other strategies Delhi decides to adopt to put pressure on Islamabad, be it in Afghanistan, Balochistan, or along the LoC, raising the diplomatic heat will also squeeze the Islamic republic. Even if it has no impact, these privileges – higher diplomatic relations, trade, peace junkets – must be given for a price. And if Islamabad refuses to play ball, there is yet a case to be made that India will lose any more than it already is.