When Elephants Fight!

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When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled African Proverb

WITH the Defence Minister AK Antony announcing that the Indian army has been given a free hand to carry-out  “punitive fire assaults” and “other strong cross- border counter measures” against any misadventure by the Pakistan army on the Line of Control (LoC), rationalists on both sides have once again been made to bite the dust. And with this, now it would be guns and not politicians or diplomats, that will do all the talking. Thus, all hopes of any possible reproachment through dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad that may have arisen out of Nawaz Sharif’s munificent gesture of friendship and Manmohan Singh’s equally warm response are now effectively foreclosed!

Given the deep-rooted acrimony that exists between India and Pakistan, there can be no better or easier way to stoke this fire of animosity than by simply escalating tensions on the LoC, as any death of soldiers here arouses the primeval human instinct of vendetta in both nations – amongst not only the ignoramus, but even the highly educated too. This it is also a very convenient enterprise, because in this bloody business of exchanging bombs and bullets, those who are ultimately caught in the crossfire between the two armies are neither Indian nor Pakistani nationals but the poor Kashmiris. Most importantly, with tensions on the LoC, the ‘hawks’ come to rule the roost and ‘ultra- nationalism’ prevails, which in turn ensures that the possibility of any dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad for resolving the Kashmir problem is effectively aborted. 

So, while the ‘blame- game’ for the Poonch incident may go on and the legislators of both countries may pass resolutions blaming each other, it materially doesn’t matter who is to be blamed for the current tension on the LoC. Neither is it important as to whether it was the Pakistan army, terrorists or a mix of both who killed the Indian troopers in Poonch. However, what actually matters to the Kashmiris is the that since this incident occurred on Indian side of the LoC, it has given New Delhi a reason good enough to portray Pakistan as the aggressor and displaying belligerence, outrightly dismiss any scope of an early Indo- Pak dialogue. So, just because of this incident, the people of Kashmir will now once again have to wait for yet another day for India and Pakistan to sit down to discuss Kashmir- and this is what really hurts! 

There is no doubt that maintaining ‘status quo’ on Kashmir suits New Delhi and therefore, escalating tension on the LoC could well have been its own creation. However, even if this was the case, it is really surprising that the seasoned Generals of Pakistan army could have been so naïve as to be lured so easily into such obvious a trap. Yet, this has happened and while those responsible for this act may feel proud of their achievement, the fact is that through this incident the perpetuators have actually ‘helped’ New Delhi by enabling  it to squarely put the onus for the ‘breakdown’ of the Indo-Pak dialogue process on Pakistan. And the end result is that  the Kashmir issue has conveniently been put into the ‘backburner’ once again!

A permanent state of ‘war’ on the LoC does neither India nor Pakistan any good and the present ‘face-off’ between India and Pakistan is the most unfortunate thing to have happened for the Kashmiris, as for no fault of theirs, they have once again become the proverbial ‘grass’, which invariably ‘gets trampled when two elephants fight.’ With the UN silent on the implementation of its resolutions on Kashmir and America reiterating that Kashmir is a bilateral issue which both India and Pakistan need to resolve mutually, absence of any dialogue simply translates into ‘status quo’ for the Kashmiris. 

The Pakistan National Assembly, which recently reiterated its moral support to the ‘fight for freedom in Jammu and Kashmir,’ should follow-up its commitment towards the people of Kashmir by taking necessary steps to get New Delhi to the negotiating table, even if it means swallowing its pride. The Pakistan military too needs to support the Kashmiris by not indulging in any acts, which heighten tension on the LoC and avoid being provoked into crossing the LoC; as such actions only serve New Delhi’s interests to create a situation that retards progress on resolution of the Kashmir issue through dialogue. 

On its part, New Delhi must also tone down its rhetoric, restore rationality in its outlook and even walk the extra mile, if necessary, to re-establish  a fully functional ‘working relationship’ with Islamabad as there is no gainsaying that India and Pakistan can only achieve enduring peace through dialogue. There is bound to be considerable internal opposition from radical groups and political parties to any steps taken for normalisation of Indo Pak relations and they will use every opportunity to further their own vested interests by whipping up public frenzy against talks. However, notwithstanding the opposition and attempts to derail the peace process, both New Delhi and Islamabad should go ahead with the same as ushering in peace is in the overall interests of both countries.

The damage being done to the Kashmir cause by the ‘armed struggle’ too needs to be examined. Readers will recall that ever since militancy erupted, there has been a discernable shift in America’s stand on Kashmir. While Washington, which historically supported Pakistan’s stand on the ‘K’ issue, still considers Kashmir a ‘disputed territory’, it is now started steering clear of getting involved in the resolution process. Those espousing ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir may feel relieved or even encouraged by the American spokeswoman Marie Harf’s recent statement that the US considers the Kashmir dispute different from the broader issue of terrorism in South Asia and that these two issues should not be confused with each other. However, will the US continue to hold this view should Hafiz Saeed’s threat that “Full-scale armed jihad will begin soon in Kashmir after American forces withdraw from Afghanistan,” come true? 

The idea of gaining ‘azadi’ through the force of arms has gained more currency ever since America announced its plan to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.  The protagonists championing the cause of ‘armed struggle’ reason that if the Taliban can compel the mighty Americans to withdraw from Afghanistan, the ‘mujahideen’ too can force India to vacate Kashmir. However, these people fail to realise that comparing the situation in Kashmir with that in Afghanistan may not be prudent as any attempt to play the ‘jihad’ card in Kashmir will invite an extremely hostile international response and inevitably link the ongoing Kashmir struggle  to ‘terrorism’. 

Moreover, waging a “full-scale armed jihad” in Kashmir presupposes the establishment of a safe sanctuary and creation of military infrastructure on Pakistani soil from where the ‘mujahideen’ can mount attacks against the security forces in Indian administered Kashmir.  Presently, the international community is non-committal on militancy in Kashmir, as it is largely perceived to be part of the ‘freedom struggle’. However, any attempts to convert it into a ‘jihad’ will certainly not be acceptable to the international community, which is unfortunately afflicted with    ‘Islamophobia’. Therefore, will Pakistan ever agree to host ‘jihadis’ to ‘liberate’ Kashmir and thereby run the risk of becoming an ‘international pariah’, remains a moot point! 

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