Indo-Pak bilateral discourse needs to change

The Valley in Jammu and Kashmir remains on the edge with deaths shattering the fragile calm, there are indications of a thaw in the wake of diplomats from India and Pakistan being harassed.

Such unnecessary standoff in the past has invariably led to a serious crisis in the subcontinent. It encompasses the larger dimension beyond the borders of the neighbours having the portends of easing other tension between India and Pakistan.

The avoidable harassment of the diplomats in each other’s country was an unnecessary standoff which should help ease other problems like reducing cross border shelling along the Line of Control (LOC). An unprecedented law and order situation had arisen in Shopian on Sunday when 13 militants, three Army men and four civilians were killed in two anti-militancy operations. About 80 civilians were injured in clashes as protestors tried to march towards the encounter sties to help the militants escape.

What is disconcerting is that all of them were recent recruits from the Valley with ten of them hailing from Shopian district. This has inevitably led to fresh tension. These militants belonged largely to the Hizbul Mujahideen with the odd one associated with the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Efforts by senior officers to convince the ultras to give up arms proved to be in vain. At the same, this operation is expected to deal a severe blow to the home grown militancy in South Kashmir. The CRPF IG (Operations) Zulfiquar Hassan made it clear that they will handle the crowd with restraint but will not shy away from taking strict action.

There are apprehensions of the Cold War being revived because of the escalating tension between Russia and the West following the expulsion of Russian diplomats by the United Kingdom, the US and a host of other countries.

Russia’s retaliation was inevitable following the controversy about the nerve gas attack on its former spy Sergei Skirpal and his daughter daughter Yulia in Salsburg in the UK on the fourth of March. This has stoked global tension.

On the other hand, Pakistan is facing acute financial crisis and needs the intervention of the International Monetary Fund to boost its sagging economy. Islamabad was also seeking all weather friend China’s benevolence in overcoming the financial crunch.

Compounding matters is the mutual distrust between the ruling PML-N and the opposition. Coupled with this is the Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa’s doctrine of taking care of the internal situation as well as foreign policy issues in that country.

With general elections in this country over a year away in 2019, communal issues are rearing its head in West Bengal, Bihar, UP and certain other states in one form or another which can shake the faith of the people in the democratic process.

Every other day, a fresh political gambit is being unleashed including vandalising statues. Clearly, the focus is on the democratic process of elections and emerging victorious being paramount. It purportedly signifies the will of the people irrespective of the means used being fair or foul. Amid all this, fulfilling the pledges made to the people has given a go by.

In these circumstances, if the Army has been conferred a larger role in the affairs of the sensitive border State of J&K, this could well lead to alarm bells. If the thaw in the blow hot, blow cold Indo-Pak ties fructifies, it is bound to raise hopes, particularly, for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have not only faced the brunt but been the biggest sufferers of the clashes between the two neighbours.

There was never any doubt about the military establishment calling the shots in Pakistan and particularly so when it comes to India. Their Chief of Army Staff, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s doctrine reaffirms the pre-eminence of the military in Pakistan which thrives in keeping Indo-Pak ties in a flux.

They are still smarting from their humiliating defeat in the 1971 conflict leading to the creation of Bangladesh. Another important aspect is that those in uniform, both in service and retired, control at least 70 per cent of the economy in Pakistan.

The international community feels a sense of unease when it comes to Indo-Pak ties as the threat of a skirmish or flareup is never far away. The bilateral discourse between the two neighbours has to change by sitting across the table. It seems highly unlikely that the Pakistan Army will change its anti-India narrative irrespective of the desires of the political establishment.

In a bid to protect their own nest, Gen Bajwa affirmed there would be no compromise on Kashmir while ruling out a war between the nuclear neighbours. Clearly, the challenge will be to keep the talks on track while thwarting attempts to put a spanner in the works.

T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.

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