Verbal volleys and mortar matches

Even as the mortar matches along the international border and Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir have become a new norm, the verbal volleys between India and Pakistan have kept pace with the machine-gun firing by becoming more high-pitched and suffused with rhetorical flourishes that both amuse and anger. Every statement from one side taking a potshot at the other side is reciprocated in equal measure, and what follows is an endless cycle of jarring and tiresome statements which, even as they state and re-state the obvious are at the end of the day nothing more than empty boasts.

On their own, verbal duels are any day far more preferable than artillery duels. Empty boasts and bumbling bluster don’t take lives or destroy property. They just make for good TV and some old fashioned grandstanding. It is of course a no-brainer that statement sparring doesn’t help in improving the already bad atmospherics between two unremittingly hostile countries like India and Pakistan. But it is also true that they don’t really help the guys doing the grandstanding because somewhere along the line, their bluff is called and they end up being hoist on their own petard. The law of diminishing returns doesn’t take very long to set in when questions start to be raised as to when the guys doing the tall talk will walk the hard walk.

In any case, most of the bombastic statements are nothing but pro forma utterances which should ideally draw a big yawn. After all, what great profundity is there is the Indian Home Minister threatening Pakistan with a ‘befitting reply’ (which never seems to be given), or any number of Pakistani leaders declaring that ‘India should know that Pakistan is a nuclear country’ (are they telling this to India or merely trying to prop up the morale of their own people through such trite statements?) or even when both sides tell the other- “Don’t take our desire for peace as a sign of weakness”. These kinds of hackneyed formulations, mostly from politicians, shouldn’t really impress anyone, nor should anyone even bother about them.

Another set of statements sound more threatening and belligerent, but are really nothing more than standard reiterations and repetitions of past statements and policies. What is more, they are what anyone would expect from the office of the person making them. For instance, if an Indian minister is asked whether the kind of Special Forces Operations in Myanmar can be replicated in Pakistan, can he ever say- ‘no, it is unimaginable for India to do this in Pakistan’? Or can any Indian minister reply in negative when asked if India will consider a covert operation to take out a Dawood Ibrahim or a Hafiz Saeed? Even if such an operation is only a wet dream, no Indian official will, on record, say it is not on the cards or not being contemplated or not in India’s capability and capacity.

Similarly on the Pakistani side, when their army chief waxes eloquent on Kashmir calling it “the unfinished agenda of Partition” which had to be resolved “according to UN resolutions and aspirations of people of Jammu and Kashmir”, what is so new in what he said that makes us go ballistic? This is an old and tired Pakistan raga, and one that is increasingly out of tune with the reality of today. But if the Pakistani army chief feels he must continue to indulge in this foolishness, then why should we want to dissuade him from doing so? Even the bluff and bluster of the Pakistan army chief that his army is “ready” for meeting any threat from India “whether conventional or sub-conventional, whether cold start or hot start”, is exactly what any army chief from Mali to Maldives would say.

After all, which army chief in the world will say that his army will meekly surrender if it faces

a superior force? Another case in point is Pakistan’s nuclear sabre-rattling, rather nuclear blackmail. While the Pakistanis think, and with some justification, that they manage to rattle the international community and force it to intercede in the Indo-Pak spat, on the flip side, it also projects Pakistan as a country behaving like a monkey with a machine-gun— irresponsible and irrational— and in the end causes more damage than bring any benefit.

Given the nature of relations between India and Pakistan, verbal tit-for-tats are only natural. Neither side wants to give any quarter to the other, and doesn’t feel satisfied unless it pays back the other in the same coin. While this is all very well, and exchanging of insults is also very entertaining and adrenalin-pumping, it all adds up to nothing except for some verbal point scoring. But there is also a sense of ennui about this and unless the two sides come up with something new, it’s all so yesterday once more that it shouldn’t even make news anymore.

(The Author is a Senior Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation

and Consultant at Pakistan Project, IDSA)

Sushant Sareen

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