The problem with Pakistan, despite India’s repeated overtures to establish a peace track, is that the country is practically rudderless, even though it has concluded a free and fair general election, the first in history wherein a civilian government handed over power to another by popular mandate and not by the barrel of a gun.
The latest spate of killings in Poonch, along the Line of Control, is one more instance of the country’s going back on its assurances of trying its best to reengineer calm and normalcy vis-à-vis its relations with India. That being said, India, too, needs to evolve its strategy in dealing with this neighbour, alternately belligerent and aggressive on one hand, while scrounging for peace, at least within its citizenry, both urban and rural, on the other.
The killings on Monday night, reportedly by disgruntled members of Pakistani Border Action Force, might at first look like a stray incidence of violence, but it fits perfectly well in the larger scheme of things when it comes to our western neighbour. Clearly, there’s an entrenched political and cultural schoziphrenia as far as popular opinion in Pakistan is concerned, a symptom not uncommon in India as well, with people equally divided between continuing endeavours to broker peace and going ahead with stern army retaliation to whip them to submission, as it were. Needless to say, both approaches are equally flawed, with the naively hopeful and the blatantly aggressive stances only succeeding in aggravating the situation further.
Obviously, the opposition’s accusation that the government is ‘sponsoring’ Pakistan-induced terrorism is absurd, although the allegations of ‘going soft’ might not be way off the mark. Notwithstanding the need to continue to engage the civilian government that is technically in charge of Pakistan. India must also pursue its interests through other means, and that need not be purely political or even military. Moreover, India must understand that tackling Pakistan in isolation, without looking at its effect on Afghanistan, is a deeply defective attitude, that would only serve to worsen the conditions on the ground. India should also remember that Pakistan is riddled with a political cancer that is its rogue military organisation, which directly breeds terror in its home turf and considers India-baiting as its primary obsession.
However, for India this constitutes a national security threat, which means handling Pakistan is no longer about a one-dimensional ‘war or peace’ approach, but rather it is about creating other geostrategic pressure points and link ups that indirectly incentivise the toning down of terror on the part of the country itself. In other words, it’s a solid Af-Pak policy that could mitigate the effects of the current and the ongoing crises, and not merely upstaging the ISI by ‘incepting’ its fingerprints in all the incidences of terrorist attacks, even though the Pak army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani would rather keep up the pressure on India through Taliban in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. As of now, Pakistan and India definitely consider each other’s escalated presence in any area a mutual threat to each other, yet what really needs to be done is to shift the paradigms of engagement so as to make it mutually beneficial to lay the swords to rest.