Millennium Post

Who’s scripting the real Indo-Pak tale?

Now that the dust has settled down on the flare-up with Pakistan, a recounting of the events would be of value, if not, just for answering the question: why?

The facts of the case are well known. A Border Action Team of the Pakistan Army, as told by the Indian side, came across the Line of Control to the Indian side in the intervening night of 7-8 January in Mendhar sector at the Churunda village. Though the weather was foggy and misty, and the area heavily under forest cover, the raiding team was spotted by an Indian Army unit also patrolling on the Zero Line after the fencing that in this area was inward of the LOC. A firefight followed and two of the country’s soldiers were killed. They were acting as scouts.

So, when the main patrolling party came upon the bodies of the two soldiers, they found one of the soldiers, beheaded. The emotions ran high when it was reported in the media. The Pakistan Army was excoriated by both, their counterparts in the Indian Army, and the Central government in New Delhi, gross unsoldierly behaviour. The news television channels of the country quickly whipped up a frothy public opinion and the Indian Army vowed that they would avenge the killing ‘at a time and place of their choosing.’ Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, chipped in with a hard-line message saying ‘business as usual cannot continue.’ That meant the bilateral meetings were put on hold; Pakistan’s performers and hockey players were sent home packing.

And for two days, there was heightened tension, till in a conversation between the two armies director general of military operations spoke to each other and the Pakistan Army officer convinced his counterpart in New Delhi that Rawalpindi was decidedly in favour of maintaining the ceasefire at the LoC that had held since 2003.

But the episode gives rise to many questions:

Why is it that the beheading of the soldier in this case was made so public whipping up tension, when previously too there have been beheadings by both sides? What purpose did it achieve?

Here is the list of factors that could have led to the public outrage about the beheading:

A: Though this is January, April is not too far away when the snow in the upper reaches of the Himalayas abutting Kashmir valley, begins to melt. That is when the mountain passes and ingress and egress points of the terrorists become accessible. Mendhar is a particular favourite. So is Krishna Gati in Poonch. This incident was a signal to the ISI and the Pakistan army that though the past two years have been quiet in the valley, they should not try to make desperate attempts to infiltrate this summer more shock troops.

 B: Islamabad was also again emerging as a lynchpin of a possible deal with the Afghan Taliban in a US-Turkey plan for withdrawal of final segments of the NATO/US troops by next year. This would undercut such attempts to rope in Pakistan because its army would be seen as unruly and untamed that no country could depend on it.

C: Coincidentally in Pakistan, this was also the time when its recalcitrant Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the current prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, throwing the country again in political despondency.

D: The ballistic mixture of the Supreme Court order and the popular mobilisation by hundreds of thousands heeding the call of Sufi cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri had led to serious sectarian clashes, which caused more turmoil in Pakistan. Qadri had in 1999 supported the coup of General Parvez Musharraf, and his current call for political action, could have led to a military coup. The spat with India where Pakistan Army was put to its place could have well saved the day.

Any number of these facts could have been propelling Indian authorities to go public with the stories of the beheading and how its battalion commanders and their troops were restive, thirsting for revenge could have saved the day for political Pakistan, just ahead of the March general election day.

The real story, if ever it comes out, would be the story of turbulent times of the Indo-Pakistan relations that is entangling no longer just in South Asia that includes Afghanistan, but East Asia (China), London, Brussels and Washington. The key may lie in finding out where the script is being written.

Pinaki Bhattacharya is a senior journalist
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