Nettlesome Neighbour
Amb Kanwal Sibal

We need to take proper stock of our policy towards Pakistan after the recent incidents on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and the manner in which the government of Pakistan has reacted to them.

A re-examination of some of the assumptions underlying our policy is needed. We believe that the principal problem in our relations with Pakistan is lack of trust.

This implies that our differences are not of a fundamental nature and can be overcome by dialogue and correcting misperceptions on both sides that have been allowed to endure for decades.

Have we made real progress in reducing the trust deficit between the two countries? The latest incident of mutilating the bodies of two of our soldiers and beheading of one of them by Pakistani troops reveals the undercurrents of hate that exist.

Even if we were to treat it as an isolated incident, the reaction of the Pakistani government to the incident is perturbing. The right thing would have been for the Pakistani government to take note of our accusation, promise proper investigation and appropriate action against those responsible if the charges proved to be factually correct.

Instead, it conveyed the deplorable message that Pakistan is dismissive of India’s anguish, to the point of even imputing that we have contrived the incident.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, has excelled herself in cocking a snook at India. She is appalled at what she terms as absolutely unacceptable Indian charges. She has accused India of war mongering, adding contemptuously that if a billion Indians ask questions Pakistan is not obliged to answer them.

If the exercise of the last eight years and more was for building trust between the two countries, then the kind of tongue-lashing that Ms Khar has given India hardly demonstrates that it has been successful. She represents the civilian government of Pakistan, which is supposed to be more committed to improve ties with India.

People of goodwill in Pakistan and India never fail to exhort the government of India to strengthen the civilian set-up in Pakistan against the security establishment. Well, it is the civilian government that is deriding our concerns and sentiments. If the civilian foreign minister of Pakistan is such a servile tool of the Pakistani military that she cannot even choose diplomatic vocabulary befitting her responsibilities, then the civil-military distinction we are asked to make is of limited consequence.

We have tried to build trust with Pakistan by agreeing to a composite dialogue even without satisfaction on the terrorism issue. Despite our pleas Pakistan has not brought to justice those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. We protest about Hafiz Saeed but live with the reality of his uncurbed venomous rantings against us. We have not resisted Pakistan’s strategy to wrong-foot us on terrorism by bringing the Samjhauta Express issue into discussions.

Visa restrictions

The Pakistani interior minister Rahman Malik, comes to India and equates the Mumbai attacks and Babri Masjid, besides suggesting Indian complicity in the former, and we let it pass to avoid clouding the atmosphere. We have agreed to ease visa restrictions, permit sporting ties and increase cultural ones, besides welcoming the expansion of trade ties without Pakistan granting us MFN treatment, so as to enlarge the orbit of trust between the two sides.

As against all this, what has Pakistan done to build trust? Pakistan has persisted with provocations on Kashmir. In early 2012, Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution calling for resolving the Kashmir issue in accordance with UN resolutions, a position that president Zardari reiterated in his UNGA speech in September.

After the recent LoC incidents Pakistan’s foreign minister has taunted us with an investigation by the UN Military Observers Group whose role India does not recognize since 1971. Pakistan insists on Indian withdrawal from Siachen which it never controlled. On Sir Creek, Pakistan is unwilling to accept a compromise solution consistent with established international principles.

On water related issues Pakistan has deliberately distorted public perceptions by resorting to malevolent propaganda against India’s imagined high-handed actions.

Pakistan has used its nuclear capability to promote terrorism against India, as it feels protected against any strong Indian conventional response. Pakistan distorts the content and intent of the India-US nuclear deal and under cover of that is expanding its nuclear arsenal and is preparing to introduce tactical weapons as a step to lower the threshold of use of nuclear weapons against India.

As a victim of terror itself, Pakistan claims that it can hardly be accused of abetting terrorism against India. This is a specious argument because its military still considers jihadi groups targetting India as strategic assets. Kashmiri insurgents have safe-havens in Pakistan; infiltration across the LoC continues. The latest act of beheading an Indian soldier reflects a jihadi mind-set even in the armed forces in whose motto ‘jihad’ figures prominently.

Our prime minister’s statement that it cannot be business as usual with Pakistan after this barbaric act and that Pakistan should mend its ways; if it wants friendship with India adequately captures the public mood.

This does not mean no dialogue in the future. It means Pakistan has to act like a civilised country and do serious introspection about its destructive attitudes and policies before we can resume efforts to build mutual trust.

Those criticising the suspension of sporting and cultural ties should not equate their political and moral duty as citizens to share public anguish at the treatment given to Indian soldiers by the Pakistani military with their right to be entertainment by Pakistani sportspersons and musicians. We must get our priorities right as a society.

Published Date: 26th January 2013

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