Pakistan-India Relations


By Brigadier(R) Mujahid Alam

Recent incidents of firing on the Line of Control in Kashmir between Pakistan and India and their fallout on overall relations between the two countries have elicited interesting and quite contrary reaction in each country. These incidents have marred recent improvement in bilateral relations, which is unfortunate. Indian reaction, across the whole spectrum, whether government, political parties, media and civil society has been highly disappointing, even bordering on the immature. In particular, the kind of war mongering and jingoism displayed by their electronic media is inexplicable.

Having served in Kashmir and Northern Areas myself, I recall such incidents being a routine way of life for the two professional armies. They mostly remained restricted to the sectors involved and created minor tensions temporarily but were quickly resolved by flag meetings. No doubt, sometimes an incident would heighten tensions and be prolonged beyond the normal, but even this would not elicit strongly worded condemnation by senior political and government leaders. By all available accounts the recent incidents were nothing extra-ordinary and should have been left to the respective formation commanders and DGMOs to resolve.

The Indian allegation that one of its soldiers was beheaded is most unfortunate. I can say with near certainty that Pakistan Army would never indulge in such a despicable act. Its professional ethos and discipline would never allow desecration of a dead body, even one of the enemy. And that is precisely why it readily offered to hold a joint inquiry under the auspices of UN observers (UNMOGIP). India should have readily accepted this offer if there was any merit to its allegations. The Indian media, without having access to precise facts, went ballistic and spread all kinds of stories and rumours. Perhaps this is what prompted their Air Chief to go public with hollow and bombastic threats, followed by a strongly worded press briefing by the Army Chief.

Irresponsible and uncalled for comments by BJP and RSS were expected and completely in line with its past, but similar comments by Sonia Gandhi in Jaipur and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were highly disappointing and unstatesmen-like. In contrast, our Foreign Office reacted in a very responsible, restrained and mature way and Foreign Minister Khar also issued a balanced and conciliatory statement with the clear intention of reducing tension. On the military side, Army Chief General Kayani took the right approach and, unlike his Indian counterpart, saw no need to give a press briefing.  Quite frankly, the incidents were too minor for the Army Chiefs to get involved!

On a personal note, I happen to know General Bikram Singh, the Indian COAS, from our days together in the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) in 2007-8, where I was a civilian and he was Deputy Force Commander and Eastern Division Commander. We interacted fairly regularly, both professionally and socially, and I always considered him a thorough professional officer and gentleman who conducted himself gracefully. In our various discussions, which I invariably enjoyed, I found him enlightened, moderate and mature. However, I can also understand his political and institutional compulsions when he addressed the recent press briefing.

Why were the Indians rattled so badly over a seemingly minor incident on the Line of Control? Why was their reaction so out of proportion to the event? Did they want to exploit Pakistan’s current internal difficulties or was it more to deflect from their own very serious domestic problems and scandals plaguing the Congress government? ‘India shining’ and ‘Incredible India’ were their own very premature and unrealistic labels, which lulled the leadership and the whole nation into a false sense of superiority far removed from reality.

Faced with a never ending series of mega corruption scandals and shameful episodes of gang rapes (of which we too have no shortage) have badly exposed the Indian society and government and tarnished whatever little self-created shine was left. A nation purporting to be a regional power, and an aspiring world power, does not behave in such an irresponsible manner to deflect attention from domestic problems.

Pakistan’s military establishment will never compromise core national security interests. However, Mani Shankar Aiyar in his recent finely worded article titled ‘The hostility industry’. has rightly pointed to the changed mindset in Pakistan vis-à-vis relations with India and how India’s hawks still don’t get it. I fully agree with his remark that tragically, this changing Pakistani mindset is escaping far too large a section of public opinion in India.  I would go a step further and say that there is a changing mindset even in the Pakistan military establishment (for a variety of reasons, which are beyond the scope of this article).

Whereas, this changed mindset does not dilute the least bit from its resolve and determination to safeguard Pakistan’s security interests, it is nevertheless a unique opportunity for both countries if Indian establishment is prepared to show even a modicum of farsightedness. It is lamentable that India has failed to reciprocate in an appropriate manner.  Good bilateral relations are critical to the future of both countries and sensible people, both in and out of uniform, need to contribute their bit.