India’s unhelpful attitude


By Tariq Fatemi

India’s long tradition of democracy has given the country an image of a responsible and restrained nation. But this view is not shared by India’s neighbours, especially the smaller ones.


An India’s Border Security Force (BSF) soldier patrols near the fenced border with Pakistan in Suchetgarh, southwest of Jammu, January 12, 2010. An Indian soldier was killed on Monday in cross-border firing in Kashmir, the latest in a spurt of violence in the disputed region that has raised tensions with Pakistan, officials said. – Photo by Reuters.

The past 60 years have shown India’s tendency to throw its weight about and browbeat its neighbours. With those that are bigger and more powerful, India tends to adopt a moralistic and intellectually superior tone, as noted by some American leaders. With its smaller neighbours, it does not hesitate to take off its gloves.

Of course, we are no paragons of virtue either, and in many cases, it has been our own arrogance and folly, more than Indian machinations, that have contributed to our failures and losses, whether in view of the East Pakistan debacle or the Kargil adventure.

It had, however, been expected that with the restoration of a democratic dispensation in Pakistan and with virtually all major political parties committed to establishing a cooperative relationship with India, New Delhi would engage in a comprehensive dialogue aimed at resolving the differences that have plagued ties between the South Asian neighbours.

The Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 angered the Indian government, which thereafter had to cater to massive popular outrage. The consequent decision to suspend the dialogue with Pakistan was understandable.

Since then, the Pakistani leadership has been engaged in a major effort to convince New Delhi that it was sincere in its desire to cooperate with India with the common objective of confronting the extremists. In fact, the most remarkable thing was the near unanimity with which the Pakistanis not only condemned the Mumbai attacks, but also acknowledged that their country needed to take concrete steps to assuage India’s anguish.

None of this, however, appears to have had much impact on the Indian establishment. Even the expectations raised at the Gilani-Singh meeting in Sharm El Sheikh were snuffed out when Manmohan Singh’s colleagues publicly expressed their misgivings.

Then again, while Singh’s statement last October in Srinagar that he was not setting preconditions for the dialogue had raised fresh hopes, it did not indicate anything new, for he placed his readiness for talks in the context of Pakistan being able to create an environment conducive to negotiations. His pronouncement neither accompanied nor followed any move to re-engage Islamabad. Instead, Delhi declined to respond to the road map for resuming talks that Pakistan had conveyed to Indian officials.

This led many to believe that Prime Minister Singh’s remarks in Srinagar were merely meant to coincide with US Secretary Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan, as well as his own visit to Washington a few weeks later.

In the meanwhile, the Pakistanis kept pleading for the resumption of dialogue, while the Indians continued to rebuff these offers. The Indian foreign minister ridiculed even the offer of back-channel exchanges. It was then that realisation dawned on the Pakistani leadership that the country’s repeated requests were becoming demeaning.

In the meanwhile, India appears to have raised the ante, with the Indian army chief Gen Kapoor remarking that “the possibility of a limited war in a nuclear overhang is still a reality, at least in the Indian subcontinent”.

What has been particularly galling is the failure of the Obama administration to act on its seemingly wise policy pronouncements during the election campaign. Instead of encouraging India to reduce its presence in Afghanistan and ceasing to stir up trouble in Balochistan, the US appears to have gone along with Indian allegations, agreeing to inject into the US-India joint statement a provision “to work jointly to deal with terrorism emanating from India’s neighbourhood”.

This was strange, coming from an administration that had publicly expressed a desire to promote Indo-Pakistan normalisation and to work for the resolution of the Kashmir problem.

The Indian army chief’s latest statement in which he spoke of his army’s capacity to fight a two-front war has evoked great surprise and disappointment. But while it conveyed hostility and belligerence, his words are neither realistic nor achievable as India does not have the capability to successfully initiate its much-heralded ‘cold start’ strategy, much less wage two wars against two neighbours simultaneously.

This does not mean, however, that we can dismiss these statements as mere rhetoric. It could be more evidence of the increasing inclination of the Indian forces to have a role in the India-Pakistan equation.

According to some observers, there has been a slow but perceptible change in India where an increasing number are reported to have insisted on being given more than merely a ‘hearing’ on issues relating to Pakistan, especially Siachen and Sir Creek. The Indian armed forces have gradually come to believe that given the growing challenges that India faces both domestically and on its frontiers, a more visible role for it is in order.

Another important factor is the newfound confidence acquired from the special relationship that the US has so eagerly conferred on India, not only as its strategic partner, but also as a potential counterweight to China. No less important could be the growing influence of rightwing parties and religious groups that want India to adopt more nationalist policies vis-à-vis its neighbours.

Whatever the reason, our leaders should not react in haste or with similar belligerence. What must be avoided at all costs are provocative steps, such as refusing to cooperate against the militants or brandishing nuclear assets.

Instead, what is required is a dispassionate analysis of what these signals portend for Pakistan and sensitising our friends to Indian actions. While we must not be distracted from the objective of seeking a peaceful resolution of our differences with India, we must not show undignified haste towards that end.

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