Sunday, January 20, 2013

Shootout at LoC: In perspective



The recent India-Pakistan conflict on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and the war of words have grave implications for the future of the bilateral ties for the two countries. The conflict along the LoC, while not unprecedented since scores of them take place every year, has escalated due to a combination of factors: the hawkish claims of the Indian media, increasingly outspoken Indian armed forces, the Congress government which is unclear which direction to take the India-Pakistan dialogue process and the characteristic denial of the Pakistani state of what has been done to the dead bodies of the Indian soldiers. While the Central government, unwilling to articulate a clear policy towards Pakistan and follow it up with conviction, is on the back foot on the issue, it is the Chiefs of the Indian Army and Air Force along with a collection of retired military officers, egged on by the media, who seem to be articulating an Indian response to the Pakistani aggression on the LoC.  

New Delhi wanted to continue with ‘business as usual’ with Pakistan, but the Indian military and the overzealous, if not militant, media stalled those plans. This is a clear indication that New Delhi’s Pakistan policy lacks direction, conviction and courage. 

Dangers of conflict escalation
That the senior most military officers in India have chosen to convey to Pakistan that India would not mind “escalating” the conflict if Pakistan does not stop engaging in ceasefire violations is both puzzling and disconcerting. The BJP went on to ask the government to engage in “controlled military response” against Pakistan!” Former BJP minister Yashwant Sinha argued, “Who says that if you have a limited controlled military response then it will necessarily result in war?” These arguments by the military and the Chief opposition party in India seem to sum up the conventional wisdom in the country on the utility of flexible responses in responding to Pakistan in times of crisis.  

Anyone with an elementary understanding of conflict escalation under nuclear conditions would surely refrain from articulating such views for the simple reason that the escalation dynamics under nuclear conditions would be inherently unpredictable and unstable, especially when high-running nationalistic passions dictate defence policies. The fact of the matter is that in nuclear South Asia, flexible options without the risk of a nuclear catastrophe are simply unavailable. The biggest challenge for the leaders of the two sides today is to put in place robust mechanisms that can ensure crisis stability – strong incentives not to carry out a preemptive attack on the adversary in times of crisis of this kind. 

The flag meeting that took place between the two armies is an excellent mechanism to ensure crisis stability so is the hotline between the two DGMOs. However, there is a need to think of more innovative ways of maintaining crisis stability in the region. 

The costs of conflict
While it is clear that there are no winners in this kind of a confrontation, there are clear losers in unfortunate events such as this. In short, what happens in conflicts such as this is the following: minor skirmishes or misunderstandings lead to a militarized crisis, media then drives passions, CBMs are suspended and a war of words ensue, and eventually the conflict is deescalated. Finally bilateral relations are back to how they were before the crisis begun minus, of course, the CBMs that were suspended during the crisis. It takes yet more rounds of negotiations for the CBMs to restart and trust to be built. This ‘one-step-ahead-two-steps-backward’ sequence of events seems to characterize India Pakistan bilateral relations.  

To my mind, India loses from this kind of conflict far more than Pakistan. Why? The fact is that if India wants to become the global power that it would like to, it has no option but to stabilize its fronts. India’s economic growth and rise in its global political power will be severely hampered by what happens in Pakistan and as a result in Kashmir. Hence India would be shooting at its own foot if it tries to break off the peace process and sever relations with the civilian government in Islamabad. The fact is that New Delhi needs Islamabad and GHQ to reign in the terror groups in Pakistan. 

India has also gained more from the ongoing (?) peace process than has Pakistan. There is already a strong feeling in Pakistan that the peace process is more in favour of India than Pakistan and it is being taken forward on India’s terms and conditions. The argument is premised on the facts that the traditionally core issue of political resolution of Kashmir and demilitarisation of Siachen, something that Islamabad and GHQ are very keen to see resolved, are relegated to the backburner and ‘secondary’ issues like trade and easing of visa restrictions, important from the Indian point of view, are being pursued. 

If this argument is true, that is Pakistan has no great interest in seeing this peace process survive in which India has great stakes, then we should recognize that it would be foolish for New Delhi to even consider severing the dialogue process with Islamabad. 

Moreover, if India wants to see genuine political transformation in Pakistan, it should make sure that the hands of the civilian government in Islamabad, one that is going to complete its full term for the first time in the country’s history, is strengthened, rather then weakened, by its actions.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, January 20, 2013. URL: )

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