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Shooting in the dark


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INDIAN and Pakistani armies have slammed each other for violating the Line of Control this week.

Pakistan said Indian troops killed one of its soldiers in the Haji Pir sector after intruding into its territory on Sunday. India claimed two of its soldiers died in a firefight, one of them brutally beheaded, when Pakistani soldiers briefly crossed over the LoC in the Mendhar sector.The Indian army called it a “significant escalation” among the otherwise routine violations of the decade-old ceasefire agreement.

The Indian army’s statement described a “thick fog and mist in the forested area” the Pakistanis used to ambush the Indians. A thicker fog and mist, though not necessarily of their making, shrouds the evolving ties between India and Pakistan.

Clues to the unfortunate deaths of the three soldiers — one Pakistani, and two Indians — to my mind lie in Kabul and Washington D.C., not so much in New Delhi and Islamabad.

President Karzai was preparing to fly to Washington when the alleged Indian transgression occurred. He was airborne for the visit when the Pakistanis are said to have crossed the LoC.

Two or three unfolding events linked with Afghanistan and the US could be at play here. The first is the genuine Indian fear, fuelled by Pakistan-based Kashmiri militants who predict a surge of violence in the Indian part of the disputed region when jihadi fighters from the closed Afghan conflict are assigned a new mission.

On Tuesday, when the Pakistanis are supposed to have violated the ceasefire, the Indian Express reported Syed Salahuddin, the Islamabad-backed Kashmiri militant, as recasting the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Salahuddin critiqued the moderate leaders of the Hurriyat Conference and appeared to support the more hawkish Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Indians would want the world to notice the threat, just as Pakistan would not mind reminding its global interlocutors of the pending and perennially simmering conflict in Kashmir.

Arguably, all this could have happened at any time, but significantly it all came together this week. Why? Other than the fact that the Afghan and American presidents are set to flesh out the contours of their responsibilities after the looming US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan two years from now, Washington is currently also drawing up a new team to steer Obama’s second term in office.

Pakistan has had a head start in winning over the Americans albeit just about, though it may look like a sea change to the naked eye after the gruelling days of acrimony and mutual distrust. Islamabad’s envoy in Washington Sherry Rehman is being given credit for this.

At precisely this time, American lobbyists for India and Indian lobbyists for America have been busy with some of these issues in mind, their fulminations considerably influenced by the molting under way in the new Obama team with particular attention to how it would play out for India and Pakistan. Afghanistan of course is going to be a key area of concern for the new team, they both argued.

Ashley Tellis, who was strategic adviser to US ambassador Robert Blackwill during the 2002 May military stand-off between India and Pakistan, this week argued for clear and firm steps by New Delhi to consolidate its ties with Washington.

His indented “second-generation reforms” should be extensive, ranging from measures to cut subsidies, changing labour laws, and manufacturing policy along with other steps. “Only a resolute defence of free markets will permit the Indian government to take the concerted action necessary to further liberalise the economy while simultaneously strengthening state capacity,” Tellis stressed in his report Opportunities Unbound: Sustaining the Transformation in US-Indian Relations, released by Carnegie on Monday.

Tellis was clear that undertaking these actions would require a display of uncommon courage. He quoted former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran as calling for openly embracing economic reforms rather than resorting to “reform through stealth” or “reform through crisis”. (Some Indians would argue the government should in that case pull out the army from Kashmir to deal with the restive crowds in Delhi and elsewhere opposed to Tellis’ ticket to bilateral ties with the US.)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second term came in for criticism. “Even though the prime minister’s personal convictions on this matter remain sturdy, his party’s fecklessness, the opposition’s expedience, and the easy addiction to statist solutions still pervasive in Indian politics makes implementing deep reforms an uphill task,” Tellis said.

An Indian Express columnist, frustrated by a fear in some American quarters that the India alliance story had been oversold to Washington, railed at New Delhi’s faltering attention span with its natural ally.

“Washington is discussing whether India is ready for a serious relationship,” the Indian lobbyist-columnist cautioned, adding that many key decision-makers in the Obama administration who promoted bilateral relations with India in the last four years were about to depart.

“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who enthusiastically led the Obama administration’s engagement with India, will step down soon. Her designated successor, Senator John Kerry, unfortunately, has been dubbed by some (Indian) analysts as being less than warm towards India and ‘soft on Pakistan’,” the Indian analyst wrote.

“Such pre-emptive labelling is not of much help in the conduct of India’s diplomacy. Yet, there is no denying the concerns in Delhi that America might offer too many concessions to the Pakistan Army and the Taliban as it prepares to end its combat role in Afghanistan by 2014,” according to the analysis in the Express.

It was dark and misty when the soldiers in Kashmir targeted each other. Unless halted soon, the darkness seems set to intensify across the South Asian region, and possibly beyond.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (20) Closed

Nasah (USA) Jan 11, 2013 01:54am
Pleas do not drag the United States into this imbroglio, Mr. Naqvi -- India should consider the hand of the Hafiz Saeed followers in the killing of Indian soldiers and beheading of one ( not a professional army's conduct) -- in the "
Surendra Jan 10, 2013 10:36am
Absolute Rubbish. Infact, the clues for this incident lies in Pakistan only. Don't forget that Hafeez Saeed hovered in this area one week before
Shri Jan 10, 2013 04:15pm
Makes no sense to me at all. Author is trying to obfuscate the entire matter to give clean chit to Pakistan army. He is going into an overdrive of imagination. It is an act committed by Pakistan army and has nothing to do with Afganistan or US. As far as changes in US are concerned, India will continue to be very close to Washington. Pakistan will be important as well, but only upto a certain limit in matters related to military or terrorism and this relationship will be very very delicately balanced. US will never be able to ignore India it badly needs India on its side diplomatically, economically as well as politically. SO there is no competition here. Too much of kite flying by Mr Naqvi here.
Krish Chennai Jan 10, 2013 04:19pm
Does anyone recall that over 90000 ( repeat, 90000 ) plus Pakistani soldiers were repatriated safe and sound to Pakistan, after the 1971 war that resulted in the new state of Bangladesh being created; after their being unwitting guests as POWs in India, for close to two years ? This is the biggest number on record, in the history of conflict, ever.
Cynical Jan 10, 2013 01:01pm
I agree. That's a strange logic. Only a truly left liberal can conjure such an idea.
JairAM Jan 10, 2013 12:47pm
You are just another mullah, who is hated on both sides. Only this time you can write in english.
hitesh Jan 10, 2013 03:23am
So according to Naqvi it is American conspiracy of giving concession to Pakistan Army ! And Pakistan Army is so naive to accept head of Indian Soldier in lieu of drone attacks, Abbotabad and what not !
Desi Jan 10, 2013 03:41am
So what's the point? I wonder if I am the only one who missed the target. Strange writing.
Rao Jan 10, 2013 04:04am
It seems Pakistanis know extremely well that denial after denials do indeed work when dealing with India. It worked with terrorist attacks in Bombay lat time. Indians just talk and can't do anything anyway except make noise! So same thing will be repeated this Tim too. Pakistanis are very smart in this denial tactics!
Sandeepan Jan 10, 2013 04:31am
Very good article Jawedsaab! Let's pray for justice and peace...
Suraj Jan 10, 2013 04:36am
Where did the story start and where did it end????
syama Jan 10, 2013 05:49pm
Looks like Jawed saheb is the one shooting in the dark.
Savio Costa Jan 10, 2013 04:45am
poor soldiers are a victim of the larger politics being played out
umesh bhagwat Jan 10, 2013 10:20pm
The night is the darkest before the dawn!
K G Surendran Jan 10, 2013 06:41am
Soldiers dying in cross fire is possibly acceptable but beheading of the Indian soldier is against the Geneva conventions, and this is possibly not the first time it has happened and resulting uproar, not so much across the political spectrum but among ordinary citizens, is very, very understandable. It is also well known that the civilian government in Pakistan does not have any control over their army, so it would not be far fetched to surmise a strategy to derail the ongoing peace process but it is imperative upon Pakistan to set its house in order since there are too many power centers operating there, both state and non state, and with sentiments running high in India it would be extremely difficult for the government here to convince the people of continuing this dialogue process because the common reaction would be that India need not put up with this chicanery, and even though war is not an option but friendship can be ruled out too, despite this the Indian economy would continue to grow - the main focus area for all Indians..
Tribal Manto Jan 10, 2013 09:18pm
excellent K G Surrendran! i couldn't agree more....
rich Jan 10, 2013 09:08am
oh another point i missed according to this article, Pakistan is gainning in stature around the world (read USA) and india is losing ground well maybe he is right but time will be a judge we will see
U Gupta Jan 10, 2013 04:50pm
As usual Jawed article did not make sense. May be he is trying to say that beheading is not such a bad thing in battle.
zia Uddin Jan 10, 2013 07:40pm
Please take it like an sportsman. The recently concluded T20 and 50 overs matches were between the cricket teams of India and Pakistan. The army on both sides decided to have their own match of marksmanship. India will never align with America, We only hope that Indian Leadership someday decides to either finish off Pakistan from the face of the earth or articulte friendy and mutually cooperative relationships (economically). Good relations between India and pakistan shall be benefial for over 15. billion persons in the region and neighboring countries. .
abbastoronto Jan 10, 2013 01:58pm
Pakistan should applaud the growing ties between India and the USA. When India is in the US Camp as Pakistan is now already, the sailing will be smoother between the two neighbours. However, our Indian friends must abandon dreams of ever displacing Pakistan in the American eyes. There are no two countries on globe, not USA/Canada, not USA/UK, not USA/Israel, not Pakistan/India that are closest in psyche as are Pakistan and the USA. Pakistan to the Islamic world is what America is to the Western, the Free World