WHAT is one to make of the recent incidents along the Line of Control (LoC), the extensive and distorted media coverage they received and the consequent rise in tension in India-Pakistan relations?

Did they flow from unauthorised aggressive actions by a local commander that then triggered the jingoistic media coverage that was perhaps inevitable in a world dominated by the visual media  and the intense battle for ratings that TV news channels have to wage?

Were they the result of a deliberate effort by some groups to disrupt the relatively slow but steady progress being made to place these relations on an even keel while even slower progress was being made to resolve outstanding issues through the renewed composite dialogue?

I found it interesting to try and seek answers to these questions through a selective perusal of the Indian media. The first was Praveen Swami’s piece, ‘Runaway grandmother sparked savage skirmish on LoC’ in the Hindu issue of Jan 9. The second was ‘National interest: On the LoC, in fact’ by Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express of Jan 19. The third was a blog dated Jan 16 on the website Kafila entitled ‘Dear Barkha Dutt: The buck stops where?’ which provides a critique of a TV show hosted by Barkha on Jan 15.

These deserve to be read in full by all those interested in understanding what happened and why but I will try and sum up in the following paragraphs what I was able to gather from these reports.

First, the incidents were triggered by the commencement of construction of bunkers by the Indians within metres of the LoC. This construction was undertaken last September after an elderly lady from a village that lay between the LoC and the three-layer fencing erected on the Indian side crossed over to the Pakistan side to join her children in Azad Kashmir. The Indians agreed that this was a contravention of the ceasefire agreement of 2003 which forbade such construction but felt that Pakistan should have accepted this because the bunkers pointed inwards and were designed to allow monitoring of villages on the Indian side.

They, therefore, ignored the calls by the Pakistanis on loudspeakers to stop construction and the local commander then secured approval to respond aggressively to the subsequent firing by Pakistani soldiers. While the Indians denied that any of their troops had crossed the LoC to attack the Pakistani post where one soldier had been killed and another wounded, some Indian officials said that such things happened in the heat of battle.

Second, the beheading of enemy soldiers, which became the basis for the outrage expressed, was not a new phenomenon in the skirmishes along the LoC and both Pakistanis and Indians had been guilty of this. Praveen was told this by an army officer and on Barkha Dutt’s programme this was baldly stated by Admiral Ramdas, a retired chief of the Indian Navy.

Barkha herself had written in an account of the Kargil conflict that she had been shown the head of a Pakistani soldier, which her Indian army guide had told her was the “gift the boys got for the brigade”. She did not mention this in her own comments but chose to change the subject.

Moreover there are oblique references in these reports that beheadings and mutilation could have been the handiwork of civilian infiltrators rather than Pakistani soldiers.

Third, by and large the ceasefire has held over the last decade. India lost only two soldiers all over Indian-held Kashmir in 2012, while before the ceasefire each side lost 400-600 soldiers every year. Moreover, some 100,000 Pakistani troops had been moved from the eastern border and while only some may have been moved from the LoC it certainly was to India’s advantage that these troops were not facing India. What emerges from this summary of the reports is that had the Indian media focused on the facts rather than letting jingoism prevail, these incidents would not have triggered such things as the expulsion of the Pakistan hockey players from the Indian Hockey League or the cancellation of the implementation of the newly agreed visa regime at Wagah. It would not have led to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying that there could not be business as usual with Pakistan, etc. So why did it happen?

Part of the Indian media coverage and even official reaction was no doubt prompted by the position taken by the opposition parties led by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Some Indians believe that it was prompted by the scars of Mumbai and the feeling that Pakistan was still stonewalling on what was a matter of enormous significance to Indian public opinion. Others suggest that despite the recent thaw distrust is still high and this has not been helped by the regional situation.

There is chagrin that Pakistan is being required to play a key role in Afghan reconciliation while India can only watch from a distance. Indians view sceptically Pakistan’s claim that its help in reconciliation is prompted by concern that it too would be destabilised if there were continued turbulence in Afghanistan after 2014.

All these factors may have played a part but, to my mind, the most important factor is that highlighting a problem on the LoC creates a justification for maintaining a large Indian army presence in Kashmir. After all if the situation is such that only two Indian soldiers have been killed in Kashmir during 2012 and if the LoC is peaceful there is no rationale for turning down the demand of the Kashmiri people — put forward through peaceful, non-violent protest — for withdrawing these forces and rescinding the special powers the army enjoys in Kashmir. Now, however, the army will argue, and few Indian political leaders will resist, that the situation on the LoC and by extension in India-held Kashmir is too volatile to permit such a withdrawal.

It would be a pity in terms of moving ahead on the normalisation of India-Pakistan relations if this happens since Kashmiri leaders may not then be able to ensure that protests in Kashmir remain non-violent. Pakistan will of course then be held responsible for any deterioration of the situation in Kashmir.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.


Comments are closed.

Comments (43)

mohammad shafique
January 23, 2013 1:52 pm
The civilian government in pakistan has slowly pursued normalisation of relations with india something that is not entirely acceptable to elements in the pakistan military establishment and who want to undermine this process.That this conflagration would come about at the same time that tahirul qadri would be pressuring the government to step down with support from a military-judiciary nexus itself would suggest that there is more to this issue than simply that india would want to preserve its military presence in kashmir.
Ash
January 23, 2013 6:43 am
We Indians don't want any relationship with Pakistan. You live in your country happily and we live in our country. There is nothing in this article to respond as you have to write long comments to respond to this useless article from the writer. But you can't expect anything better from former foreign secretary. Dawn, please publish these comments as there is nothing obscene in these comments.
Sam T
January 23, 2013 5:49 am
Here we go again.You Pakistani distort the facts and twist every damn thing to your advantage. There will be no peace unless Jahadi in your country realize that you can not destroy the world by your ideology. Jahadi are fighting every other religion in every other country in the world, They want to convert the entire world in to a Islamic State.
pkj
January 23, 2013 1:01 pm
one interesting observation.Najam Sethi in last night Aapas ki Baat repeated exactly word by word same analysis of Current LOC issue.Now who steal this analysis from whom ,god knows better.look like great game of south asia is in play again as nato and americans are intend to wind up theire operation from AF-Pak theater shortly.Enjoy the new chaos in region.---pkj(usa)
MKB
January 23, 2013 9:00 am
Dear Mr. Foreign Secretary, very excellent analysis. It is expected from a bureaucrat What else you can find out with a myopic view from the these mudsling?. You have conveniently have by passed some other facts. True, Indian media has vigorously campaigned the happening on the matter, and you know these days media is so powerful & effective to influence the mind of the public and the govt. But who give this leverage to Media? Essentially Pakistan. Should I ask you some simple questions? 1. Beheading of enemy soldier may be norms. But when India sought a flag meeting, had lodge a serious complain, WHY Pakistan had not responded and only conceded the demand after 3 long days? 2. Why you’re FM, have not taken the Indian insistence seriously and can simple say that the matter can be looked in to and if such things are really happened, the guilty will be punished? Instead she blatantly says that India is warmonger. 3. Why Pakistani Govt. not responded responsibly after lodging complain through diplomatic channel?
NASAH (USA)
January 23, 2013 3:03 am
The Indians may aspire to be one day a regional great power but their hysterical reactions to rumors and innuendos belies their true beliefs in their own pettiness.
abbastoronto
January 23, 2013 4:06 am
Truth is the first casualty in war.
Akram
January 23, 2013 9:15 am
One cannot become a power by simply repeating to oneself every day that I want to be a super- power. If you look at the histories of todays superpowers, none of them was like todays India at any point. They did not shout at the top of their voices " We will be a super-power one day!" India is just all noise, no substance.
Imran
January 23, 2013 8:30 am
Here come the Indian trolls!!!!
Aaron Murphy
January 23, 2013 4:56 am
The author tries to play the usual blame game. So I play along. 1) If the pak army sees any violation in the cease fire agreement and that too on only one place on all along the loc, is it wise to start firing or bring that issue to the high commands through proper channels, after all bulding bunker in the Indian soil at one place is not a war-threatening act. (and pakistan claims it strives for peace taking great risks) 2) The author agree that beheading happens in the heat of the battle. But there is no battle going on and there has been relative peace for a decade on loc so is it wise to behead and mutilate Indians?
atis
January 23, 2013 5:00 am
Interested elements in both countries and arms manufacturers create such scenario to create an environment which suit their commercial and political interests.Peace loving people must keep vigil over such incidents , so that such stray incidents must not flare up!
Shubs
January 24, 2013 7:48 am
You mean like the "truth" taught in Pakistani schoolbooks about the wars of 1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999. Yes, you're right.
Imran
January 23, 2013 9:12 am
Well said Ash. I would like to reciprocate these feelings exactly.
Raveesh Varma
January 23, 2013 1:33 pm
I thought this a very well-written commentary. I do have a question, that why did the Pakistani army open fire when their calls over the loudspeaker where ignored? On whose authority, and was it possible to resolve the matter through diplomacy first, and open gunfire later?
hari
January 23, 2013 11:47 am
india is still a superpower with 2nd largest army and 4th largest economy far more than the all nations of south asia collectively............................
Imran
January 23, 2013 1:18 pm
When your air chief is threatening to use "other means" and your army chief is encouraging local commanders to give "befitting reply" then what else is this except war-mongering? Look at your TV anchors too, they are war mongerers in their own right. You are all the same.
george
January 23, 2013 12:20 pm
Imran, please tell your actors and singers and players , and also all the people from your country not to come to India. We have pathological dislike for you people. You may not like it, but India is economically better than Pakistan and by 2050, India's GDP will be almost twenty times more than of Pakistan. And so you people are asking for peace. This is all eyewash, it is opportunistic, it does not come from the heart. You people are very dishonest, and we know that.
Partha
January 23, 2013 12:32 pm
sour grapes ;)
Akram
January 23, 2013 1:23 pm
Thanks for your kind wishes, pkj (whoever you are). Love you too.
Nina
January 23, 2013 1:08 pm
Good Hari. Thats exactly why India will never be a super-power. If army size was the factor then North Korea would have been a super-power and Japan wouldn't.
Silajit
January 23, 2013 1:55 pm
The foreign secretary seems to join the finger pointing. Clearly the Indian press on this occasion has been critical of India as well since all of his references are from the Indian press. I have yet to see any Pakistani article acknowledge that the Pakistani army gives covering fire (even if Indian soldiers are not killed) while letting terrorists across the LOC. Then again if the foreign secretary said this, the establishment would make short work of his career.
Shubs
January 24, 2013 7:50 am
abbastoronto: what, no essay this time on dynamic Muslim trading culture and regressive Hindu agrarian culture?...you're losing touch, my friend...:-)
ip
January 24, 2013 7:51 am
"The writer is a former foreign secretary." Of course.
Aaron Murphy
January 23, 2013 3:26 pm
Well Nina it is not only military power, India has strong cultural hegemony and slated to become 3rd largest economy by 2025 and second largest by 2050 only behind china. That said India still has to work hard for another 2 to 3 decades to tackle proverty and corruption issues (China too has these issues and world still sees China to be a upcoming super power). With these right ingredients Indians are right to shout at top about India becoming a super power. What I dont understand is you saying about India will never be a super power. Oh I know now you are a neighbor and you can not stand see your neighbor becoming a super power.
Arya
January 23, 2013 3:41 pm
well you consider a country as superpower more for its army might that its economic strength.. don’t you… america with its army, navy and airforce has rose to the cult status of a superpower after russia..had it been Japan on your borders, will you really have been bullied till now… i know economic might also plays a part but these days who gives a damn to economic superpowers anyways…. Japan, Germany are prime examples
SAL
January 23, 2013 3:46 pm
Live happily! We wish. India cannot see and let Pakistan live happily, they create one problem after another for our country. Back off and let us live in peace.
diwan didi
January 23, 2013 4:02 pm
trust deficit is the only reason for this problem
SAL
January 23, 2013 4:05 pm
Germany was once too, keep that in mind.Don't boost too much hari ram kishin jee.
Md Imran
January 23, 2013 4:21 pm
Great article. India needs more journalists like Burkha Dutt, Arundathi Roy, KP Nayyar etc who speak the bitter truth. India started the 65,71 and 99 war, and they want to start another war now with their usual jingoistic propoganda.. The bottomline is , India does not desire peace. If it did, it would have long settled the issue of Kashmir by agreeing with the majority of Kashmiris that Kashmir should either be independent or be a part of Pakistan. India has not even addressed the grieviances of its own muslim minority who seek autonomy. Make Hyderabad an independent state as per the wishes of the then nizam, and help muslims gains autonomy in UP, Bihar and West Bengal and then we Pakistanis can take India's overtures of peace seriously. Also, lets not forget, the Pakistani army could have long ended Indian armed forces if it wanted to, but we want to live in peace, and hence Indian army was spared in 1999 and in 2001 when they directly and indirectly waged war against Pakistan. India should take steps to completely remove Indian armed forces from disputed areas, and if necessary, takes further steps to disarm its army.
Md Imran
January 23, 2013 4:24 pm
George, where would your country be without muslims ? What would your country have without muslim architecture of Taj mahal, red fort to Qutab Minar ? Where would your beloved bollywood be without the Khans who are a part of the ummah ? Your GDP would be next to nothing without muslim scientists, doctors , engineers and scholars contributing to your economy..
Shaha
January 24, 2013 11:13 am
Md Imran, i suppose Mr George is not referring to Muslims but rather to Pakistanis.... Indian Muslims are his brethren....
george
January 24, 2013 12:21 pm
India's GDP will be few points higher without muslims. In any part of the world, minorities flourish in education and hence they prosper. Indians are the second richest immigrant community in UK and USA, second only to the jewish people. But not with the muslims. In India, and in the west, muslims are at the bottom of the education ladder. In UK, muslims are the poorest as they are the least educated. Regarding muslim scientists and actors, ask them to go to Pakistan. They would not survive there. Professor Hoodbhoy will tell you why. The richest film made in Pakistan costs two crores, and the same in India costs two hundred crores (in Pakistani rupees) , according to the Pakistani film producers. How will you pay Amir Khan, who charges ten crores (Indian rupees) per film? There are some enlightened muslims in India. We bow our head to our president Dr.Abdul Kalam, not because he was our president, but because he was a good human being and an example to follow for next generations. There are many ordinary honest muslims who live their lives and have nothing to do with terrorism. They are the silent minority in India. We want them shout not for more mosques, but more schools and colleges, more hospitals and health facilities. But Muslims, in general, are intolerant and fanatic people. They are also most easily provoked to violence. Muslims have a high crime rate in non-muslim countries. In UK, four percent muslims have fourteen percent prisoners in UK jails. Google it and read the details. And Imran, please stop talking about muslim ummah. The arabs do not like south asian muslims. I have personally witnessed Omani police beating Pakistani and Bangladeshi illegal muslims on the street. Ask Mr. Hasan Nisar and he will give you an earful what an ummah is. By the way, will you or any one else kindly explain why muslims are so obsessed with religion? Others are not. In today's world, muslims have only nuisance value, and nothing else. Sounds hard and bitter, but then truth it is.
sami khan
January 23, 2013 8:38 pm
You seriously lack info dude!!
Aslam Khan
January 23, 2013 9:15 pm
A bigger game plan is abt to unfold. Peaceful borders would not remain so any longer. The present arrangement holds till US is around.
Mandeep
January 24, 2013 12:01 am
Dear Akram, 300 Billion dollars in Foreign Exchange resereves and a 1 trillion dollar economy is not all noise. India's growth pattern will be different from other superpowers because of several reasons and one of them is a whinning neigbhour hell bent upon self- destruction and trying to engage it through terrorism. But for terrorism, no one in India will like to have any relationship with Pakistan.
andy (ON, Canada)
January 24, 2013 1:25 am
again playing a typical Pakistani! selectively picking up the army size than the economy size! I understand your frustration!!
Shubs
January 24, 2013 7:44 am
Yes, it's all India's fault. Really. Just like in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Parliament attack, Mumbai bomb blasts, Akshardham, 26/11, were of course engineered by India to malign Pakistan. Beheadings? Didn't happen. Welcome to Pakistan.
Devil
January 24, 2013 10:32 am
What a pity ! Another article justifying the beheading act ! People in the business of making money via Indo-Pak hatred and war are back again ! Both sides are full with such people and they also have a good support of west who are struggling with their falling economies. We dumb south-asians will again fall to the trap of divide and rule and will provide good money to the west ! Kudos to us !! The dumbest people on the earth !! Keep on fighting !!!
Spiky
January 24, 2013 2:50 pm
Has your dady never told you that your country before 1971 was twice the size of it is right now. No country's army has ever surrender as 1 lakh together. Pakistan Army is the most coward army in the whole world.They can't fight themselves that's they have created terrorists and lashkar for them. Our Army is the only army in the world which has created a country with the use of force
Aaron
January 24, 2013 2:56 pm
ha ha ha, funny, very funny. I appreciate your serious effort to make people laugh.
gk
January 24, 2013 3:30 pm
Lol .. imran ..
gk
January 24, 2013 3:39 pm
Imran, that is the problem with people like u. U r a muslim first,then u think to be a pakistani. In india, we r Indians first, religion always comes second. India is made by indians not muslims,hindu,or anybody from another religion.
Murali
January 24, 2013 6:27 pm
Amazing to know how people like Md Imran are so brainwashed into believing something that is so disconnected from reality. Either such people have never read Wiki in their lives or they have been so brainwashed by their curriculum with hatred, that they can never get themselves to see reality. No use for India to talk sense with such people who
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