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Modi Government Under Pressure To Prove It Can Handle Pak

3 May, 2017 8:11 AM
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Modi Government Under Pressure To Prove It Can Handle Pak

From Tarn Taran, a small town in Punjab on the India-Pakistan border, to Deoria in eastern Uttar Pradesh, two grieving families whose sons' bodies were mutilated by Pakistani soldiers have put the government on notice to avenge the killings by taking appropriate action.

As the Opposition demanded the appointment of a full-time Defence Minister to tackle the increasingly fragile situation with Pakistan, the army is said to have mounted a concerted attack from its five assault positions on the Line of Control.

The Congress party finally found its voice and even struck a chord in the manifest public anger by criticizing the government's absence of a coherent policy on Pakistan and asking when Prime Minister Narendra Modi would "display his 56-inch chest" to that country.

In Deoria, the teenage daughter of Head constable Prem Sagar of the 200 BSF battalion - one of the two men whose bodies were mutilated - demanded "50 heads from there", referring to Pakistan, as retribution for her father's beheading.

The young girl's grief-stricken comments brought to mind Sushma Swaraj's remarks in January 2013, when, as the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, she had reacted to the beheading of an Indian soldier by saying, "For one beheading, we demand ten heads."

In this hour of national anger and grief the day after the incident, it certainly seems as if the BJP government's pet nationalism project which demands an unswerving hatred of its pet enemy, Pakistan, could be coming apart at the seams.

The Pakistan army has meanwhile denied that its soldiers have carried out the beheading - but nobody's buying that story.

Off the record, analysts say that after the Indian army carried out "surgical strikes" across the Line of Control in September 2016 in revenge for the Uri attack only weeks before in which 19 soldiers were killed (most of them from a fire that consumed the tents of sleeping jawans), it was only a matter of time before the Pakistanis retaliated.

Monday's incident of mutilation by a Pakistani Border Action Team (BAT) saw a change of tactics on the Indian side. An aggressive defence minister, Arun Jaitley admitted publicly that the bodies of BSF constable Prem Sagar and Naib Subedar Paramjit Singh of 22 Sikh Regiment had been mutilated, and insisted that the "sacrifice of these soldiers will not go in vain" - earlier incidents had not been made public.

But another school of thought is now gathering ground both in Delhi and in Islamabad. Pakistani political sources point out that the mutilation of the Indian soldiers took place barely 24 hours after Pakistan army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa had visited the LoC - which, in turn, took place soon after the Indian industrialist Sajjan Jindal met the Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif both in Islamabad as well as in the hill-station at Murree.

The Pakistani sources told this reporter that Nawaz Sharif's meeting with Jindal took Bajwa and the Pakistani army by surprise. While the source wasn't willing to make a direct link between the cross-LoC mutilation and the Jindal meeting as well as the public censure by the Pakistani army chief of Nawaz Sharif's sacking of his own advisor on foreign affairs Tariq Fatemi, the ground inside Pakistan seems to be slowly shifting once again.

Indian analysts are still watching the tea leaves, unwilling to make a judgement call on whether Bajwa, a hand-picked army chief by Nawaz Sharif, is striking out on his own - like his predecessors often did - and sending a message to his prime minister that he may not be as obedient anymore.

As for the horrible incidents of beheading, the bitter truth is that both India and Pakistan armies have beheaded each other's soldiers in the recent as well as distant past. This barbaric activity is hardly the exclusive preserve of only Pakistan.

Former army chief Gen Bikram Singh, who was also the government's spokesperson during the 1999 Kargil conflict, said the time had come for India to teach Pakistan a lesson "which will put their Army on the back foot and compel them to desist from interfering in J&K."

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It seems too that the increased incidents of mutilation accompanies the deteriorating situation inside Jammu & Kashmir. Just as Delhi doesn't want to draw attention to its own inadequate handling of the crisis there, so Pakistan wants to broadcast it to the rest of the world.

One outcome of the public acknowledgement of the mutilation by Pakistan is an acknowledgement that the fight is long and hard. The government certainly has several options on the table, beyond the standard operating procedure available to it of mounting a heavy artillery assault. These may include the options of exercising economic measures that bring pain to Pakistan, abrogating the Indus Waters treaty, or even upscaling the force retaliation to a localized battle.

The government could also marshall international opinion targeted at isolating Pakistan and showing up that country's cross-LoC perfidy - admittedly, this will take much longer to do and may not help in substantially assuaging the current and present anger.

Question is, what Delhi can do to immediately placate the rising nationalistic fervour. Perhaps the most obvious answer is for the Ministries of External Affairs and Defence to create a joint strategy in which information is disseminated and broadcast on a regular and concerted basis. During the Kargil conflict, the daily press briefings in Delhi by former Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramindar Jassal and Gen Bikram Singh were as important in psychologically disarming the enemy while the battles were fought on bloody heights.

Unfortunately, this government has been so tight-fisted with information that it has failed to convert a willing media to its own advantage. The one-off joint briefing in the wake of the "surgical strikes" in late September was exactly that - one-off. There was no attempt at informing the national press corps on an intermittent but regular basis of the challenges the army was up against.

Beyond the headlines, the questions are coming in thick and fast: What is the government doing about compensating the families so cruelly beheaded by Pakistani soldiers? Why haven't Yogi Adityanath and Capt Amarinder Singh, the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab respectively, been to see the families of those killed?

General Bikram Singh told this reporter that he did not subscribe to the abrogation of the Indus Waters Treaty - framed in 1960 by the World Bank as a division of the spoils of water, by giving the eastern rivers of the Indus to India and the western rivers to Pakistan - because in an "asymmetric war", population is the centre of gravity. If we have to bleed Pakistani Army by its own people, then we cannot afford to antagonise its entire population".

Similarly, he pointed out that he was not in favour of raising a fidayeen corps that would infiltrate into Pakistan for carrying out deadly strikes as these fidayeen could, over time, become uncontrollable and a law onto themselves.

"Do we want to become like Pakistan? I don't think so. What would we do with such a fidayeen corps when they return home after carrying out their activities?" he asked.

Apart from the fact that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind, the outcome of such upscaling is tenuous. It will draw attention to the fact that both countries are nuclear-capable, which means that the international community will want to get involved - something Delhi is completely against.

The BJP has been vocal in recent years in charging the Congress and the UPA with being "easygoing" on Pakistan. The time has now come for the ruling BJP to pull a real solution out of the bag.

(Jyoti Malhotra has been a journalist for several years and retains an especial passion for dialogue and debate across South Asia.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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