Why Modi Must Continue Showing Patience With Pak

Published: September 21, 2016 00:54 IST
On the Dawn News discussion on Monday night, nearly 48 hours after the Uri attack, retired general Amjad Shoaib began to speak evenly enough about his country's views on the attack in particular and the terrible human rights violations taking place in the Kashmir Valley in general.

Very quickly, though, the commentary on Pakistan's respected TV channel deteriorated to the point that the honourable Pakistani general began to describe innocent Kashmiris being killed at the hands of Indian security forces as "dogs" (the Hindi/Urdu word is more colourful..."they are being killed like ku...on") and later, as "deer" (we use pellet guns like those who do shikaar on hiran).

If the whole thing wasn't so terribly tragic, the ghastly but compelling description of the glass menagerie may even have been comic. If anything, it brought to mind the importance not only of the use of language in moments of crisis, but also of the overweening importance of the Pakistani army in Pakistan's security and foreign policy, especially towards India.

Over the last couple of years or so, Pakistani observers have noted how their army has infiltrated the political establishment in opposition to the elected Nawaz Sharif government - most infamously, Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf party come to mind - and through it, attempted to carry out a creeping coup. Pakistan's absolute abhorrence towards martial law, especially in the light of a vigilant media, means that there can't be a straightforward and honest enough coup there anymore. So much easier to dress it up as something else. Let's march to Raiwind, the family home of the Sharifs on the outskirts of Lahore, and demand that the Prime Minister put in his papers.

But the truth also is that the Pakistan army's job to weaken Nawaz Sharif's hands, especially his inclination to improve relations with India, has been made much easier by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's actions - or inaction - on Kashmir. The Valley has witnessed unrest for nearly 3 months. Human rights violations are manifest in all kinds of grotesque ways. The BJP-PDP government is either unable or unwilling to reach out and absorb the pain of the victims, even if they are demanding freedom.

It's easy enough to point fingers at Nawaz Sharif, a man who campaigned for better relations with India when he won his own election in 2013. Moreover, the Pakistan Prime Minister has been here before, in the spring-summer of 1999 on the eve of the Kargil conflict. The jury is still out whether Nawaz knew of the Pakistan army plan to use the Northern Light Infantry to invade India at Kargil. Nawaz himself has denied it, often eloquently, including to me in an earlier interview. Remember that the conflict took place in the wake of the happy glow of Atal Behari Vajpayee's bus yatra to Lahore. How could the Pakistan army allow the initiative to slip from its hands?

The terrible similarity between 1999 and 2016 is too awful to see - and perfectly simple to miss. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's jaw-dropping visit to Raiwind to attend the wedding celebrations of Nawaz Sharif's grand-daughter last Christmas Day was followed, within a week, by the cross-border attack at the Pathankot air base. Barely nine months later, as if to consolidate that anger within India, a cross-border attack has taken place at the Uri army installation.

PM Modi paid a surprise visit to Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan last year on his way back to Delhi from Kabul.

Clearly, it is in the Pakistan army's interest not to allow the normalization of the relationship with India. If that happens, how can it still call the shots?

Imagine the boom-boom of trade and trucks across the Wagah-Attari border and Khokrapar-Munabao as well as across several points of the Line of Control. Imagine the dissolving of the LoC and the international boundary as people travel back and forth, thumbing their impudent noses at the powers-that-be. In the new world order, marked by Facebook and commandeered by Twitter, ancient rules of the game like cross-border terrorism have little play.

Modi's roller-coaster journey towards a Pakistan policy seems to have halted at Uri. There was so much hope when he dropped in, unannounced, at Raiwind last year - only the Indian bureaucracy and security establishment was aghast that their Prime Minister was crossing the lakshman rekha and going into the jaws of the enemy.

Now, none other than the man the RSS loaned to the BJP, Ram Madhav, has in the wake of Uri expanded the "eye-for-an-eye" metaphor to say that India must take the "whole jaw in return for a tooth." The TV channels are baying for blood. Twitter is aflame.

18 soldiers have been killed after a terrorist attack took place in Jammu and Kashmir's Uri on Sunday.

And yet, Modi is counseling peace, even if it is for the time being. It may well be that the Americans have told the Prime Minister that there's no point crossing swords with Pakistan since it is a nuclear weapons state and who knows, accidents can happen. Certainly, the international community has counseled patience.

There's a certain deja vu to what is happening these days. In the wake of the parliament attack in December 2001 that was followed by the attack at the army installation in Kaluchak in mid-2002, the Indian army mobilized its forces on the border. The world thought India and Pakistan were going to war - the Japanese and the Americans shut their embassies in both India and Pakistan, keeping only skeletal staff.

But "Operation Parakram" didn't achieve its purpose of defanging Pakistan and steering it in the direction of a normal state. It is unlikely that any similar warlike action will achieve anything 14 years later.

Consistency, and patience. Those are the only two qualities that India - and the world -need to deal with Pakistan. Its people are remarkably warm and generous and resilient. How many nations would have kept millions of Afghan refugees on their soil for three decades? So what is it about the Pakistani army and the ISI that India cannot understand?

The key is to differentiate between the two, treat them as different entities. This means that the Modi government must go to the SAARC summit and show its determination to move the region forward, especially in terms of its business and people-to-people agendas. Expand trade and economic cooperation, don't shut it down. Implement the travel agreement that was signed in late 2013. Throw open the gates. When people begin to get to know each other, they will build bonds that are worth a thousand strategies. One of them will be to marginalize the stranglehold of the army and the security establishments in both countries.

First of all, end the Kashmir crisis. Reach out to your own citizens. One of the many purposes of the Uri attacks was to internationalise the gross human rights violations that continue to take place in the Kashmir Valley. If the shadow of a nuclear war hangs over the sub-continent, you can bet your last rupee the international community will get involved.

The world including China has roundly condemned the Uri attack. These global leaders are now invoking the friendships they have built with Prime Minister Modi and are counting on him to deescalate and resolve the crisis at hand. Biting the bitter bullet - it comes with the territory of wanting to be a regional leader.

(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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