The habit of bending over backwards
by MJ Akbar
Why has appeasement of hardliners in Pakistan, an avowedly communal state carved out of the two-nation theory, become a touchstone for secularism in India? If this were limited to an irony it would doubtless find its level in the varied folds of public discourse. As an artful strategy to legitimize the present UPA government’s weak knees, it has more disturbing implications.
The subtext is subtle. There are only two sides to this coin of Manmohan Singh’s realm: accommodation or war, a nonsense familiar to historians of Europe between the first two world wars. An ultimatum is the last resort, not the first one; and there are many stages in-between, as President Obama’s policy towards Iran, for instance, indicates. But in the dictum laid down by Delhi, you either accept Pakistan’s token verbiage, or risk derision as a hawk.
Pakistan’s hard line towards India is held by the Army, which takes the final call on India, whether in strategic planning or real-time response. Its thinking is rooted in Partition. India won freedom from the British. Pakistan won independence from India. Pakistan’s fundamentalist patriots therefore locate the existentialist threat from India. Expand or manouvre the matrix and a man wanted across the world for terrorism, Hafiz Saeed, gets transformed into a commander of the faithful doing his duty in a holy war on Mumbai. Does this make dialogue impossible? No. But it makes it more complex.
Singh, backed firmly by Sonia Gandhi, has no use for complications. He bends in the hope that one more storm will pass over. But between Pakistan’s intransigence over terrorism, his own capitulation at Sharm el Sheikh within nine months of Mumbai, a succession of Pakistan officials who taunt India on Indian soil, and the mutilation of two Indian soldiers this week along the Rampur-Haji Ali sector, Dr Singh seems to have bent so far that he looks prostrate.
The ceasefire line across Jammu and Kashmir is a misnomer. It is always on fire. Lives are lost periodically in the tension of conflicting responsibilities, as India guards itself from the enemy without and insurgents within. But some instances are intended to send a larger signal. The gruesome killing of Lance Naiks Hemraj Singh and Sudhakar Singh was one such message.
Singh’s answer was to pull out the most tired clichés from the store. The Pakistan high commissioner Salman Bashir was “summoned” and told that barbarism was “unacceptable” over a nice cup of tea. Bashir dismissed India’s accusations with contempt. His boss, foreign minister Hina Rabbani, used two words where her Indian counterpart used one, calling India’s allegations “absolutely unacceptable”.
Examine Pakistan’s version of events. Islamabad claims India started the firefight on January 6 in which one of its soldiers was killed and another seriously wounded. Pakistan did not summon India’s high commissioner for coffee and photographs. It sent the 29 Baloch Regiment to extract two eyes for one. When India asked for an enquiry, Pakistan told India to jump – into the arms of the United Nations. Pakistan marshaled its array of diplomats to supplement action in the field. Dr Singh ordered Indian diplomats and armed forces to freeze and “de-escalate”.
Islamabad took the measure of Delhi in 2009 at Sharm el Sheikh, when, despite the international outrage over Mumbai and evidence of Pakistan’s involvement, it was Singh who made extraordinary concessions to put together a joint statement. The text was not shown to India’s National Security Adviser, M K Narayanan, who went ashen when he read the contents a little before it was released to media. Narayanan’s silence was purchased with a ghostly residence in Calcutta, also known as the Raj Bhavan.
Pakistan’s Army Concluded That If It Could Get Away With Bombay, It Could Get Away With Anything. It Has.
Pakistan’s generals have measured the Singh government’s girth, and discovered a circumference bloated by hot air. They know that the only reaction from hot air can be flatulence. They’ve the evidence they need. There were 57 cross-border violations by Pakistan in 2010, 60 in 2011 and 117 in 2012. Delhi’s response has been a private, and sometimes public, campaign to reduce our forces on the border. If it takes two sides to go to war, it also takes a partnership for peace. Manmohan Singh has the look of a lonely man abandoned by the partner of his dreams.