My response to Najam Sethi’s article on India and Pakistan.
In this weekend’s The Friday Times, Najam Sethi urges the governments of India and Pakistan not to derail relations in response to the recent skirmishes along the LoC. In so doing, he alleges that the Indian army built bunkers in Haji Pir sector, which violated a 2005 India-Pakistan agreement, ultimately provoking the Pakistani army to shell Indian positions in a bid to stop the construction. Incidentally, the position that India triggered the recent skirmish was also put forward by columnist and former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Maleeha Lodhi.
To Mr. Sethi, the alleged construction of bunkers by India was the “original sin” that triggered the skirmishes. But Mr. Sethi is economizing on the truth here. He may be right when he says that the 2005 agreement between India and Pakistan prohibits new military construction along the LoC. But he conveniently forgets the very first CBM of that 2005 agreement, where both India and Pakistan committed to “uphold the ongoing ceasefire.”
This is important because Pakistan has violated the ceasefire almost every year since 2003; there were 28 ceasefire violations by Pakistan in 2009, 44 in 2010, 60 in 2011 and 117 in 2011. If India has violated the 2005 agreement, Pakistan has done likewise, and with greater frequency. But here’s another inconvenient truth: Pakistan itself has been busy building several bunkers and posts (1, 2, 3) along the LoC since the 2003 ceasefire. Does that not violate the 2005 agreement? If it does, why is India alone guilty of committing the “original sin,” and how does this justify Pakistan’s shelling of Indian positions? Is it that what constitutes a material breach of the 2005 agreement gets decided at the sole discretion of Pakistan?
To be sure, ceasefire violations happen routinely, by both India and Pakistan. That these violations happen less frequently than prior to the 2003 ceasefire is a positive trend and of importance to the stability of the LoC. However, pinning the responsibility of military altercations between the two countries on any one such ceasefire violation is a losing proposition.
But there are bigger issues with Mr. Sethi’s article. Although he begins by accusing the Indian army of triggering the recent skirmishes, he proceeds to commingle India’s responses to the skirmishes with the broader bilateral discussions between India and Pakistan on border disputes. On the latter, he accuses India’s news media of “sabotaging” the peace process. Now, the Indian media’s response to the killing of two Indian troops was undoubtedly over the top. And if Indian news media reaction was over the top, comments from some of India’s politicians were abominable.
But let us not conflate reaction to the skirmishes with internal dialog in India on the implications of the “peace process” on India. Mr. Sethi alleges that India’s media scuttled alleged attempts by New Delhi to withdraw from Siachen Glacier and the possibility of prime minister Manmohan Singh visiting Pakistan. However, what Mr. Sethi saw were not machinations of India’s media to sabotage the peace process, but India’s citizens questioning the actions of their democratically-elected government. That some of these questions are conveyed through the medium of acutely hyperventilating TV news channels does not invalidate the questions themselves.
India’s citizens have a right to question the government they’ve put into office, when reports emerge of unilateral withdrawals from Siachen that many feel are not in India’s interests. India’s citizens also have a right to know what Pakistan has done by way of bringing to book those responsible for the 26/11 carnage to warrant an official visit from the prime minister of the India. These questions aren’t only posed by the Indian news media, but by Indian commentators of all walks of life (1, 2, 3, 4). It would be wrong on the part of anyone to dismiss these legitimate questions as media propaganda. It would be equally wrong to believe that Indian citizens registering their dissent frustrates and impedes attempts to promote someone’s version of what constitutes “peace” from across the border.
The fact is, Pakistan has done absolutely nothing to convince a large constituent of India’s electorate of the noble intentions it says it has (no, MFN does not count). Hafiz Saeed lives large in Pakistan, delivering keynote addresses at Lahore High Court, while infiltrations from Pakistan into J&K continue. Mr. Sethi’s version of “peace” requires India to unilaterally withdraw from a strategic position it has held unchallenged since 1984, and requires the Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan, while not making any demands of Pakistan on issues of interest to India. Peace is great, but cannot be implemented at the cost of India’s national interests. If this is Mr. Sethi’s vision of “peace,” then thank you, India is better off without it.