opinion
Restraint, not righteous retribution, is the need of the hour

Rape without mutilation doesn’t move us. Nor does the simple killing of an Indian soldier by Pakistani fire along the Line of Control (LoC). But, if he’s been decapitated, well, that’s quite another story.

It provides sufficient rage to fill up hours of television time, allowing speakers to hit record decibel levels inside studios at night. It is yet another opportunity for the growing television tribe of hate-mongers, quite like the honourable leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, to demand the heads of 10 Pakistani soldiers as revenge for the missing Indian soldier’s head. Given that Swaraj, a six-time MP, regularly meets with visiting Pakistani leaders in her official capacity, one wonders whether she’ll demand they hand over the heads of 10 very dead Pakistani soldiers in her next meeting.

Each death of an Indian soldier and, if one can be brave enough to add, every death of a Pakistani soldier on the LoC, is a tragedy, especially after the two countries had so readily agreed to a ceasefire in November 2003. If civilian leaderships can’t control trigger- or knife-happy commanders on either side of the LoC, they are guilty of dereliction of duty. Nearly 10 years after that ceasefire, India and Pakistan have done nothing to add definitive protocols on how the two armies interact with each other.

Incremental confidence has to be built each time you meet. Constructing the future is critical to shedding the baggage of the past. If goods and people can cross the LoC, why can’t we have posts where soldiers don’t carry weapons in select areas? But if you agree to such measures, what will our respective militaries do? They might be rendered redundant. That’s the point. Anyway, the euphoria of the 2003 ceasefire is long over. The architecture of peace, ably crafted by the late Brajesh Mishra, with the blessings of his boss, Vajpayee, came after years of endless verbal and gunshot volleys across the frontier. Even after Mumbai 2008, talks had to resume.

No one cares that the lives of hundreds of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been saved. No one cares if tens of thousands of civilians on either side of the LoC can go about their business as normal people like those living in non-border areas. No one cares what senior citizens of Pakistan and India, who were about to be granted the luxury of a visa-on-arrival for the first time ever, will do now. Revenge is all.

Tit-for-tat, head-for-head, body-for-body, limb-for-limb, weapon-for-weapon, ship-to-ship, Prithvi-to-Ghauri, hill-to-hill... this is the game that India and Pakistan have played for nearly 66 years. We’ve played Tests, one-dayers and T20s on the LoC and beyond. The rest of the world is bored by our infantile battles, only the importance of waning western powers comes to the surface in an India-Pakistan squabble.

As I sat in the reporter’s gallery of the Pakistani Senate in Islamabad some days after the Kargil war in 1999, the Pakistan People’s Party’s Aitizaz Ahsan tore into the perception that Pervez Musharraf’s men were well-fed and looked after as they fought an Indian army ferociously defending its territory. Ahsan revealed that grass had been found in the stomachs of Pakistani soldiers on whom post-mortems were conducted. My personal anger at the Pakistani army and Musharraf for ripping apart the Lahore peace process seemed to abate as I came to terms with the fact that inhumane Pakistani generals had sent hundreds of their own soldiers to their graves.

Carrying the burden of the poor and the illiterate is not enough for these two countries. The burden of hatred must be constantly recalled so that those who don’t want Pakistan to give India MFN status or move from a positive to a negative trade list can remain in business. It’s no coincidence that the Hafiz Saeed-led Lashkar-e-Toiba attacked helpless residents of Mumbai weeks after Asif Zardari was elected President of Pakistan in 2008. Their masters must have told them that Asif Zardari might actually begin moving towards making real peace, so spraying bullets on defenceless Indians would not just halt the peace process but could even provoke a war. A previous attempt, which claimed the lives of 68 persons travelling on the Pakistan-bound Samjhauta Express in February 2007, has been linked to a terror outfit called Abhinav Bharat—whose objective, too, was ending the peace process with Pakistan.

Given the internal developments in Pakistan, where a belligerent chief justice aided by a dual-national religious cleric has further destabilised a country grappling with the killings of hundreds of Shia Muslims, one might be tempted to link the LoC beheading to an opening up of the India front once again. Both Pakistanis and Indians deserve better than that from their governments. Even when we are in the middle of a peace process, peace seems to be an elusive goal.

Lashing out, opening fire, making war—these are the easy options. Waging peace is the difficult one.


(Amit Baruah is author of Dateline Islamabad and has reported for The Hindu from Islamabad)

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