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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Engaging with the enemy

As a first step, though, India needs to devote more resources to examining objectively the ferment in Kashmir, with less blaming Pakistan reflexively every time protests erupt there or militants attack.

Written by Arnab Neil Sengupta |
Updated: January 19, 2021 6:58:07 pm
Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates defeating Andy Murray of Britain in their men's singles final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. (Reuters)

Nearly seven decades of hostility between India and Pakistan produced no clear winner except for the global arms industry. But this has not stopped a low-intensity war being fought against scenic Himalayan backdrops from claiming casualties on either side of the Line of Control with brutal regularity. Before the situation gets any worse, the onus is on India, as the economically larger and militarily stronger of the two, to initiate a long overdue joint exercise in course correction to turn into normal neighbours who share 3,000 km of common international border, besides a lot else.

Thus far, there is no demonstrable proof that India’s efforts to punish Pakistan through military and diplomatic means and aggressive name-calling (“Ivy League of terrorism”) are making a dent in the deep state’s ability to stir trouble from Kashmir to Kunduz.

By contrast, there is abundant anecdotal evidence that the angry political discourse and alarming sabre-rattling is creating bad blood between ordinary Indians and Pakistanis, and fuelling fears in the West of an imminent nuclear war, presumably the overriding aim of the faceless masterminds of the attacks on Indian army posts. Rather than pay heed to armchair experts, India should have the courage of its convictions to adopt a pragmatic and consistent policy of treating peace with Pakistan as a strategic choice while keeping its powder dry. By demonstrating through words and actions that it harbours no antipathy towards Pakistan’s marginalised minorities, endangered liberals, fearless rights defenders and impoverished masses, India should aim to widen the reported rift between the civilian and military leaderships. Adoption of a 21st century policy grounded on proportionate response, military de-escalation and diplomatic engagement could prove detrimental to the deep state.

As a first step, though, India needs to devote more resources to examining objectively the ferment in Kashmir, with less blaming Pakistan reflexively every time protests erupt there or militants attack. Next, India should continue to make Pakistani musicians and actors feel welcome, and not be shy about using their presence to maximise positive publicity, the exact opposite of the way things are headed. By launching a shrill campaign to hound out Pakistani artists, parochial Maharashtrian parties succeeded in propagating a false image of the Petty Indian, provoking a backlash against the beneficial business of screening Bollywood films in Pakistan.

Ideally, the government should consider expanding the informal list of persona grata (after proper vetting) to include Pakistani businessmen interested in tapping India’s vast market, and citizens of Pakistani ancestry who wish to travel to India as tourists, for medical consultation or to visit relatives.

Third, the ongoing China Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC) is nothing if not a testament to India’s unintended success in pushing Pakistan deep into “all-weather friend” China’s embrace. It may not be too late to try to convince Pakistanis that India’s long record of religious tolerance and abiding by WTO rules is a more reliable basis for permanent friendship. As the CPEC’s hidden costs come to light and Baluch nationalist groups give warnings, there may be an opening for India to wean Pakistan away from China with a generous, long-term partnership offer, whose starting point could be the Most Favoured Nation status accorded to Pakistan in 1996.

Finally, it is time to acknowledge that the tension in the subcontinent is being cynically exploited by a section of India’s news media. The warmongering would be laughable if it wasn’t so insidiously divisive.

For Indians, the temptation to put the blame for current hostilities entirely on Pakistan is understandably strong in view of the chain of attacks on Indian military bases. There is also little doubt that Pakistan’s deep state, operating from behind a civilian facade of plausible deniability, has been dispatching products of its terrorist nurseries across the LoC. But instead of firing rhetorical broadsides, India needs to chip away methodically at the logic of permanent enmity that draws its sustenance from the hawkish worldview of Pakistan’s military and spy-agency elites.

It’s way past time to give peace a chance. The question is, how many more casualties will it take before India’s leadership wisens up and calls the Pakistani deep state’s bluff, instead of sliding further into its trap?


The writer is a journalist based for nearly two decades in the Middle East. The views expressed are personal.

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