Thank heavens, the “war-mongers” on the Indian side have piped down, with the Pakistan Army promising to exercise restraint.
There can be no denying the excesses of the Pakistan army in brutally killing two Indian soldiers at the Line of Control. But an eye-for-an-eye (or ‘ten heads for one head’) response can only lead to an escalating spiral of violence, with huge human, social and economic costs.
Better then to sit across the table, under the institutional mechanism of CBM (confidence building measures), to prevent the occurrence of such incidents. Keeping CBM going does not mean ceding ground on security concerns; a two-track approach is needed.
As for the current episode, macabre though it is, it should be kept in mind that such acts have allegedly occurred in the past on both sides of the border, going by our own media accounts.
A plea for peace is not meant to wish away serious differences. Pakistan has erred repeatedly — this time, 26/11 and Kargil. However, the Pakistan state is under siege, and provoking a conflict at this stage will strengthen the Pakistan Army and religious extremists in their bid to wrest more political power.
Surely, we do not want that. Hence, this is the time to exercise restraint. To India’s credit, we have come a long way since 26/11, with CBM almost back on track. Let’s not blow it all up — especially when Pakistan has relented — and reintroduce a climate of insecurity.
It would be foolhardy to overlook the spin-offs from increased bilateral trade, particularly when the developed countries are in crisis. The business community on both sides is only being pragmatic in pressing for a reduction in trade barriers. Bilateral trade talks held last September marked a major step forward, with both countries agreeing to keep their ‘negative lists’ to a minimum. Exports to Pakistan, at about Rs 1,200 crore, can be increased manifold if tariff and non-tariff barriers are reduced. The routing of goods through third countries will then come down, reducing transaction costs.
Over the last decade, despite Kargil and 26/11, both countries have improved cultural, commercial and people-to-people exchanges. This has set in motion an irreversible change in popular perception: Pakistan is no longer the mysterious ‘other’ it used to be. Cricket matches between the two countries are now a benign affair, and not ‘war by other means’.
As psycho-analyst Salman Akhtar has observed, the wounds of Partition have started to heal, with the urge for revenge giving way to remorse, reconciliation and forgetting.
Yet, the security establishments in both countries would like to keep the tensions alive, so that defence budgets remain inordinately high and fanciful arms can be purchased with the inevitable gravy train of commissions. With a Budget around the corner, we should keep in mind that defence expenditure is, in part, a subsidy for misplaced patriotism.