Old war with no gains in sight

 Wagah Border, BSF, Pakistani Rangers

BSF Guards and Pakistani Rangers on Wagah Border

New Delhi was quick to highlight the importance of bilateral dialogue being the only way forward to resolve issues between India and Pakistan when President Trump sought to pro-actively mediate between the two. But the fact is, we haven’t been going anywhere with it

By all accounts, it’s going to be a warm summer this year, especially in the Kashmir valley, not least because climate change is upon us. We are slowly, but surely, moving towards violent confrontation there, once again, as we have done repeatedly every few years.

Whatever be the tactics that the militants and their supporters may employ, there is absolutely no doubt that the security forces, especially the Army, will be able to neutralise them and continue to hold the initiative in the coming summer months, as action shifts to the surrounding hills and forests in the valley. That said, however, the Army will have to rethink tactics to tackle locals attempting to disrupt the conduct of operations against militants.

There is no gainsaying the fact that despite whatever be the directions of the Army chief in this matter, there is little doubt left that the vast majority of those involved in such acts are motivated more by cash than ideology. Investigations by some news channels, which are now in public domain, make this abundantly clear. It, therefore, stands to reason that no democratic Government, either in the State or at the Centre, can countenance indiscriminate use of force to quell the ‘disruptionists’, for want of a better word, especially if it continues to lead to large number of casualties among them. The Army has little choice but to go in for targeted neutralisation, especially of those who are involved in organising such acts.

For that, the security forces need to notch up their intelligence gathering capabilities substantially and focus on identifying such individuals, gathering sufficient evidence against them and ensuring that they face the full brunt of the law for their illegal and unethical activities.

Simultaneously, the Army should consider deploying special forces snipers to provide a protective screen when counter-terrorist operations are launched, in addition to the police bandobust that now appears to have become standard practice. It seems reasonable to expect that the organisers of the protests will be in the close vicinity to ensure they get their money’s worth from those they have employed, as also to control and motivate them.

Though they may ‘lead from the rear’, it remains a vulnerability that can and must be exploited. Once they find themselves targeted, they will attempt to distance themselves from the mob, which will result in loss of control. Once they are not there to personally witness the performance of the paid protesters, there is a likelihood that the protesters will disperse after token protests. Lack of accountability, as we are all aware, always leads to laxness among the paid minions. Our humongous Government and public establishments are clear examples of this phenomenon.

This brings us to the more important issue of US President Donald Trump considering the option of pro-active mediation to resolve issues between India and Pakistan. While the Government has lost little time in asking the Americans to mind their own business, put more diplomatically off course, there can be little doubt that this has set the cat among the pigeons among our foreign service mandarins.

While Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, Gopal Bagley, has parroted the Governments’ oft enunciated views on the importance of bilateral dialogue being the only way forward, the fact cannot be overlooked that we haven’t been going anywhere with it, let alone forward, for decades now. One cannot help but be reminded of the battles of the great war at Somme and Flanders, where millions of people were sacrificed for the capture of a few yards of really unimportant ground. One cannot help but ask the question as to what exactly has the bilateral nature of our dialogue achieved over the years? An unending tango of one step forward and two back, hardly counts as success. Doubts also arise as to the abilities and competence of those who have been responsible for policy formulations and negotiations with Pakistan.

While the Tashkent pact may have been mediated by the Soviets, the dialogue was between both the protagonists and we are yet not aware as to who was responsible for the folly of suggesting such vitally important positions like the Haji Pir Pass and Point-13620, overlooking Kargil, captured at great cost, be handed back, despite Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri having to obviously shoulder the blame.

That foolishness costs us even to this day. One wonders what sort of negotiations took place at Simla in 1972, where despite holding 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war we were unable to resolve Kashmir or the Line of Control issue. What better bargaining chips did our negotiators need to have resolved these issues? Which individual suggested the return of those Pakistani prisoners of war without arranging for the exchange of our own unfortunate soldiers who had been taken prisoner?

We are, therefore, today forced to confront the tragic fact that 57 of our soldiers continue to languish as prisoners of war. This tragedy is compounded by the fact that this Government and those before it are shameless enough to have washed their hands off the issue forcing the kin of the prisoners of war to approach the Supreme Court and requesting them to direct the Government to initiate action to get them back.

We really need to face the fact that competence in negotiations isn’t exactly the forte of those responsible for resolving issues that confront us. For the vast majority involved, it is just another job that if perceived to be done well will give their career the required ballast. It certainly is not an emotive issue as only a miniscule number may actually have family in harms’ way, impacted by the outcome of all that is discussed.

It’s easy to be a hardliner and not look for compromise if one has nothing to lose. Thus, President Trump’s amateurish and unconventional approach must be welcomed and unlike those involved in our policy making establishment, we must hope that he does not lose steam or focus and follows through. Maybe then, things might just change and we will be spared the body bags of colleagues and comrades too young to die for nothing.

This commentary originally appeared in The Pioneer.

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Deepak Sinha

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