Monday, August 12, 2013

Border déjà vu - The News International

As Pakistan and India ratchet up their confrontation on the Line of Control (LoC), it is difficult to avoid a despairing sense of déjà vu. We have seen this movie before and know exactly how it plays out. First, there is an incident across the de-facto border which the 'victim' tries to construe in the most unflattering way possible – in this case India claiming that our soldiers crossed into their territory and killed their army men. That is followed by an equally explosive counter-accusation. We have obliged the narrative by accusing Indian soldiers of kidnapping Pakistani villagers. All the while there is intensified shelling on the LoC. This may not lead to all-out war but the ramifications will nonetheless be severe. Pakistan is already talking of scaling back its diplomatic mission in New Delhi, especially after protesters tried to storm the building. The hawks in India, both in the BJP and the media, are indulging in their usual Pakistan-bashing and the proposed meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh in New York next month now seems to be in jeopardy.

PM Nawaz Sharif came to power with a peace agenda that now seems to be in tatters. There was talk that we would finally grant India Most-Favoured Nation status. These hopes have now been officially dismissed by the Finance Minister Ishaq Dar who says the MFN is not on the cards any time soon. The appointment of experienced diplomat Shehryar Khan to oversee Track II talks was seen as another positive sign. But as previous LoC skirmishes have shown, all that comes to naught as soon as nationalist pride is dented. India is once again using the cudgel of Dawood Ibrahim and Hafeez Saeed as an excuse to derail peace efforts. In fact the Indians have gone one step further and physical attacks on Pakistani assets and installations like PIA are being tolerated and encouraged. Pakistan's army chief had just months ago made the policy statement that a paradigm shift has occurred and the threat had shifted to the western border from the east but now Pakistan is threatening to move troops from the tribal areas to the eastern border, which would be highly unfortunate given that the TTP is carrying out almost daily attacks. Such incidents have a way of metastasising and no longer remaining in the control of politicians. Neither India nor Pakistan should want to lose the diplomatic gains of the last few years in so speedy and reckless a manner.
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