Simmer down

This moment calls for sobriety and restraint. Don’t let a jingoistic clamour endanger India-Pakistan dialogue

Written by The Indian Express | Published: August 7, 2013 5:17 am

This moment calls for sobriety and restraint. Don’t let a jingoistic clamour endanger India-Pakistan dialogue

Even as the new Pakistan government seeks to resume the dialogue with India,and Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif prepare to meet next month,the ambush and killing of five Indian soldiers,allegedly by Pakistani troops and terrorists at the Line of Control,threatens to place great strain on a delicately poised relationship. Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day on Tuesday,but not before opposition parties tore into the government for what they termed as its failure to stand up to Pakistan. The Samajwadi Party poured scorn on the “bechara” defence minister,and the BJP demanded to know whether the UPA was on India’s side or Pakistan’s. It suggested that all talks with Pakistan cease if even one bullet is fired on the border.

This kind of belligerent boilerplate about “fitting replies” to “dastardly acts” is evidently the opposition’s attempt to present itself as the strong-willed alternative. Sections of the TV commentariat,too,have used these individual incidents to cast quick and irresponsible judgement on the larger peace process. The UPA has weakly buckled before this din in the past. After the incident of killing and mutilation at the LoC this January,the prime minister went so far as to say that “business-as-usual” was unsustainable. Instead of publicly articulating and explaining why it is necessary to protect and insulate the bilateral talks,the government tried to match a rising jingoistic clamour with its own fighting words. The animosity even bled into cultural and sports events. That sorry theatre was enacted all over again,after Sarabjit Singh’s killing in May. This time,hopefully,the government will maintain a sense of proportion. The composite and integrated dialogue is crucial and remains the one lever it has,given Pakistan’s complicated internal and external situation.

The Nawaz Sharif government has shown some initiative towards repairing the relationship. Manmohan Singh’s record with Pakistan has been hampered by his party’s reluctance to make a bold move,as well as hostility following the 26/11 attack. Indeed,the bilateral dialogue is burdened by constraints on both sides. India has asked for some headway on 26/11,it wants larger commitments on choking terrorist activity and improved trade relations. Pakistan wants India to understand that its civilian leadership is invested in reconciliation,but has little control over the security establishment and its offshoots. Only dialogue,a skilful and patient engagement,can extract anything meaningful from these fraught circumstances. As the US begins its withdrawal from Afghanistan,and Pakistan’s terrorists turn their energies to the eastern front,the space for bargain and negotiation must not be compromised.

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