DUMB & DUMBER
It is difficult to say which is more disturbing the simulated outrage of the BJP following the latest violence on the Line of Control in Kashmir,or the utter political mismanagement of the crisis by the Congress. That the BJP has long ceased to be a responsible opposition party has been reinforced by its demand that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh abandon his planned meeting with the Pakistani premier,Nawaz Sharif,next month in New York.
Consider the BJPs own record of engaging Pakistan when it ruled Delhi during 1998-2004. The late-1990s saw far greater military tension with Pakistan,especially after the nuclear tests of May 1998. Four months later,then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sitting down with Nawaz Sharif in New York to unveil a new framework for dialogue with Pakistan. Vajpayee then travelled to Lahore in February 1999 on the inaugural bus service between New Delhi and Lahore.
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Despite the Kargil War in the summer of 1999 and the hijacking of IC 814 to Kandahar in December 1999,Vajpayee invited General Pervez Musharraf to visit Agra in July 2001 and conferred legitimacy to the military coup in Pakistan. After the attack on Parliament in December 2001 and a massive military mobilisation in response,Vajpayee soon switched to the peace track by negotiating a ceasefire and initiating a new round of talks with Pakistan in early 2004.
Confrontation,crisis management and peace talks have become part and parcel of Indias relationship with Pakistan over the last quarter of a century. The BJP leaderships
response to the latest crisis,then,has been irresponsible,to say the least.
No one embodies the BJPs flip-flops more than L.K. Advani. As home minister,he continually sought to undermine Vajpayees strategy of coping with the Pakistan challenge. When he became leader of the opposition,Advani travelled to Pakistan,said nice things about the founder of Pakistan,Mohammad Ali Jinnah,and underlined his interest in engaging Islamabad.
If the BJP is terribly inconsistent,the Congress seems to have no courage of conviction. Worse still,the ruling party has lost the capacity to manage the inevitable challenges of dealing with Pakistan. Like Vajpayee,Singh has returned to a dialogue with Pakistan after every recent crisis in bilateral relations,thereby underlining the inescapable logic of engaging the western neighbour. What is depressing is the political pusillanimity of the Congress party that is so quick to distance itself from the government at the first hint of trouble with Pakistan.
Whether it was the storm in a tea cup that followed the joint statement issued by Singh and then Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009 or the natural anger that swept Delhi after the beheading of Indian soldiers at the LoC in January this year,the Congress has been ready to leave the government twisting in the wind.
It is not that the BJP was a united house when it was in power. But unlike Vajpayee,who stuck to his guns and politically justified his moves towards Pakistan,Singh has tended to retreat at the first signs of resistance. If the Congress has been a weak political reed for the PM to lean on,the internal incoherence of Singhs government has made matters worse. The political insensitivity of A.K. Antonys initial statement to Parliament was matched by the swiftness with which different parts of it distanced themselves from it.
At a time when Indias borders with Pakistan and China have become live,one would think Delhi would seize the opportunity to calm other frontiers. Commonsense,however,appears to elude our political classes. The BJP,which rants against the governments Pakistan policy,has extended little support to Singhs successful and long overdue resolution of the boundary dispute with Bangladesh.
The Congress,in turn,has made no political case for an immediate ratification of the land boundary agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh that could transform Indias geopolitical condition. Despite its repeated promises to a friendly and cooperative Dhaka,the government has been unable to even table the agreement in Parliament.
While the latest crisis with Pakistan might soon fade from memory,the failure to approve the LBA with Bangladesh in this session of Parliament will stand as a monumental testimony to Delhis collective political failure. India will pay dearly for the political opportunism and strategic incompetence that appear to have engulfed Delhi.
The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation,Delhi and a contributing editor for The Indian Express