The gruesome killing of two Indian soldiers by Pakistani troops and beheading one of them along the line of control (LOC) on January 8 was a planned and calculated act. The reason is that killing of Indian soldiers by firing across the LOC would not lead to such outrage in India to threaten the peace talks between the two sides. It had to be a stomach churning incident. Almost all religions believe that the last rites of a person are not complete if the body is headless. To the family of Lance Naik Hemraj Singh, who was beheaded, the situation has gone beyond the worst surrealistic nightmare.
The Pakistani government reacted in an expected manner. There was total denial from Pakistani foreign minister Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar and the rest of the establishment. Even this was not surprising. But what was surprising was Ms. Rabbani’s emphatic declaration that an inquiry was conducted (and completed in less than twenty four hours!) and all proclaimed not guilty. The Pakistan government took a stiff if not hard line. Again, not surprising. Their military forces designed to counter enemy no.1, India, were put on alert. Trade across the LOC was shut down. The intention from the Pakistani side, at least from those who call the shots, is to ratchet up tensions. Why?
Did the Indian army fall for a carefully laid trap by Pakistan? Beheading of Indian soldiers by Pakistani troops has happened before, but the Indian army kept the news under wraps. However, something gave way this time.
Despite some domestic criticism, the Indian government has decided to keep steadfastly on the road to peace and amity with Pakistan. New Delhi froze certain talks with Pakistan following the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Gradually, the Indian government decided that “no talking” and holding to a rigid position was not going to resolve anything. Concessions to and accommodation for Pakistan began. India officially acknowledged that Pakistan too, was a target of terrorism. The fact that Pakistan was suffering at the hands of terrorists it had created, was swept under the carpet.
One does not have to go far to find a reason. The 21st century has ushered in a paradigm shift in the global environment. The mantra is counter destabilization and concentrate on economic and social development. Whether some elements in Pakistan agree or not, it is a fact that India is the spearhead of South Asia to take the region to a new ambience of social happiness. The initiatives taken by India to connect this subcontinent to the Asia Pacific Region has made a remarkable beginning. The land connectivity from India through Myanmar and Thailand to the Pacific sea board is a plan in the works. This same land connectivity could, if Pakistan was a willing partner, extend to Central Asia and Europe. The end bonanza could be unimaginable.
Unfortunately, powerful interest centres exist in the subcontinent that seek to pull the region back to the dark ages and even misconstrue religion in the name of religion. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Laskhar-e-Toiba (LET), the Afghan Taliban and a host of other such organizations are the doomsdayers. There is clear evidence available that these organizations were created by the Pakistani state as represented by the army and its Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) to wrest Kashmir from India, destabilize India and acquire the so called “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. The last strategy was so bizarre that it is almost unbelievable that it could have been constructed by generals of a professional army.
A debate ensued about the professionalism and discipline of the Pakistani regular army. Pakistan is a signatory to the Geneva Convention of conduct between nations, as India is. The armies of signatory countries are expected to strictly abide by the code of conduct laid down by the convention. Past records reveal that there is something very wrong with the Pak army.
In the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war the Pakistani army in East Pakistan from top to bottom acted as rapists and barbarians. This is not an allegation created by Bangladeshis and Indians. Some of these incidents are recorded by sensitive Pakistani army officers then posted in East Pakistan. Major (retd) Sadiq Salik details some of the plans and actions in his book, “Witness to Surrender”.
In one instance, a battalion of Pakistani troops in the Chittagong area gathered a group of small children, made them drink belly full of water, and used them for target practice while making them run. Living witnesses say that the waters of Foy’s Lake turned red with the blood of locals killed and dumped by Pakistani troops and their Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) collaborators. The eyes of senior pro-liberation leaders were gouged out. Bellies of pregnant women were cut open with bayonets. Pakistan has refused to cooperate in the on-going 1971 war crimes trials in Bangladesh.
Currently, the Pakistani Supreme Court has summoned the army for the disappearance of some hundreds of people in Baluchistan. Some Pakistani commentators have warned that the army was re-enacting their role in 1971 in East Pakistan in Baluchistan.
One of the major misconstructions of the Pakistani army is their working with tribal fighters from the very beginning-1947. The tribal lashkars are fierce fighters. But they are also indisciplined and ruthless. So are the jehadi groups set up by the Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) primarily to fight Kashmir as proxy to the army. Characteristics are bound to rub off from one to the other. As the army became more radicalised the jihadist genes became more prominent. The beheading of New York Times’ journalist Daniel Pearl is an illustrative example of this development.
It is well known that President Zia-ul-Huq drove the radicalization of not only the Pakistani army but also other security forces. He also greatly influenced the politics and society of the country to turn viscerally anti-Indian. And many precepts of Sharia law were brought in. Certainly, radical jihadism with misinterpretation of religion is not a course in Pakistani military academies.
But over the years the radical influence has become deep. Some in the Pak army, coming from different cultural backgrounds reject such radical ideologies, but there are others who are natural adherents of extreme ideological pursuit. Therefore, the ease and composure with which Lance Naik Hem Raj Singh was beheaded is not a surprising.
As stated earlier in this article, the incident under review was premeditated to achieve a certain objective. To derail the India-Pakistan peace talks.
The recent addition to Pakistan’s military doctrine is important. It says that the main threat to Pakistan is from internal elements and from its western borders, that is Afghanistan. It was assumed that India no longer figured as the No.1 enemy. Respected Pakistani strategic commentator Lt. Gen. (retd.) Talat
Masood saw this as a “paradigm” shift. Soon this hope was dashed. A spokesman for the Pak armed forces clarified that the doctrine “does not mean that the conventional threat had receded”. That is, threat perception of India has not undergone any change.
There are two main aspects that keep anti-Indianism in Pakistan alive. One is the series of historical developments starting from partition of the subcontinent in 1947, failure to wrest Kashmir from India and the humiliation of defeats in 1965 and 1971. The other is making anti-Indianism an industry in Pakistan. The army gets its power and privilege; politicians manipulate it among a large under educated population; and religious organizations are patronised by different governments in the country to spread Wahabism and Salafism with financial assistance from the Gulf NGOs. This is a heady cocktail stirred over decades, and not easy to neutralize.
After 1971, Pakistan focussed on separating Kashmir from India as a response to the breakup of Pakistan. Foreign powers like China and the US lent their shoulders to Islamabad, especially China. The global narrative has, however, changed and the Pakistani establishment is yet to comprehend it. If the effort was also to internationalize the Kashmir issue, Islamabad’s foreign policy and strategic establishments have failed miserably. The US has rejected third party involvement, and China has done the same in different words.
The pro-peace constituency in Pakistan has grown. But they are still a very small group. The position taken by the Pakistani establishment that India should forget the past and look at the future is difficult to accept. Forget Akshardam, forget Parliament attack, forget Mumbai carnage, and now forget the LOC beheading. Kargil, a misadventure of Gen. Musharaf has almost been buried.
Peace talks are welcome, especially at the track-II level. But in the track-I level, the Pakistani response to the episode is not acceptable. Pak foreign minister Hina Rabbani’s response was arrogant, saying in so many words that the Indian version was not true. India’s request for a Brigadier level flag meeting at the side of the incident was delayed. India is being reduced to almost a begging interlocutor.
How far backwards can India bend? The reality is that the dictating forces in Pakistan are far away from a meaningful reconciliation. This is the truth that must be accepted in the corridors of power in New Delhi. As the US prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, Pakistani terrorists would be freed to refocus on India. Let us not look only at a peace prize. It is exercise of India’s comprehensive national power which can ensure peace.
(The writer, Mr.Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in NewDelhi;Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)