Chasing holy grail of peace with Pakistan

The recent beheadings are a deliberate, well-planned action designed to provoke a major response from the Indian side

Jingoism” is the new intellectual fashion statement emerging in the aftermath of the recent atrocity at Mendhar, Jammu and Kashmir, disparaging displays of public emotion at moments of national crisis. Fortunately, most Indian soldiers are not sufficiently fluent or familiar with the English language to comprehend the implications of the epithet as applied to their efforts.

The gruesome beheading of two Indian soldiers was calculated affront of supreme contempt on the part of the Pakistan Army, and though the Indian government maintains that it was the act of Pakistani regular troops, the very nature of the act warrants a second look to determine responsibility and fashion an appropriate response.
The incident has raised temperatures amongst Indian soldiers along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and 13 Rajputana Rifles and their comrades are certainly straining at the leash to retaliate in kind. But “aman ki aasha” remains “the bigger picture” of the political leadership of this country who seems to be almost desperately searching for any utterance from across the border which could be construed as even faintly reconciliatory. However, there has been no such luck so far in the quest for the holy grail of peace with Pakistan.
So, stepping back from the heat, dust and hair-trigger tensions of the LoC, India needs to take serious stock of the way forward vis-a-vis Pakistan after this horrific incident.
On its part, the Pakistani military leadership is under no such constraints. This was clearly demonstrated during a recent interview with a sensation-mongering Indian news channel by Pakistan’s former President and now discredited Army Chief, Pervez Musharraf, who might well be a political persona non grata in his homeland, but nevertheless functioned as a determined and extremely aggressive spokesman for his Army. Mr Musharraf is attempting to rebuild his own political future, and his energetic rebuttal of the Indian media commentator might pay him political dividends when he returns to Pakistan, as he stridently proclaimed on screen.
That being said, tit-for-tat retaliations by either side to incidents of this nature are part of the folklore which has grown in both armies, deployed eyeball to eyeball on this tinderbox frontier. Clashes and exchange of fire here are nothing new to both armies, and casualties on both sides are accepted as inevitable. But the recent beheadings put the Mendhar incident beyond the pale, adding a whole new dimension of appalling savagery to the long-running confrontation. It is clear that the incident did not result from some sudden ungovernable individual impulse or the runaway action of a rogue unit, but is a deliberate, well-planned action designed to provoke a major response from the Indian side, for ulterior reasons which can only be speculated upon at the moment. Pure logic may indicate that India should not retaliate in a like manner, but ground environments in the country reflect a popular sense of outrage and demand that the country respond appropriately, with the overriding proviso of a time and place of own choosing.
Mendhar is an obscure mountain village on the LoC in the Poonch region of Jammu and Kashmir, little known except to its residents, or to those located there by the vagaries of soldiering in the Indian Army. This almost ridiculously nondescript little habitation is located squarely athwart the main winter route of jihadi infiltration into the Kashmir Valley via the Pir Panjal range which has invested Mendhar with an importance in the peace scenario, which is totally disproportionate to any value it may command in the commercial real-estate market.
But the vigil on the LoC by the Indian Army is not about gross commercial values of landed property, though the Jammu and Kashmir government has reiterated the demands of landowners for fair compensation for lands on which military posts of the Indian Army have been established for guarding the LoC. An unexceptionable demand in India, but it is not known whether such a demand could at all be raised across the ceasefire line in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as well as by local inhabitants of areas near the LoC whose lands have been appropriated on similar grounds. Going by existing knowledge, it is highly unlikely that it is so.
The purely military outlines of the Mendhar incident will provide a live tactical situation for future professional case studies, examination and analyses at the appropriate institutions of the Indian Army, like the Army War College in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh. In all professional armies, patrolling is an arcane and astonishingly detailed activity, regarded as the acid test of war. The Indian Army lays great stress on this aspect of operations and prides itself on its proficiency. For the general public, details of the action are still emerging in the media, and are undoubtedly being discussed at length, often with a great deal of passion. But for the professional military, the in-house military analyses of Mendhar will be behind closed doors. It will be merciless, praise will be sparing and questions searching. It will be argued whether the incident was a deliberate Pakistani ambush of an Indian patrol, or a meeting engagement where two opposing patrols bumped into each other literally in the fog of war. After-action reports will be intensely scrutinised to assess conduct and reactions of leaders on the ground.
There is no “feel-good” effect after Mendhar and its effects on the country, the political leadership and, most importantly, the Army will be around for sometime to come. It will be safe to assume that there is just no possibility of any Indian response to the Mendhar executions which will be acceptable to an inflamed public opinion in India. How this plays out in the next general elections, now frighteningly close in 2014, remains to be seen. The electoral potential of the Mendhar incident will definitely be played out before full Houses of Parliament by both the government as well as the Opposition. Whatever the outcome, the names of the two victims will gradually sink into oblivion. The process has already commenced.

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament

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