What’s a soldier or two in peace pursuit

To those old enough to remember the Kargil War of 1999, the insensitive, insulting and downright mendacious remarks made about Capt. Saurabh Kalia by Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, must rankle. It is absolutely incredible as to how a foreign visitor can arrive in a country, insult and brush aside the killing of an honourable soldier and still get away with business as usual.
It is to be hoped the UPA government — or least institutional memory in the ministry of external affairs (MEA), the ministry of defence and the Indian Army — will give Mr Malik a befitting rejoinder before he leaves India. Some things are beyond partisan politics. What Mr Malik has said is impossible for any Indian, any civilised person really, irrespective of national identity, to stomach.
Capt. Kalia and five soldiers were out on patrol duty in the Kargil region in May 1999. They were captured by the Pakistan Army. Three weeks later their bodies were returned. An examination of the bodies revealed cigarette burns and signs of torture, ear drums perforated by hot metal objects, and mutilated private parts. It was an act of infamy and extraordinary cowardice. In the midst of war, soldiers had been captured and subjected to extreme torture, before being killed and without being given a chance to fight back.
When the bodies came home in June 1999, there was anger and shock in New Delhi. In military and political circles, in the MEA and the national media, the gross measures used against Capt. Kalia and his comrades were no secret. They did not die in battle. They were murdered.
Since then Capt. Kalia’s family — led by his father, a retired scientist — has been trying to get justice. They want the Indian government to take up the issue of war crimes and torture of a prisoner of war, in gross violation of international covenants and human dignity, with the Pakistani authorities and if necessary with the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The government has been unwilling, arguing that taking a bilateral issue to the ICJ will open up India to pressure in other, unrelated cases. Recently, with support from citizens’ groups that include independent MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Capt. Kalia’s father has sent a legal letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
It is a wrenching story. Even if the MEA has misgivings about approaching the ICJ, it is patently obvious that the Indian government — and both the UPA and the NDA cannot escape censure here — have de-prioritised bringing up the case of Capt. Kalia and his troops with their Pakistani interlocutors. The life of one soldier here or there doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things, does it? These are expendable playthings in the pursuit of some mysterious grand strategy.
It is precisely this attitude that has allowed Mr Malik to turn up in India, shrug his shoulders and nonchalantly wonder if Capt. Kalia was killed by the weather. This is not bilateralism; it is barbarianism. Military heroes are cherished in most countries. They are cherished in India as well, even if they are not cherished and quickly forgotten in the cynicism of Lutyens’ Delhi. Yet, it is this belief that the Indian government and the familiar advocates of “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” talks with Pakistan will allow him to go unchallenged that has emboldened Mr Malik.
There is a larger lesson here. That Capt. Kalia’s death is now sought to be shrouded in mystery and its essential facts are sought to be made fuzzy is characteristic of the Pakistani military and political establishment. It keeps changing goalposts. It is unwilling to adhere to benchmarks it may have agreed to only the other day. In another decade or so, some successor of Mr Malik’s could well stand up and ask, “What is the evidence that Ajmal Kasab was Pakistani?” The then Indian home minister, sitting next to him, will probably giggle and shuffle his feet, before reciting an Urdu couplet in gentle disagreement.
Peace with Pakistan, peace with anybody for that matter, is eminently desirable. Even so, peace entails both sides agree and adhere to
certain principles and agreements. At the moment, we cannot be certain that the Islamabad and Rawalpindi establishments are mature or even honest enough to be trusted thus on big, truly defining treaties.
Take the Sir Creek issue. It has been in the news ever since Narendra Modi raised it in Gujarat. The reaction has been on expected lines. People who support Mr Modi in domestic politics have backed his claim. Those hostile to him have accused him of scare-mongering. What is the reality?
India and Pakistan have been discussing Sir Creek, a marshy, 63-mile water body that divides Kutch (Gujarat) and Sindh, for years. Nevertheless serious negotiations as to a final agreement were energised only after 2006. As such, if Sir Creek is ready for a settlement or — if you see it that way — a sell-out, the UPA government is best placed to get the credit or discredit.
In 2007, naval hydrography units from India and Pakistan undertook a joint mission to assess the Sir Creek channel for navigability. They found it was entirely navigable and admirals from both sides initialled the findings. This was significant. It brought into operation the Thalweg principle. This principle is used to draw international water boundaries — such as between the United States and Canada for instance — and holds that a navigable waterway must be divided mid-channel.
This validated New Delhi’s position that the Sir Creek formation needed to be divided between India and Pakistan. It rendered as false Islamabad’s position that all of Sir Creek belonged to Pakistan. The navigability findings became a basis for a final resolution.
What happened next? In 2008, Pakistan went back on the findings, denying the initials of its admiral and insisting navigability had not been established. The Indian side was aghast. At one meeting, the Indian Navy officer burst out at his Pakistani counterpart, “Admiral, we are not politicians. We are men in uniform. How can we deny our own signatures?”
The Pakistani admiral kept quiet. He was probably blaming the weather.

The writer can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

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