Time was when Pakistan would agree to talk to India only if New Delhi would consent to include Kashmir in the agenda for the proposed meeting. New Delhi was all along keen to discuss Indo-Pakistan trade and cultural ties. During his historic visit to Lahore, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to include Kashmir in the agenda for the composite talks. Pervez Musharraf’s meetings with Indian leaders focused on Kashmir. It is another story that he in the rush for some sort of a settlement went to the length of compromising on Pakistani stand offering to move away from the UN resolutions. Earlier, his Prime Minister is on record as having said that a trade agreement could be taken up only if the Kashmir question was accepted as part of the negotiations.
During the last few years, however, there has been a change of policy. It is Pakistan that has been asking for the opening of talks. After the Mumbai incident, India’s attitude towards Pakistan hardened and the moves to settle disputes and differences, more or less, came to a halt. Slowly but surely, after the lapse of a couple of years, there was a beginning of the thaw.
One after the other, Indian delegations of politicians, businessmen, artists, singers, workers and the youth came to Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. An Aman ki Asha movement was set afloat. The focus on the part of Indians remained on trade and culture. Obviously, an ascendant India wanted to enter Pakistani market to prepare the ground to enter Central Asia and, inter alia, tap the oil and gas resources there. It also agreed to ease the visa regime. There was hardly any movement on Kashmir or other disputes. All this was achieved without conceding Islamabad’s repeated requests for the Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan.
Almost suddenly, a few days back, the Line of Control (LoC) heated up with firing from both sides. India accused the Pakistan Army of behaving in an uncivilised manner, accusing its troops of beheading an Indian soldier. A deliberate campaign was launched officially and by the media against Pakistan. Pakistani artists and sportsmen were asked to stop their activities in India, while the senior citizens, who wanted to go there via the Wagah border, were turned back. Belligerence was writ all over the Indian media and the reaction emanating from the armed forces.
It was Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s reasoned and prompt response in her speeches at the Asian Society and Council of Foreign Affairs in New York that helped reduce tension. She did not hesitate to call the Indian statements as “war mongering” - her offer of an inquiry by the UN, of the border incidents- though declined by New Delhi reminded India of the fact that Kashmir question was very much an international issue. Rightly also, our Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani while presiding over the council session drew the attention of the members to the UN Military Observer Group stationed at the LoC.
Sane voices in India too helped lower the temperature. New Delhi’s main charge was the beheading of an Indian soldier as firing across the border was nothing new. The Hindu was, perhaps, the first Indian newspaper to admit that beheading of Pakistanis had been done a number of times in the past by Indian soldiers. The cat came out of the bag in the column written by one of India’s leading journalists, Karan Thapar, who accused the Indian media of hiding the fact that earlier Indian soldiers had beheaded Pakistanis. Just read his words in the Hindustan Times: “There’s one question we need to ask, but mainly failed to raise. Have we ever been guilty of similar behaviour ourselves?”
“From what I can tell the answer seems to be yes. On the 10th, The Hindu reported that last year, during a skirmish at Karnah,” wrote Thapar, adding that, “Indian Special Forces responded by attacking a Pakistani forward post, killing several soldiers, and by the account of one military official which The Hindu could not corroborate independently, beheaded two.
“What makes this claim credible is that it’s reported by military sources, who not only ought to know but would not denigrate the reputation of Indian soldiers.”
Thapar also referred to an article, entitled “Confessions of a War Reporter” , written by a well known Indian anchor and journalist, Burkha Dutt, which was published in a Nepalese magazine, Himal, in 2001. He quotes her: “I had to look three times to make sure I was seeing right.......’Look again’, said the army colonel, in a tone that betrayed suppressed excitement. This time, I finally saw. It was a head, the disembodied face of a slain soldier nailed onto a tree. ‘The boys got it as a gift for the brigade’, said the colonel, softly, but proudly.”
Thapar also reproduced a few lines from Harinder Baweja’s book titled A Soldier’s Diary, Kargil - The Inside Story: “The experiences of 18 Garhwal show another side of the war.......one of them took out his knife and slit the head of a Pakistani soldier in one stroke. The head was sent to Brigade Headquarters at Drass and pinned to a tree trunk…....the enemy head, a grisly trophy, became an exhibition piece. Major General Puri came down from Mughalpura to see it. Other officers dropped in to Brigade Headquarters to take a look. So did some journalists…....it was there pinned on the tree for anyone who could bear to look at it.”
Both the journalists saw the head with their own eyes. “If,” maintained Thapar, “this information too had been highlighted, it would have had a different complexion on the incident. And certainly, it would have tempered the furious discussions on television and would not have whipped up passions.”
The fact of the matter is that - i). the first casualty was that of a Pakistani soldier; ii). three Pakistani soldiers were killed as against two Indians shot by Pakistani troops; and iii). firing had been going on for some time when Indians started constructing new bunkers on the LoC, violating the 2005 agreement.
To address the issue of bunkers (which the Indians claim that they were only repairing, not building new ones), it would be appropriate if senior Indian and Pakistani military officers jointly visit the sites and settle it according to the 2005 agreement. Their joint report may later be ratified by the Foreign Ministers.
Now that the Indian Home Minister has spilled the beans bringing to light the role played by “the Indian terrorists in the Samjhota Express carnage, and the killing and burning of Muslims”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the South Block should review their attitude and stop routine references to the Mumbai incident to demonise Pakistan.
As stated in an Indian newspaper editorial, India’s larger interests demand a reasonable and realistic handling of the border incidents. Let the two Foreign Ministers meet and sort out their differences.Welcome Back to the Old News