India-Pakistan relations have caught fire again with
the Pulwama suicide bombing of February 14. It has overtaken every other issue
on the media. Public outrage has been fuelled especially by Pakistan’s
worse-than-usual wittering on the killing of 42 Central Reserve Police Force
personnel, as well as 20-year-old Adil Ahmad Dar, who drove the
explosive-filled vehicle into the convoy.
The bombing is claimed by the India-baiting Jaish-e-Mohammed of Maulana Masood Azhar, which named Dar as one of its own. Despite this unprompted confession, Prime Minister Imran Khan promised that “we will take action if evidence is found against anyone from Pakistan”. He obviously never read the Jaish statement. He may even be unaware that Masood Azhar is in the army’s protective custody. Perhaps there was reason for university contemporaries calling him “Im the Dim”.
One thing is clear from the response. There is no question of Masood or Jaish being sanctioned or curbed. Indeed, his weekly address of February 21 warned the government against buckling under Indian pressure. “It appears Pakistan is scared of India,” he said in a scathing reaction to Imran’s response. That should remove any doubt that he is a Pakistani asset under army protection. And the thought the real culprits behind this outrage too may escape retribution has contributed greatly to the Indian fury over Pulwama.
It was most evident in the fulminations across the electronic media spectrum, with television talk shows full of angry anchors and apopletic panelists calling for everything short of the disembowelment of Masood Azhar and other jihadis. An encounter with suspected Pakistani terrorists just three days after the bombing added more fuel to the fire. While TV channels had a field day, such intemperate displays of hollow muscularity do no one any favours. In fact, the strident anti-Muslim sentiment on show risks trapping innocents in the cross-hairs of bloodthirsty vigilantes looking for a scapegoat.
One thing stands out in the babble; Pakistan is to blame for the carnage. That Adil Ahmad was from Pulwama district was noted, also that he was “radicalised” a couple of years ago, but beyond that it is almost as if his jihadi end was his destiny. Pakistani perfidy is being treated as a perversity playing out in a vacuum of motive. It is as if there is no back story or, if there is one, it involves the weak, indecisive Jawaharlal Nehru, not the upstanding children of mother India in government today. Consequently, there is no search for a solution. The only story we’re being fed is that if Pakistan stops its meddling everything will be fine. The truth, as we know, is far otherwise. The Kashmir insurgency is a self-inflicted wound, not by this government though it made a hash of the situation it inherited. Pakistan has only exploited the divisions underlying the troubles to underline its own claims to Kashmir and to keep a feared and disliked neighbour off balance.
The problem for India is a lack of good options. A conventional war is pointless. Even if it captures substantial Pakistani territory, can it hope to keep it? We also know the costs associated with an army of occupation, having learnt it in Sri Lanka. Pakistan would probably be far worse. Besides, there is the fear of Chinese action in the east or north. That leaves the short, sharp shock of a surgical strike. We know how well that worked out last time.
Right now Pakistan is short of friends in the West, but once the US pulls out of Afghanistan this may change as the need for a base grows. In the meantime, China has its back in every eventuality. The reason it signed off on the UN Security Council’s condemnation of the attack was that neither Pakistan nor Masood were named as actors. Moreover, India is not of overwhelming importance to any of the major players. They’re unlikely to rush to the rescue. Diplomacy is stymied by this limit.
That throws us on our resources and brings us back to the
slow, unglamorous task of persuading ordinary Kashmiris that India is a better
place than others. Right now, the opposite is closer to the truth. We have to
stop looking at Kashmir as a piece of strategic real estate and persuade young
men like Burhan Wani and Adil Dar that the pen is a better weapon than the gun.
Is that a pipedream? Right now, yes, but a focus on ordinary people is the only
way to make Pakistan and terror central irrelevant to Kashmir’s future.