Thwarting the hawks — on both sides

Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by MMuthu, Aug 1, 2009.

  1. MMuthu

    MMuthu Regular Member

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    What do you do when a bully taunts you? Hit him? Hit the gym and bulk up before fighting back? Or shrug and get on with your life?

    For the macho tribe of chest-thumping nationalists here, the latter isn’t an option when the bully is India. They’ve gone and built themselves a nuclear submarine? We’ll show them that for every INS Arihant, we can build two. Bigger, badder, better. ‘Destroyer of the enemies’? We’ll teach ’em.

    Never mind that the Advanced Technology Vessel project is India’s attempt at reassuring itself that it is really part of the big-boys club. Never mind that a nuclear-powered submarine isn’t the same thing as a nuclear attack submarine or a nuclear-missile-capable submarine. Never mind that a nuclear attack submarine may not fundamentally change the equation in a war between the two countries. Never mind that a nuclear-missile-capable submarine may not seriously affect the nuclear equation or the strategic balance between the two countries. Never mind the facts. They have one, and we better respond.

    Of course, for every Pakistani obsessed with India, India probably has two Indians obsessed with the ‘threat’ from Pakistan. Was it a coincidence that INS Arihant was launched for testing on Kargil Vijay Diwas, the July 26 anniversary commemorating the Indian soldiers who died in the Kargil war and the day 10 years ago that Indian forces recaptured a strategic post in Kargil?

    What we can do to inflame the Indians, India — democratic, peace-loving, teddy-bear-clutching, emerging-economic-power, terrorism-victim India — can do one better. So you have the prime minister’s wife breaking a ceremonial coconut against the hull of INS Arihant, a craft with greater ambitions than simply containing Pakistan, on the day Kargil was retaken by the Indians.

    Could the Indians be hoping Pakistan will take the bait and launch an economically ruinous quest for big-boy toys? Thirty years and billions of dollars have made the Indians aware of just how costly the nuclear submarine ambition is. And as India begins to collect more and more newfangled war machines, it may try to goad Pakistan into responding, or trying to respond, in some measure with its own set of fabulously expensive toys. Toys we can’t afford.

    (Contrary to popular opinion, Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear weapons have been acquired relatively cheap compared to the monstrously expensive conventional weapons systems.)

    Thankfully, other than the usual reactionary Foreign Office and predictably bristling Pakistan Navy responses, most decision-makers have at least publicly kept their heads for now and aren’t ranting about the need to match India weapon for weapon. But defence upgrades and potential purchases are in the news again, and we have to be careful that some over-enthusiastic general, admiral or air marshal doesn’t get his way.

    Meanwhile, the Pakistan hawks in India have been active on other fronts too. Their latest grouse? The joint statement issued after the meeting between prime ministers Singh and Gilani in Sharm el Sheikh. Specifically, two sentences in the joint statement. “Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan had some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas.” “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.”

    Outrage, incredulity, shock and pandemonium have greeted these sentences in India. Why? Because the second suggests that the Indian demand that we shut down LeT and sundry militant networks completely before they talk to us again has been discarded. And the first suggests that, gasp, India could be up to mischief in Pakistan.

    (Incidentally, whether a dossier enumerating India’s anti-Pakistan activities was handed over to the Indians has been hotly disputed. Singh himself denied from the floor of the Lok Sabha on Wednesday that the dossier was given. But, as with such diplomatic things, the controversy originates from Pakistan later crowing about handing over the dossier — when it was received on the condition that its existence and receipt not be made public.)

    Hawks exist everywhere and at all times in some measure, but the problem is that they can be in the ascendancy at some points in time in some places. Right now, the Pakistan hawks in India are in an aggressive mood and want to rough us up a bit.

    But here in Pakistan the India hawks are on the back foot. Whatever lingering suspicions there may be about rogue intelligence elements being involved in the Mumbai attacks, the local investigation here has consistently thrown up facts similar to those alleged by India — meaning that we clearly understand that Mumbai was as much a strategic disaster for us as it was a blow to India’s national prestige and psyche.

    And yet as we hold up our clean hands — at least when it comes to Mumbai — the Indians are trying to wrestle us to the floor and pin us into submission. The alternating nonsense of hawks on either side of the border holding the rational, thinking people of both countries hostage is right now in a phase where the Pakistan hawks in India are trying aggressively to exert their influence on the state of relations between the two countries.

    So what should Pakistan do? Nothing, or at least nothing that provides an opening to the India hawks in Pakistan. The more we reach out to India and get rebuffed by their hawks, the more ammunition the hawks in Pakistan will have in their bid to return to centre stage.

    So if India wants to goad us into an arms race, turn the other cheek. If India still hasn’t decided if it wants to talk to us, then we should stop begging them to return to the negotiating table. If India wants A to Z on the militancy issue, we should focus on taking the Mumbai investigation to its logical, immediate end. If India wants to beat up on us in international forums, we should focus instead on the immediate doables in our problems with militancy here.

    Let India resolve its internal arguments with its hawks. Let’s see what the American pressure on India yields. Let Manmohan Singh figure out how far he is willing and able to go on Pakistan. Eventually India will have to return to the negotiating table.

    Our main concern should be this: when the Indians do return to the table, it shouldn’t be our hawks who are there to greet them.

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