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BRP Bhaskar: Peace need of the hour
October 04, 2016
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Much of India is in a state of high alert as the country waits to see how Pakistan responds to last week’s “surgical strikes” on terrorist launch pads across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Home Ministry asked all states to step up vigil at strategic installations, industrial complexes, crowded places, airports, historical monuments and government buildings. Delhi and the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Gujarat were identified as possible targets for a retaliatory strike by the Pakistan army or terror outfits based in that country.

Villages within 10 kilometres of the border were evacuated. Punjab also closed down schools as a precautionary measure.

Officials indicated that the heightened alert may remain during the whole of October as three major Hindu festivals which see large congregations fall during the month – Navaratri from the 1st to the 10th, Dussehra on the 11th and Diwali on the 30th.

India’s announcement on Thursday that its armed forces had conducted surgical strikes on several terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was followed by a warning by Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif that his country would give a fitting response to any misadventure by its adversaries. Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, whom India has identified as the mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to let the army hit back.

Pakistan barred low-level overflying by foreign commercial aircraft, citing operational reasons. Viewing it as a move directed primarily against it, India was said to be considering the advisability of banning Pakistani overflights.

India’s bare initial announcement of the surgical strike and Pakistan’s confused response – on the one hand it denied there had been any such action and on the other it threatened reprisal –– raised some questions about the nature and scope of the operation. However, they appeared to satisfy hawkish elements in the two countries at least partially.

The army operation was a calibrated response to the September 18 terrorist attack on the Uri brigade headquarters which had taken the lives of 19 soldiers. It followed diplomatic moves to isolate Pakistan, which were only partly successful, and a threat to review the treaty on sharing of Indus waters.

Pakistan took no precipitate action and no one of consequence condemned the Indian strike. International response was limited to advice to both countries to resolve all problems through talks.

Internally, the surgical strike helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi to redeem his strongman image, and the opposition parties quickly rallied behind him. He desisted from displaying the braggadocio which often characterises his public utterances, leaving it to the party faithful to blow the trumpet.

However, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar could not resist the temptation to make a scornful remark. “Pakistan is in a state of coma, just like an anaesthetised patient after surgery,” he said. His Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Muhammad Asif who talked of exercising the nuclear option invited a sharp rebuke from the US.

But hawks on both sides kept war talk alive. India’s jingoistic electronic media played up the strike across the LoC as a game-changer, but responsible commentators endeavoured to put things in the right perspective. They pointed out that there had been similar strikes in the past and cautioned against rushing to the conclusion that cross-border terrorism is now a thing of the past.

Indian officials put the number of launch pads destroyed in the attack variously at six to eight. Analysts noted that the attacks were not on terrorist training camps, scores of which exist in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but on launch pads which are places where trained terrorists halt briefly before being led across the LoC by guides.

Low-ranking ruling party politicians proclaimed the end of the policy of strategic restraint, but Modi and the army brass said nothing to that effect. In fact, they sought to convey a different message. While releasing information about the strike, the army had stressed that it was a one-time operation. In a speech on Sunday the Prime Minister said India did not covet anyone’s land and had never attacked another country.

A terrorist attract on adjoining army and Border Security Force camps at Baramula in the Kashmir valley showed that the game remains unchanged.

Amid the beating of war drums, leading public intellectuals in both the countries sounded notes of caution. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, head of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, wrote: “...in both India and Pakistan, regimes have now tied the mast of their popular legitimacy to taking strong action against the other. That is not a reassuring thought.”  Asma Jahangir, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, tweeted: “Epidemic of insanity hits India and Pakistan again. No one wins a war. End terrorism and violence against each other and within our countries”.

The author is a political analyst of reckoning.

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