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A question of India’s honour?
Monday, January 14, 2013
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The writer is a former member of the foreign service.
The three separate but related incidents of deadly armed clashes and firing across the Line of Control which took place on January 6, 8 and 10 are the most serious violation of the ceasefire agreed in 2003, which had been holding well so far despite the ups and downs of the ‘peace process.’ Two soldiers from each side have been killed in these incidents. This may not by itself be very ‘unusual’ in the history of LoC violations. But the current round of fighting, which is not over as yet, is different from other, more ‘routine’ incidents of firing and small skirmishes. It involves not just shooting across the Line of Control but also allegations of cross-LoC raids. In India, moreover, public hysteria has been whipped up by allegations that bodies of their dead soldiers were mutilated.
The full facts will probably never be known. But even the filtered information which has come to public knowledge through the Indian media shows that the original provocation came from the Indian side. One Indian newspaper (The Hindu) has reported that last September Indian commanders in the Haji Pir sector, where a Pakistani soldier was martyred in the first of the three incidents, ordered the construction of new observation posts in the area in breach of the nine-year-old ceasefire agreement. Pakistan’s objections, conveyed over a loudspeaker system, were ignored. This led to firing across the LoC. Then, on January 6, an Indian brigadier known for his “very aggressive track record,” according to the Indian Daily News and Analysis (DNA), decided to counter-attack. The newspaper reported that a commando platoon of the 9th Maratha Light Infantry (MLI) carried out the raid which resulted in the shahadat of Lance Naik Aslam. Officially, however, India continues to dispute that its soldiers attacked the Pakistani post and claims that they only fired small arms.
Not surprisingly, a spokesman of the Indian defence ministry has also denied the construction of new posts by India. Instead, he asserted, there had only been “routine maintenance of [Indian] fortifications” in the area and “this could not be considered a ceasefire violation.” The Indian newspaper’s claim that the raid was the result of an individual initiative by a particularly “aggressive” Indian commander is also hard to accept because the Indian army is a highly structured force.
The details of the second incident, in which two Indian soldiers were killed in the Poonch sector, are even murkier. India claims that Pakistani soldiers crossed over to the Indian side of the LoC in a forested area near Mendhar and ambushed a patrol party of the Indian army. According to one Indian media report, the incident took place about 600 metres from the LoC and marked the “first major ingress” since the ceasefire was agreed in 2003. After the firing stopped, the Indians found the dead bodies of two of their comrades in a mutilated condition.
The Indian defence minister has said that India had “ample evidence” to prove the involvement of Pakistani troops in the killing but the Indian authorities have provided little credible proof to back this allegation. Asked how India knew it was the Pakistan military that committed the act, an Indian military spokesman acknowledged that no one in the army had seen the killings and that the bodies of the dead soldiers had been recovered later. The only ‘evidence’ India has presented is that the attacking party was dressed in “black dungarees usually preferred by the Special Services Group (SSG)” of the Pakistan army. Parallels have also been drawn by the Indians between the ‘Mendhar incident’ and a daring operation carried out in February 2000 by the “dreaded terrorist commander” Ilyas Kashmiri against an Indian post in the Nowshehra sector of Kashmir, in which seven Indian soldiers were killed, one of whom was decapitated.
According to DNA, another intelligence report holds the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) responsible for the Mendhar incident. It claims that the LeT chief, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, had been raising ‘Border Action Guards’ to attack Indian troop positions on the LoC and suggests that the attack could have been the work of LeT irregulars. Indian Home Minister Shinde also told a press conference in Delhi that Hafiz Saeed had visited Azad Kashmir a few days before the killing of the two Indian soldiers “and had talks with some people,” suggesting that the attacks may have been carried out by LeT. Hafiz Saeed has since denied having visited Azad Kashmir recently.
India has also offered contradictory explanations for Pakistan’s possible motives in killing Indian soldiers. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told NDTV, a Delhi-based news channel, that he believed the killings were “a clear attempt to derail the dialogue.” But, according to DNA, Indian intelligence experts have ruled out the possibility that the attack marks a major shift in policy on the part of the Pakistan army. A senior intelligence official told the daily they believed that “this was a local action purely in retaliation for the raid our troops carried out in the Uri sector.”
Despite this assessment, India has felt deeply humiliated at the two fatalities in the ambush of its soldiers in the Mendhar incident. This feeling has been compounded by anger at reports of mutilation of the dead bodies. In his first public reaction to the incident, Foreign Minister Khurshid said that India’s response would comprise “steps that are meaningful and effective” and would be “proportionate.” This is a serious warning and cannot be taken lightly, even though in subsequent statements Khurshid used less inflammatory language. The ruling Congress Party has asked Pakistan not to try the patience of New Delhi and “to learn lesson from history,” especially the Bangladesh war.
The Indian military has also been pushing for revenge “at a time and place of [its] choosing.” It has threatened Pakistan with “dire consequences” if it does not mend its “barbaric ways.” According to one western news agency, senior Indian military officers have been saying privately that they wanted to see the beheading avenged “on the ground” as a question of “honour.” One officer was quoted as saying that it was “now a matter of prestige, the battalion has to regain its honour.”
The killing of a Pakistani soldier, Havaldar Mohyuddin, in the Battal sector in unprovoked cross-LoC firing last Thursday was purely an act of revenge to vindicate India’s “honour,” but it has not quenched the thirst for blood. While pursuing diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation, Pakistan must therefore also remain on high alert and in a state of readiness to respond appropriately and, to borrow Khurshid’s words, “proportionately” to further provocations.
At the diplomatic level, it will not be enough to urge the US and other western countries to counsel India to exercise restraint or to report the ceasefire violations to the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan (Unmogip). India has refused to recognise Unmogip’s mandate since the Simla Agreement of 1972. As expected, India has now turned down Pakistan’s proposal for an investigation by Unmogip. Indian Finance Minister Chidambaram told a press conference after a meeting of the Indian cabinet and its Committee on Security that India would not agree to “internationalise” the issue or allow the UN to hold an inquiry.
Pakistan should now seriously weigh whether to bring India’s violations of the LoC to the attention of the UN Security Council as a matter that threatens international peace and security. India’s contention that Pakistan-India issues are purely bilateral in nature and cannot be “internationalised” has no basis whatever in international law or in the UN Charter. For more than 40 years Pakistan has allowed India to get away with this myth. It is high time Pakistan finally laid it to rest by taking India to the UN Security Council over its violations of the Line of Control.
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