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September 1, 2015

Managing India’s provocations

Opinion

September 1, 2015

The writer is an analyst and commentator.
"The lion who breaks the enemy’s ranks is a minor hero, compared to the
lion who overcomes himself.”
– Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi
Can Pakistan overcome itself? India’s hawks, motivated by a range of different sentiments (including the grand civilisational angst of the Indian right wing), and lead by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are trying to find the answer to this epic question. Can Pakistan overcome itself?
For good reason, they have wagered that Pakistan is no lion at all, much less one that can overcome itself. Instead, they have wagered that Pakistan is Rumi’s veritable peacock. This is not a compliment.
Rumi says, “The peacock’s plumage is his enemy. The world is the mountain, and each action, the shout that echoes back.” Each action of the peacock is a shout that echoes back. Why? Because the peacock is so consumed by its own plumage, that it does not, cannot, will not see the bigger picture. What is the shout that echoes back? A stupid move. A reaction. Something that does more damage to oneself than to the enemy. What does such a ‘shout’ look like? Some would say it looks like Gibraltar. Some would say it looks like Kargil. Some would say it looks like the carnage of Mumbai on 26/11. There is one thing we can all agree on. The peacock’s shout is nothing like the peacock’s plumage. It is ugly.
The violence that India’s border troops are stoking on the Working Boundary between the two countries is not anywhere near the corridor that is allegedly used to infiltrate Indian-Occupied Kashmir with irregulars and militants. It is a relatively quiet part of the border where there isn’t supposed to be a lot of argument. These border ‘skirmishes’ are essentially episodic, over-the-top instances of Indian shelling of Pakistani territory.
The narrative India is cultivating about these episodes domestically is that India is no longer exercising its so-called

‘restraint’, and is now going to punish Pakistan for every act of aggression, real or perceived. The narrative India cultivates about these episodes internationally is that it merely reacts to Pakistani provocations and aggressions along the LoC and the Working Boundary. Luckily, all the big world powers have satellite imagery and reasonably good intelligence. If Pakistan really was the one pushing buttons, provoking India, none of the big world powers would let a moment pass in condemning Pakistani stupidity. Indeed, even China would be moved to at least privately ask Pakistan to stand down.
So what exactly is going on? Why is India raising the temperature along the Working Boundary? Two words: Rumi’s peacock. India wants Pakistan to do what it has done so regularly over the last sixty-seven years. It wants Pakistan to be embroiled in the admiration of its own plumage. It wants Pakistan to shout at the mountains. It wants Pakistan to do something stupid.
One advantage that India enjoys is that the discourse around the bilateral relationship between the two countries is so wholly one-sided that India can dominate and manipulate the conversation at will. Of course, this is not the product of some grand scheme, and Indians don’t always manage to dominate the conversation consciously. Much of it owes itself to a deepening and widening of mediocrity in Pakistan. However the net effect of Indian actions is almost always a set-piece that reasonable folks can predict with reasonable accuracy.
In June this year, after India reportedly conducted hot pursuit raids into Myanmar, Indian Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore said that the raids were a message to all neighbouring countries that India could strike “at a place and at a time of our choosing”.
Before you could say the word ‘teeli’, Pakistan’s national discourse blew up like it was an August 14th firecracker. Left, right and centre, we rushed to update our Facebook statuses, express our outrage on Twitter, and speak with great gusto and nationalistic fury on television. “How dare he!!” The height of the drama was the reaction’s waves spreading all the way to the highest offices in the land, and within days, everyone from the Pakistani prime minister, to the army spokesperson, to the interior minister had elevated the young (and relatively unknown) Rathore to the status of an Indian minister that actually matters.
This is textbook ‘shouting-at-the-mountain’ peacock behaviour that India is banking on, by constantly and consistently playing games, both on the negotiating table and along the Working Boundary and LoC. India knows what everybody knows. That Pakistan’s civil-military balance is delicate. It suffers from the disequilibrium of the burden of three long-term military dictatorships. It is poisoned by the incapacity and callousness of the political system to focus on solving problems instead of proliferating them.
Against the burden of this institutional mountain, and the baggage of history Pakistan slowly lurches toward progress on several fronts. As it learns how to be a lion that could possibly overcome itself, rather than being a peacock that is overcome by itself and its plumage, what could be more delicious to an enemy than the prospect of disrupting Pakistani progress?
After decades, Pakistan has begun to mend fences with Afghanistan. This was a Herculean effort. After decades, Pakistan is taking on sectarian terrorists with a nerve that hasn’t been seen in these parts for a long, long time. After decades, Pakistani politicians are beginning to engage in a meaningful and substantive conversation about institutional reform. Most of all, after decades, the prospect of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) opens up the doors of optimism across provinces, and throughout the country.
In this context, what could be more delightful to an enemy than a series of fractures or fissures that help unravel the whole thing? By no stretch of the imagination is the progress in the country perfect. Far from it. In Sindh, there is a plan for today, and tomorrow and maybe next week, but nothing beyond – yet we seem to have set our hearts on disembowelling not one, but both of the top two political forces in the province. In Balochistan, despite major progress, we’ve yet to achieve the outcomes in human and social services that are a prerequisite to winning the hearts of the young, educated Baloch that have been seduced into supporting separatist narratives about the province.
For anyone who is looking, there are layers upon layers of legitimate grievances that inform wide swathes of the national discourse. In the midst of these challenges, an overwhelming exhibition of brute force from India is a brilliant tactical instrument. Prime Minister Modi is inserting himself into the highest levels of political and policy debate in Pakistan, and all it costs him, are a few rounds of ammunition.
What should the most heated debates at the highest levels in Pakistan be about right now? About electoral reform and the ECP, about how to equip the bureaucracy and the private sector to build a CPEC worth its weight in gold, about how to deliver services more effectively in Balochistan. By raising the temperature on the border, the discussions become about what to do about India. Unfortunately, Pakistan cannot escape that discussion. The big question, however, is whether Pakistan will retreat to type, and act the peacock, or whether Pakistan can grow into the lion who overcomes himself (or lioness who overcomes herself).
Pakistan does not need to trot out a clown for every clown Bollywood throws at us. Pakistan does not need to issue rejoinders and offer career growth for every ambitious junior minister than talks tough. Pakistan must not allow India to drag it backwards, into a time and place that we are slowly, but surely escaping. That time and place is the past. It is where we are so consumed by our plumage that we miss the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is CPEC. The bigger picture is peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. The bigger picture is the comprehensive defeat of all terrorists and non-state violent extremists, beginning with TTP and the LeJ and extending far and wide beyond. Our civilian and military leaders have a unique opportunity to be Rumi’s lion. Can they seize it?

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