The Pakistan Army has indulged in a heinous crime to aggravate tensions with India and use it as a pretext to postpone the forthcoming general election, says Alok Bansal
The recent killing of two soldiers of the Indian Army in Poonch Sector across the Line of Control and subsequent decapitation of one of the bodies has expectedly raised the temperatures in both the countries.
Skirmishes and firings across the LoC, despite the ceasefire, are nothing new and have been going on for a number of years, but the latest incidents were not ordinary and need greater analysis.
Firing is usually resorted to by Pakistani troops to facilitate infiltration of militants across the LoC. However, January is not the month for infiltration. The weather does not allow for movement across high mountain passes and this time of the year is generally not used for infiltration.
More significantly, the Pakistani troops took an extra risk while crossing the barbed wire fence and indulged in the barbaric and inhuman act of beheading an Indian soldier. Although there has been a history of such macabre killings by Pakistani troops, the sheer brazenness of the attack and the timing was unique and was intended to provoke the Indians.
The Indian response, which led to the alleged killing of another Pakistani soldier, was along expected lines.
Some Indian and Pakistani commentators have tried to justify the Pakistani action, terming it a response to an alleged Indian attack on a Pakistani post. However, if the intent was just retaliation, that could have been achieved by firing across the LoC.
The Pakistan Army would definitely not take such a grave risk merely for a routine tit-for-tat attack, especially at a time when it has been stretched thin. Not only is it deployed in the Federally Administered Tribal Area and the Swat Valley, it is also fighting the Baloch nationalists and assisting the Election Commission of Pakistan in carrying out fresh delimitation in Karachi.
What then was the motive behind a unit of the Baloch Regiment (Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s own regiment) undertaking such a despicable and hazardous mission to provoke Indians? The timing as well as the perpetrators of the crime unambiguously point towards the complicity of the Pakistan military leadership in this misadventure. After all, just a few months ago, General Kayani was all for peace.
The solution to this riddle lies in the political developments within Pakistan.
For the first time in history, there is a possibility that a democratically elected government in Pakistan will be replaced by another democratic government through elections. This process will definitely entrench democracy in a country where it has traditionally been just a passing phenomenon.
More significantly, as per the current trends, the elections are likely to usher the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to power. The Pakistani establishment (read military) firstly does not want the nascent democracy to put in its roots by changing governments through the ballot and, more significantly, it does not want Nawaz Sharif, who it views as irreconcilably hostile to the military, to come to power.
In order to prevent Sharif from coming to power, it has been bringing in newer actors and issues on Pakistan’s political landscape to erode his support base. It tried to build up Tehreek E Insaf Party leader Imran Khan as a likely alternative, but after the initial euphoria, the cricketer-turned-politician seems to have run out of steam.
It also tried to raise the issue of a separate Seraiki province in Punjab to cut the support base of Nawaz Sharif, but has largely failed in that.
The establishment is now trying to defer the election itself and has co-opted the election commission and the judiciary. Consequently, the Supreme Court has ordered fresh delimitation of constituencies in Karachi, even though the last delimitation was carried out after the census report in 1998 and the census report of 2011 has not been made public.
The stablishment has ordered the election commission to carry out door-to-door verification of voters in Karachi with the army’s assistance. The aim was probably to provoke the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which controls Karachi, to create mayhem and defer elections. It subsequently brought in cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri from Canada to demand the dissolution of assemblies and setting up of a caretaker administration with elements from the military and judiciary. The ageing cleric also wants elections to be postponed indefinitely.
Simultaneously, the Pakistan Army has indulged in this heinous crime to aggravate tensions with India and use it as a pretext to postpone the elections, should Dr Qadri fail in his endeavour. The future reaction of the Pakistan Army will therefore depend on the outcome of the drama being enacted in Islamabad.
The Indian Army has rightly announced its decision to reserve its right to respond at a place and time of its choosing. The Indian government should highlight the barbaric and inhuman behaviour of the Pakistan Army, as many in the West still consider it to be a professional army capable of being entrusted with the security of Afghanistan.
It would, however, be counterproductive for the Indian government to withhold talks with Pakistan as that would amount to playing into the hands of the ‘Pakistani establishment’. In fact, the talks must be used to force Pakistan to accord the Most Favoured Nation status to India -- which Islamabad had promised -- but has been withheld at the behest of the all-powerful establishment.
Alok Bansal is a New Delhi based political and security analyst