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New tensions in India-Pakistan relations
   
 
 
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New tensions in India-Pakistan relations

 
Wednesday, 20 February 2013 15:23
 
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by Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra (EPOS)
EPOS Insights

 

The year 2013 so far is propitious neither for India-Pakistan nor for peace in the Indian subcontinent. Two events that exacerbated the fragile relations included the border skirmishes in January and the violence in Kashmir after execution of one of its Muslim residents by India.

In the first case, both traded charges against each other. India accused Pakistan of violating the Line of Control (LoC – the line that divides Kashmir), torturing and killing two of its soldiers and, to further add to the humiliation, beheading one soldier and not returning his head. Pakistan accused India of violating the LoC and killing one of its soldiers. In the cross-trading of charges, peace in the subcontinent suffered and the prospects of Kashmir turning violent appeared imminent.

Though the second event was not directly related to the first one, it impacted the relations. Afzal Guru, a native of Kashmir was convicted by the highest court of India as a culprit behind Indian parliament attack in December 2001 and awarded death sentence. Guru was executed in Delhi’s Tihar jail on 9 February. Had Guru been a resident of a different Indian state, the reaction to his death sentence could not have been as protracted and violent as it happened in case of Kashmir.

The prime reason behind Kashmir turning violent was that Guru was perceived by some Kashmiris as a fighter for the cause of independence. Kashmir is a major bone of contention between India and Pakistan and its genesis can be traced to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. The movement for independence turned violent in late 1980s. But, later years particularly after 2000, the region emerged peaceful mainly due to realization on part of India and Pakistan that violence in no way can bring lasting peace to the region. It needs mention that about a decade from 2000 to 2010 the region of Kashmir witnessed peace, termed by some analysts as ‘irreversible’ as Kashmir never witnessed aftermath militancy such a long period of peace. The peace process was buttressed by the active participation of local people and civil society groups. This popular movement for peace was supported by the governments of India and Pakistan. As elsewhere, however, the radical elements in both the countries resented the peace process and sought to resolve the conflict through violence.

These radical elements attempted to appropriate the execution to their advantage. They made protest rallies and revenge speeches in major cities of Pakistan like Islamabad and Karachi. Though Pakistan did not pronounce directly any anti-India statements, it did not discourage these radical elements to stop anti-India slogans and protests. One of the major radical organizations in Pakistan named Lashkar-e-Toiba, an organization whose operations are mainly India-centric, declared revenge against India for execution of Guru. The leader of the organization, also the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, Hafeez al Sayeed participated in rallies in Pakistan and promised to attack India. Not surprisingly, two bomb blasts took place the same month in the Indian city of Hyderabad, killing about 20 people and injuring many.

These two events impacted negatively the relations of the past decade. The atmosphere of trust and goodwill was at a higher scale before these events. In case of Kashmir, the border routes opened few years back facilitated people to people interactions and trade. Both the countries also deliberated to develop a liberal visa regime, and even made substantial progress. It was expected that trade relations would be robust in coming years. But the border skirmishes spoiled peace initiatives. After the border skirmishes, Pakistan closed the cross-border routes. The plan of liberal visa regime was cancelled. India’s liberal Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, known for his statement that if Pakistan moves one mile (in the context of bilateral relationship) India will move one extra-mile, declared that the business between the two countries can not be as usual after the border incident.

In case of India-Pakistan relations such events have proved spoilers. As the quotient of trust is low in the relations, it becomes easier to nullify or weaken earlier established good relations and difficult to restart or establish positive relations. Both the countries fought four wars. Both of them possess nuclear weapons. The costs of the conflict between the two countries are really high in terms of death and destruction, and diversion of significant amount of funds to armed preparedness. Besides, the conflict provides breeding ground to radical elements that seek every opportunity to spoil peace initiatives. Organizations like Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, United Jehad Council, Jaish-e-Mohammed operate freely in the Pakistan controlled Kashmir with having training camps to train the youth in the art of violence.

These organizations, at times with the blessings of establishment, exploit fault lines of religion (by invoking slogans like our religion is in danger), and exploit the emotions of the common people who are always at the receiving end. Indian government’s incoherent policies in Kashmir too have contributed to the scenario. It was hoped that with the rise of civilian government in Pakistan, the bilateral relations will be positive and both the countries will be able to address contentious issues. The developments till the last year appeared positive despite setbacks like the Mumbai attack, but the two events have cast a cloud of doubt whether the relations will return back to normalcy soon.

In this sordid scenario, it is the common people in Kashmir who suffer the most. Aftermath of the border skirmishes, fear of intensification of skirmishes in terms of war remained high among the people. The issuance of a circular in Kashmir that people should get ready for a possible nuclear war further heightened the situation and caught the attention of international media. Though the present situation does not indicate any such possibility, the situation, however, can not be termed normal. Kashmir continues to be turbulent with daily protests and occasional violence leading to loss of lives. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf is visiting the famous Sufi shrine in the Indian city of Ajmer on 9 March.

The media reports suggest that the visit is a private and religious one; hence there is no prospect of official meeting with his Indian counterpart in New Delhi. One can contrast this visit with the similar visit of Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari to the same Sufi shrine last April. The difference is that Zardari had stopped in New Delhi and had a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister. This difference tells a lot about the current state of India-Pakistan relations.

 

Dr. Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include conflict, terrorism, peace and development, Kashmir, South Asia, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics

Last modified on Friday, 08 March 2013 15:43
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