Whatever New Delhi is planning is not working. Over the next few weeks and year, its strategic and intellectual maturity on Pakistan is on test.

Pakistan Kulbhushan Jadhav and the public undressing of IndiaPTI
Voices Opinion Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - 14:40

Like millions of Indians, I watched the sham that was the meeting between Kulbhushan Jadhav and his wife and mother who travelled to Pakistan earlier this week to meet him. Like millions of Indians I asked why the meeting took place in a prison-like setting with Jadhav and his family separated by a glass wall. Pakistan calls Jadhav a spy, but has failed to prove the charges in an international court so far. Like millions I was shocked to read a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement which said Ms. Jadhav was asked to remove her mangal sutra, sindoor and bangles – the first two are symbols of marriage for Hindu women. Her shoes were removed and not returned and videos of the meeting showed her in a black-robe like attire, the colour of mourning in some religions and cultures. I was reminded of my visit to Dachau, the German concentration camp for Jews. Clothes, shoes, personal belongings including religious symbols worn or carried were taken away from the Jews before they were send to burn in ovens.  

I trust all Indians may have died a little seeing the plight of grieving Jadhav women who were not allowed to touch him and not even speak to him in their mother tongue Marathi. Depriving people of their language, their personal belongings and their pride is to kill them. What a spectacle India has subjected itself to.

As I read India’s statement, my mind raced back to a conversation my husband and I had with a taxi driver in Delhi in January 1985, barely two months after the massacre of Sikhs in India’s capital. He was in his late sixties, a tall and strapping man without his beard and turban. The only teller of stories was the steel metal bangle Sikhs wear. I asked him what happened. He parked the taxi and wept as he told us his story. The only way he could save his family was to disrobe them and himself of anything that would point to them as Sikhs. He was ashamed, he said -  felt he had let his religion down. We told him he did what he thought best to save his family. The next half hour of the taxi ride was completed in silence as tears rolled down his face.  I was reminded of Dachau. Sikhs were massacred in open daylight making it one of India's worst mass-killings.

Sometimes people call me a hawk when it comes to national interests. I am comfortable with that mainly because I don’t believe in epithets as they amount to little. There are no permanent positions, only strategic, self serving interests for a country.  When the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai struck and shook India, my first reaction was to ask myself why we did not send out the sorties (a sortie is French for exit but in military terms means a deployment of a military unit from a strategic point by an aircraft, ship of troops. A sortie generally has a specific mission). Does that make me a hawk? I don’t believe in capital punishment. What does that make me? In my view, I am an engaged and patriotic Indian as concerned about safety on our borders as I am about safety in our hospitals. My first reaction to 26/11 was an emotional one. Emotions, military action and diplomacy are bad bedfellows. 

I have covered the India-Pakistan human rights annual semantic jugglery competition at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva for some ten years in the 1990s. Trust me, it is no more than a carnival, now made even more idiotic by social media with tiring reports of how India is “slamming” Pakistan. India’s responses to Pakistan’s accusations are rote repetitions which are at least three decades old. Despite the fact that UN resolutions have no teeth, these annual jaunts got close in 1994 when there was a resolution against India and both countries mobilised all in their might to fight it out. I wrote then that the Line of Control (LOC) had shifted temporarily to a posh lounge in Geneva. India carried the day but left me wondering how a billion people were reduced to responding to an irritating and irresponsible neighbour. That was then, this is now. Today both countries are nuclear powers and geopolitics has undergone a sea change.

With a little exaggeration, it is not wrong to say some diplomats in the MEA have made careers out of competing with each other on Pakistan-bashing at UN and other forums (India’s recent UN vote on Jerusalem is an extension of this. More on that vote anon) giving the impression, till recently, that all they think about is the neighbour. In 2017, no self-respecting nation will allow beheaded bodies of its soldiers to be returned from across the border. That is what India is witnessing now. Killing a few Pakistani soldiers in what is seen as retaliation for the recent killing of an Indian army Major and three jawans is A response. There must be others. The Prime Minister’s office, the MEA and the army must coordinate their efforts and escalation if that is what is necessary. The comments I pick up from responsible people suggests that's not happening. 

I have some knowledge of how the beast called foreign policy of any nation meanders and muddles through coherence and confusion.  In a democracy like ours where the press is free and opinions are aplenty, difficulties diplomats face are much worse. What must always be a coordinated action is often a muck-up because of ego and turf battles. People who told me India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) is a clueless, trigger-happy James Bond are now ministers in the government. Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi called out human rights violations in Balochistan from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15th 2016, I had two conversations with New Delhi with people whose identity must remain anonymous. One, belonging to the hackneyed status-quo said Modi will not touch Balochistan in his speech.  The other, perhaps backing the change Modi is seeking in the region said it is happening. There were cracks within, I concluded. 

While pleased by the attention that followed Modi’s speech, Baloch leaders have told me no country will defend another at the risk of its self-interest. Wise words at a time when Pakistan has disrobed India in full glare of the international community which has not commented with any degree of disapproval. Why should they? It's a bilateral issue.  The difficult part to swallow is that we have got here all by ourselves, slowly and surely over the last three decades in particular with successive governments doing their own thing. Let us not forget for a moment that behind Pakistan stands mighty China which is a global military and economic power. Beijing recently blocked a European Union (EU) resolution on rights resolution working through Greece where it has major investments and maritime interests. For Beijing, Gwadar the port under construction in the Balochistan province of Pakistan (a land the Baloch people claim as they own) is a presence in the country as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), but more strategically two firm feet in the Arabian sea leading to the Hormuz Strait from where reportedly some 40% of the world's oil passes.

Let us also not forget for a moment that what we are facing in Kashmir today is nothing short of low intensity war. Counting on other countries like the US o come to our assistance – that oft repeated Hillary Clinton rebuke to Pakistan about snakes in the backyard – is irresponsible to say the least.  Let us not forget that for the United States (US) Pakistan is a base in our region.For Washington, Pakistan is an Asset Under Management (AUM). Read my piece on this here.

Geopolitics is a deep and dark game of national interest best served in silence with a steady head and clear strategy with silent moves like in a game of chess. Its visible end, diplomacy, is not a straight line either.  Whatever New Delhi is planning is not working. Over the next few weeks and year, its strategic and intellectual maturity on Pakistan is on test. Old habits die hard and there is a cartel in New Delhi comprising politicians, NGOs, journalists, columnists, military experts, among others, who have vested interests and deep reach and some are not up to speed on how the world and interests of countries have changed in recent years. 

The enemy in India is as much within as it is outside. The humiliation of the Jadhav women is grotesque. It has happened in the same week that Pakistan-backed terrorists killed Indian soldiers in Kashmir. Emotions are running high among Indians and they are watching. They are aware of the alliances all governments make to remain in power. In Kashmir, that has consequences far more serious than other regions in the country. The options in front of the government are not easy and unless they get on top of the situation, the remaining ones most likely will sink. 

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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