“After this dastardly act,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday, “there can’t be business as usual with Pakistan.” Dr. Singh’s tired words — and his government's dreadful decision to postpone the start of visa-free travel to India by senior citizens from Pakistan — suggest the relentless political attacks on his Pakistan policy are taking a toll. This is not good news. It is entirely true that the beheading of Indian soldiers on the Line of Control was a despicable act that must be condemned. It must also be candidly admitted, though, that Pakistan has not had a monopoly of wrong-doing in this case. It was only in March that Defence Minister A.K. Antony informed Parliament of Indian protests against Pakistani construction along the Line of Control. Now, no less than India’s Chief of Army Staff Bikram Singh has confirmed reports in The Hindu that India, too, was doing exactly the same thing. It is pointless to ask who cast the first stone. The need now is to strengthen the restraint regime on the LoC. Few spectacles have been as unedifying as the contemptible baying of warmongers these past days — most of it, it bears mention, emanating from TV studios located at a safe distance from the nearest bullet. It is hard not to contrast Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj’s ugly calls for 10 Pakistani soldiers to be beheaded in retaliation with the studied restraint of General Singh. No one who has seen war casually calls for the blood of soldiers to be shed — or believes they can predict, with any certainty, what the consequences of war will be.
Four propositions must be clearly understood. First, ever since General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani took office as Pakistan’s army chief in November 2007, his covert services and armed forces have engaged in a carefully calibrated escalation of hostilities — hoping to roll back the détente initiated in 2003, but also seeking not to invite international condemnation. Second, India has few military options to address this situation. The potential costs of war, and the risk of nuclear confrontation, far outweigh those of the low-grade conflict India now faces. India has covert and conventional means at its disposal which have been exercised — and could be exercised to greater effect. However, precipitating a crisis serves the interests of Pakistan’s generals — not Indians. Third, denying visas to elderly Pakistanis or stopping hockey players from participating in Indian tournaments will not make our borders or our civilians safer. This is the behaviour of a spoilt child, not a strategic actor. Fourth, real gains have been made since 2003, not the least a ceasefire and de-intensification of cross-border terrorism which has saved the lives of thousands of Indian soldiers. Nothing ought to be done to jeopardise this. Not every malaise has a cure; some can only be managed better or worse, and certainly not through indiscriminate blood-letting. India’s relationship with Pakistan is one of them.