The recent event involving the killing of two Indian soldiers by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir has now escalated into a full-blown political fight between the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The situation, to put it mildly, has been mishandled by the government.
Within hours of the death of the Indian soldiers, the government tried to apply the “brakes” on the situation. External affairs minister Salman Khurshid played down the incident. Within a day, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde stated that a visa liberalization agreement with Islamabad would go ahead as planned. What the government did not sense was the seething anger among citizens.
Days later, the response changed. The Chief of Air Staff, N.A.K. Browne darkly hinted at “other options” against Pakistan. This was followed by the Army chief’s tough words. On Tuesday, it was the Northern army commander’s turn for tough talk. By the evening Prime Minister Manmohan Singh joined in.
This is not the manner in which a sensitive subject like this should have been handled. At the moment, the issue has been deeply politicized. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made an irresponsible remark and perhaps that was what tricked the government into a competitive game of hard talk.
The situation merited a tactical response: it was a localized military situation that required a tough message at the local army commander’s level. There is nothing unusual here. Ceasefire violations have occurred plenty of times between the two countries and have led to artillery exchanges, many times at a number of locations on the Line of Control.
At the root, the problem lies in the lack of honest engagement by the government with citizens at large. Very often, the Prime Minister does not react at all. When he does, considerable time has elapsed and the credibility of the government gets dented. The gang rape case in New Delhi; the handling of the so-called anti-corruption movement; and now the incident in Jammu and Kashmir, all display the same ineptness. What the government needs to do is to engage and not try ham-handed “damage control” strategies. As to the actual military issue, it is best that army commanders deal with it at the level where it occurred. Pakistan needs a tough response in action and not words.
Tough words or a tactical response: what should the government have done? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org