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A BJP-driven U-turn?

Looking at the U-turn in Indo-Pak relations, January seems a strange month. The change perplexed everyone, because throughout 2012, a perception was built that these belligerent neighbours had finally accepted a long denied reality – need to cooperate for joint economic emancipation.

The positive change in their relations was primarily the fruit of the threats posed by the ongoing economic recession, and the realisation that oil prices weren’t likely to come down, which made regional trade far more sensible compared to aspiring for access to distant markets.

In this backdrop, clashes between the border security forces of the two countries beginning January 6 stunned the Pakistanis who know that their armed forces won’t indulge in such activities, given their commitments, both inside the country and on its western borders.

Recently, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff had confirmed this by saying that the real threat to the country’s security was from within, not from outside, while referring to the tragedies caused by terrorism-the fruit of Pakistan’s partnership in the US “war on terror”.

While the border on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir has re-opened, the cause of the border skirmishes continues to be debated all across the sub-continent. The worsening Congress-BJP tussle and Congress Party’s need to assert its patriotism is, perhaps, the reason there for.

Though denied by India, in all the three incidents, Indian forces fired on their Pakistani counter-parts in which soldiers were killed on both sides and, according to the Indian government, its soldiers were also beheaded – an act that deserves unconditional condemnation.

But, despite claiming brutality by Pakistani border forces, the Indian government isn’t willing to permit the UN Group of Observers posted on the Indo-Pak border to investigate these incidents – a stance that builds doubts about India’s claim that Pakistani troops started the trouble.

What support these doubts are the developing trends in India’s internal politics, which indicate that the Congress Party has been challenged by the BJP to a point where the Congress Party fears losing out to the BJP in the coming parliamentary elections.

The Hindu nationalist BJP was critical of the moves to expand trade relations with Pakistan, and as part thereof, relax restrictions on investing in Pakistan to promote joint-ventures, and facilitate interaction between businesses on both sides via softer visa terms for cross-border travel.

In the ongoing dialogue on staggered reduction in the negative items’ list, undoing non-tariff barriers (NTBs), and relaxation of the terms for Indian businesses to invest in joint-ventures in Pakistan, not every Pakistani request was acceded to by India, especially concerning the NTBs.

Yet, the progress achieved till the end of 2012 was too much for the BJP to digest, which places racism above all other considerations. Besides the traditional Indian foot dragging on measures to rationalise relations with Pakistan, this factor was delaying Indian responses.

Indo-Pak dialogue on trade relations became one more threat for the Congress Party, courtesy the many goofs in its administration of the state that were exploited by the BJP; to quote the biggest of them, auctioning of the telecom licenses and award of coal mining contracts.

The BJP capitalised on the recent unfortunate gang rape case in Delhi; BJP had a role in shaking the whole of India over this incident, and Delhi being labelled as the capital of rapists, primarily to dilute the effect of BJP’s being blamed (in the coming days) for the many racist riots in India.

The Congress-led regime therefore felt compelled to rebuild its image as a patriotic outfit and, for a start, decided to put up a show of its belligerence towards Pakistan, which was reflected in the border clashes that caused a stir even in the US and China.

The Chiefs of India’s Army and Air Force, Defence and Foreign Ministers, the Prime Minister, and finally its President issued provocative statements condemning Pakistan, but the worst of them came from Sushma Swaraj, leader of the BJP-led opposition in the Lok Sabha.

She rejected a UN inquest into the border skirmishes, but sought the heads of 10 Pakistani soldiers in exchange for the head of every Indian; more shocking were the newspaper advertisements issued by the police in Indian-held Kashmir, on how to respond to the fallout from a nuclear attack.

Was this drama staged to re-build the image of the Congress Party as a truly patriotic outfit? If so, it proved yet again that, in India, displaying hatred for Pakistan is still the surest way of manifesting patriotism. Is this the public mindset a forward-looking leadership should encourage?

BJP’s pressure forced the BCCI to announce that India’s cricket team won’t play against Pakistan even in a third country. That Pakistan’s hockey players can’t play in India’s premier hockey league and Pakistan’s women’s cricket team must feel scared about playing in Bombay.

Should the Indian government be hostage to a bigoted BJP that can’t stand India’s defeats against Pakistan in a quick succession in events like the Asian Hockey Championship, cricket ODI series, the International Kabaddi contest, and the Sur Kshetra song contest?

The self-acclaimed secular India hasn’t done any better than Pakistan, as proved by the racist riots in Ahmadabad, Ajmer and Malegaon, and racist attacks on Babri Mosque and Samjhota Express – events for which the Congress Party has finally blamed the BJP.

This doesn’t augur well for the future of the Indo-Pak subcontinent; it reflects sheer blindness to a reality. Both India and Pakistan must learn (like the Europeans) to live together in peace, and share the bounties of nature. That they must optimise the competitive advantages they can together generate, by complimenting each other’s abilities and capacities because their future is pre-destined. Not accepting this reality will be a failure; should the BJP’s be allowed to crystallise this failure?

From the look of things, that’s what may happen because, instead of confronting BJP’s blind, racist policies, the Congress Party is succumbing to its pressure, which foretells economic chaos in the sub-continent although the potential for mutually beneficial collaboration is immense.

Potential collaboration in pharma, auto, cement, and textiles sectors, and in mining for coal, metals and other natural reserves, was identified during 2011-12, and was very much on the cards, but the recent events may put them on the back-burner to the disadvantage of both India and Pakistan. But let us not lose hope because there is a lobby of futuristic businessmen on both sides, who may pull India and Pakistan out of the current mess because the future of the coming generations can’t be compromised.

A. B. Shahid, "A BJP-driven U-turn?," Business recorder. 2013-01-29.