Indo-Pak ties: A case of inflated egos, deflated brains

Published: June 14, 2012
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One can trust the Indians and Pakistanis to take their battles into direct competition with their inflated egos. The end point is no surprise: Siachen, the world’s highest battleground. GRAPHIC: SUNARA NIZAMI/ERUM SHAIKH

One can always trust the Indians and Pakistanis to make their battles about their inflated egos. The end point is no surprise; Siachen, the world’s highest battleground testifies to the sheer stupidity and irrationality in vogue among the khakis and non-khakis on both sides of the border.

The story goes that the Siachen saga was hatched at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, where some Pakistani generals decided that they better lay claim to Siachen before India does. So, they ordered Arctic-weather gear from a shop in London, which also supplied the Indians as well. Whether this was bad luck, or simply a sheer demonstration of the deep insight and strategy that our generals’ exercise, is a question better left unanswered. And of course, the Indians came to know of this order, and soon rushed over to grasp hold of the hitherto unoccupied ‘valley of death’ – Siachen.

Since then it has been a sordid tale of more and more misery.

Each passing year witnesses wanton blood streaming through the serene snow. Only last month, an avalanche buried over 120 servicemen on the Pakistani side. Since that devastating tragedy, there has been a lot of talk going around about making Siachen a glacier of peace. High-level talks even took place between the defence secretaries of the two states.

Even though I am an optimist, my glass looks half-empty when I look at the Siachen issue through the lens of history, and more importantly, the deep-rooted animosity and bitterness between the two sides.

We have been hearing stories for years now about how the much needed breakthrough between Pakistan and India was just about to happen, and then it all faded away at the last possible second. This cat and mouse game was played between Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee at the Minar-e-Pakistan when it was being touted that both countries are finally on the same page. More recently, the story that Musharraf and Manmohan had almost sealed an agreement over Kashmir made quite a few eyes pop out.

The fact remains that nothing has changed, no stances have been modified, and the swords remain close to the hearts, just as they did 65 years ago.

Peace comes at a cost – a heavy cost mind you. Considering the violence we have gotten used to now, one could imagine that settling Kashmir and other thorny issues like Siachen will take a bit more than some coffee exchanges in five-star restaurants. That may sound like the cynic’s perspective, but do bear in mind that any talks that do finally make a difference are held on a higher level and not among middle-tier bureaucratic professionals who stick to inflexible notes and refuse to think outside the box.

So don’t expect any big breakthrough to come soon. Siachen is not going to change into a tourist spot any time soon, and is likely to remain a cemetery for soldiers in years to come. And why would the Indians, who clearly have an upper hand there right now, want to leave their dominant position? This view has been adamantly portrayed in the Indian press, and however kind-hearted and noble we may try to become and expect others to become, diplomacy is alas not an art of kindness.

The only way forward is a change in mindset – Siachen is but a mere cog in the whole game – putting a single jigsaw puzzle in place does not mean the tortured and cumbersome game is solved. In fact, it has just begun.

The list of disputes between India and Pakistan is long and extensive, and stretches right from fact to fiction. Unless a strategy is evolved on both sides that tries to address all the issues, and then comes up with a vision to stick to those parameters, no progress is going to be made.

We can continue going in circles round and round.

If deep in my heart, my intention is still to humiliate and test my neighbour, then a smile on the face and a handshake are but a mere smokescreen.

Read more by Dr Rai here or follow him on Twitter @MAliRai

Dr Mohammad Ali Rai

Dr Mohammad Ali Rai

A graduate student at Oxford who lives and breathes politics and healthcare issues. He tweets @MAliRai

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