No one wants war but everyone has an excuse for waging one. Nowhere is this truer than in this sub-continent where governments and significant segments of opinion makers on both sides of the border have pursued policies based on jingoistic malice in the pretence of a desire for peace. When it comes to Pakistan, our media, especially the electronic segment, suffers from a chronic hysteria and is busy selling justifications for an active and bloody war as the only solution to the problems between India and Pakistan which, with the exception of the Kashmir imbroglio, are capable of being resolved in a single day through a genuine and well meaning dialogue between second rung diplomats from the two countries.
Unfortunately, the war-cries are shriller in the Indian media than in its Pakistani counterpart. Even on the Doklam issue, significant sections of the Indian electronic media had virtually declared war on China using some strident commentaries in some parts of the Chinese print media as a valid excuse to do so, and refusing even to acknowledge the relative absence of any provocative statements emerging from the first rung Chinese political leadership. If Doklam did not blow up into a full-scale military crisis, it is thanks largely to the sagacity displayed by political leadership on both sides, neither of whom even uttered a single irresponsible statement on the issue, with the sole exception of the then Defense Minister Arun Jaitley’s reminder to the Chinese government that India of 2017 was not the India of 1962.
In retrospect and in the overall context, even Jaitley’s comment seems a little over the top and one that the two countries would have been better off without. The usually cool and sober Jaitley had probably succumbed to provocation from the irresponsible chunk of the Chinese media. A moderate and eminently sane leader that Jaitley undoubted is, he more than made up for that initial sojourn across the line of emotional and diplomatic control by refusing to be drawn into confrontationist posturing by the overly jingoistic Indian and Chinese media later.
But all said, India and China have shown to the world how a correct emphasis on economic and social issues facing the people of the two countries can steer nations away from avoidable diplomatic and military heat even on issues that still remain unresolved between the two countries. That they achieved it in spite of the unpleasant baggage of 1962 is even more commendable. There is a whole history of uncertainty and dangerous confusion about the existence of the International border between India and China. An inappropriate and undiplomatic chest thumping by the self-proclaimed internationalist Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1961 and 1962 had provided the immediate provocation for the Chinese “stroll across the park”.
Significantly and embarrassingly for India, China has never acknowledged the 1962 military experience as a “war”. With extreme diplomatic shrewdness, they have always described the conflict as a “border clash”, rubbing salt to the wounds of Indians who have always looked at the experience as one of existential threat to the country and the biggest military humiliation for the government and the people of the world’s largest democracy. Mao Tse Tung’s famous words have continued to send the Indian political and diplomatic policy makers into silent rage. “My friend Nehru is brandishing his rifle in the air and it would be an unfriendly act on our part not to respond to the gesture with matching affection.” Nothing could be more belittling than this typically epigrammatic description of what India still considers a massive war and humiliation of Himalayan scales. It is widely believed that it was this humiliation that actually shortened the life span of Jawahar Lal Nehru. He never overcame the disgrace of being made to appear like a boastful fool.
But India did well to learn from the experience both in terms of the need for military preparedness for all future threats to the country and in terms — more importantly — of diplomatic posturing on critical issues. This diplomatic maturity was in full play during and after the Doklam face-off. Neither the Prime Minister nor any other leader from the ruling class showed the all too familiar jingoistic temptation to appear braver and more patriotic than the rest. Even more important was the maturity shown by the political class in India on the whole. No one from the Opposition did or said anything that could have forced the government to say something that might have adversely affected the long-term interests of the country. Those interests are linked directly to peace between India and all its neighbours, including and especially China and Pakistan. To the credit of the Congress leadership, especially Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, they conducted themselves admirably throughout the Doklam tensions, maintaining a dignified silence and leaving the government free to deal with China in an atmosphere completely free from domestic political compulsions.
It is quite another matter that no one in the Congress party has to this day thought it fit to claim credit for this maturity or to remind the people of the country of how well the party behaved during an hour requiring national consensus. The role the Congress played during this critical phase could be held up as an example of the principal Opposition acting with exemplary dignity, restraint and far-sighted responsibility, tailor made to suit the interests of the country at that critical hour. The Congress commendably resisted the temptation for short-term political point-scoring and helped the country respond with one voice to a threat from across the border. This was truly admirable. Unfortunately, the same restraint and responsibility is sorely missing in our opinion makers on all issues concerning India’s relations with its other significant neighbour, Pakistan.
The Congress’ conduct during the Doklam days had underlined the importance of our political parties and opinion makers not messing up the country’s stand on external affairs, especially on relations with its neighbours.
Given the churlish manner in which our politicians behave most of the time and on most issues, it is unbelievable that India’s relations with the Dragon have never been used as an issue in domestic politics.
The sole exception to this were the 1962 Indo-Chinese hostilities. This is as it should be because requirements of international diplomacy and the interests of the country in its dealings with the outside world are matters too sensitive to be allowed to become political fodder in electoral loud-mouthing.
Our own conduct in our dealings with China needs to become a role model for matters touching our relations with Pakistan.
Unfortunately, that has never been the case. The domestic echoes of what happens in the diplomatic corridors or on the border with regard to Pakistan are immediately heard in the conduct of political parties.
This is dangerous for the country because it reduces issues of extreme diplomatic and political sensitivity to street jokes or sloganeering. That in turn queers the pitch for the government of the day to deal with these issues purely from the point of national interests. It would be wrong to blame only the Opposition of the day for this. Leaders in the party in power display no better maturity or far-sightedness than do those form the Opposition.
One reason why the domestic maturity shown by our politicians in our dealing with China is not seen on issues concerning India’s relations with her Western neighbour perhaps is that Pakistan is never seen with the same seriousness that we see in our approach to the Himalayan neighbour. The other reason, and perhaps the most important and dangerous one, is the shadow cast on our foreign policy by ties between the Hindus and the Muslims. This is not only incredibly immature and foolish but also utterly suicidal. Communal relations at home must never be allowed to become a factor in our dealings with the international community, especially our relations with our neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, the party in power at the centre today has always behaved as if our relations with Pakistan were India’s internal affair. True, the cries of Akhand Bharat etc are no longer popular street-items for the BJP and the party has been correctly steered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards goals of economic development. But every issue which involves ties with Muslim countries is still seen in terms of the shadow it casts on the way the Hindus and the Muslims perceive each other at home. The latest example of this is the issue of the Rohingya immigrants.
It is high time we interpreted our dealings with Pakistan purely on the basis of the impact these dealings have on economic prosperity of the people in the two countries. Prime Minister Modi must show the way in this. No one is better placed today to speak on national issues without the least fear of being questioned on his patriotic commitments. There is need also to put our opinion makers on a crash course on what constitutes our national interests. This is especially true of our electronic media where jingoistic debates have begun to resemble actual and filthy war. Round the clock parading of acerbic and malicious sentiments definitely queers the psychological pitch in domestic politics and that can eventually mar the ability of our political leaders to deal with our policy on external affairs purely from the angle of national interests. Diplomatic objectivity, the first and the foremost requirement of foreign policy, becomes a victim of the grotesque depths to which jingoistic electronic media has fallen in our country. Strangely and unbelievably, electronic media in what is essentially a military and Mullah-dominated Pakistan remains commendably free from the high decibel malice seen on the Indian TV channels.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that Pakistan is not an internal affair of India and our politicians and the media, especially the electronic media, would do well to touch upon every aspect of our ties with our second most important neighbour purely on the basis of the benefits or harm that it can cause to the overall prosperity of the common people on the two sides of the border.