Today's Editorial

09 October 2016

After Uri



Source: By Salman Haider: The Statesman



The surgical strikes on terrorist targets across the LOC have intensified the Indo-Pak confrontation and given it a new dimension. Prior to Uri there were a series of incidents of a recurring pattern: covert Pak-backed attacks on targets in J&K, aimed at causing maximum damage on the ground and not permitting the political issue to fade away. The Uri event broke the pattern but there was no let-up on the ground: cross-border attacks did not come to a halt despite the evident risk of a wider conflagration, and there were continued small-scale cross-border assaults in J&K, the resumption of which seemed intended to demonstrate that Pakistan was not to be deterred by what had happened in Uri.


In a curious twist, Pakistani spokespersons have denied that Indian strikes across the LOC ever took place, notwithstanding the strong Indian assertions to the contrary. Thus the knee-jerk Pakistani reaction that could have been expected has not materialised, though there is uncertainty in the border region and troops are on alert. The Centre has asked border authorities in a 10 km frontier zone to be especially watchful, and in Punjab the residents of that zone have been asked to move out. Though there have been local protests, such measures seem intended to show that the country is on its guard and prepared for any eventuality. However, notwithstanding the heightened atmosphere and the stepped up preparations on the ground, there are signs that warlike demonstrations may be easing off.


The rhetoric has not been reduced, though many fresh accounts of how the Indian strike was conducted keep the issue in the public eye, but with the passage of time apprehensions of further military action in the LOC area seem to have been reduced. The Prime Minister himself has called a halt to the vainglorious rhetoric indulged in by so many in high positions. Terrorist incidents have not ceased Rs on the contrary, there have been some more in J&K in the last few days Rs but no further security measures have been implemented in that State to add to the large number already in place. Normal life has not been much affected; tourists continue to come as the season winds down, civilian air traffic has not been interrupted, nor vehicular traffic.


Only a few days ago the Home Minister paid a visit to Ladakh, having already visited Jammu and the Valley, apparently to give a boost to preparations for security alertness, and while he met all the responsible functionaries and officials, his presence in Ladakh, a region that tends to complain of neglect, seemed to have been regarded locally as an occasion to air specific regional demands more than for improving security preparedness. Though the situation on the ground shows some signs of restoration, tough official statements have done something to keep up the pressure and activity in diplomatic forums has had its effect. India decided to keep away from the scheduled meeting of SAARC in Pakistan to express its unwillingness to maintain a semblance of normal relations with that country in the present circumstances.


Under the rules of SAARC, India's decision not to attend meant that the meeting itself would have to be cancelled, for all Heads must participate if a Summit is to take place. It was gratifying for New Delhi that three more members decided to keep away, thereby in effect administering a multiple veto for the meeting in Pakistan. Simultaneously, in addition to the strengthened effort in diplomatic forums, India has also taken steps to review the various existing bilateral Indo-Pak agreements and arrangements, apparently in order to further control the tempo of the relationship.


As it is, not much is happening on the bilateral front and the established economic and people-to-people exchanges have been in the doldrums for quite some time. Now, in the present downturn, there would be little early possibility of restoring an easier pattern of exchanges. Among the bilateral instruments that have apparently been under review one of the most significant is the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960.


This was negotiated between the two countries over several years in a laboured and difficult process that could not have succeeded without the active involvement of the World Bank, whose good offices as a mediator were needed to bring the parties to agreement and to reconcile their greatly opposed demands. It was feared at the time that failure to agree could drive the two countries to perpetual hostility over water-sharing differences and could even lead to armed confrontation, for both were dependent on the waters of the Indus and its tributaries for their critical food production needs and could not accept the risk of shortages in this crucial matter. With the World Bank's entry the international community was drawn in and became deeply engaged, and the final Treaty is thus more than a bilateral instrument between the two parties.


At times of crisis, however, the Indus Waters Treaty tends to come in for criticism, from one side or the other, and ancient halfburied grievances re-surface, as in the present juncture. The demand has been raised in some quarters for re-evaluation of the Treaty which is criticised by some Indian observers as an agreement that favours Pakistan. Closer examination by acknowledged experts, however, has reaffirmed the essential balance of the document and its relevance to the interests of both parties, so that there is no good reason for its re-examination, or even abrogation as has sometimes been suggested.


However, what has been revealed by the current debate, and not for the first time, is that India has not availed itself of all its rights under the Treaty and can legitimately draw more of the Indus waters for its exclusive use than it does at present. To do this may not be an altogether simple matter, for a variety of technical reasons, but fuller implementation of the Treaty could bring benefits to India that have so far remained unutilised. While Indo-Pak differences continue to rage and the risk of physical confrontation remains real, some cooling down of earlier passions seems to have taken place.

The tensions and ambiguities have not been put to rest and multiple voices from either side continue to be heard advocating a variety of courses of action but on the whole opinion in the current discourse seems to be turning away from military action. Surprisingly enough, the two NSAs have been in conversation with each other. They may not have had much to convey, but that they have been in contact is important. Restoring basic channels of communication is needed as a first step towards addressing the issues that have brought the two countries to the brink.

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