By Sanjay Kumar January 14, 2013: Over the last few years Indo-Pakistani ties had been improving greatly. Now, all the goodwill that had been built up over this time appears to have been eliminated by a “runaway grandma.”
The killing of two Indian soldiers at the Line of Control(LOC)- the line that separates two parts of Kashmir and acts as a de facto border between India and Pakistan- several days ago, has quickly revived animosity between the two nations. The episode actually began last Sunday when Pakistan said Indian troops had killed one of its troops and critically injured another in a “cross-border raid” that Delhi denied having made. Then, on Tuesday, New Delhi blamed Pakistani border guards for the brutal deaths of two Indian soldiers- one of whom had been beheaded-an allegation that Islamabad vehemently denied. This was followed two days later by the death of another Pakistani solider, which Islamabad says had not been provoked but India maintains happened when its troops returned fire after having been shot at.
Amidst this blame game the truth is lost, with the fog of war making it all but impossible to ascertain which side is at fault. This doesn’t make passion on both sides any less intense as evidenced by many Indian news outlets challenging the very raison d’etre of holding peace talks with Pakistan.
A notable exception is The Hindu which, after carefully constructing the events leading up to this week, is actually blaming Delhi for violating the ceasefire agreement at the LoC. A front page article the paper ran late this week reconstructs the events leading up to the deaths through accounts given to it by unnamed army officials. It writes that in early September a 70-year old Indian woman crossed over the border to spend her final days with her children, who had crossed the borders years earlier to escape prosecution for border smuggling. This woman’s border crossing brought vulnerabilities in the LoC to the attention of Indian troops, who began constructing border outposts in violation of the 2003 LoC ceasefire agreement as a means of addressing these vulnerabilities.
Not surprisingly, Pakistani troops protested the violation of the ceasefire and demanded that construction of the border posts cease immediately. Those calls went unheeded. As a result, in October Pakistani troops began firing on the new outposts with mortar fire and automatic weapons, missing all Indian troops but killing three nearby villagers, the oldest of whom was 25-years-old while the youngest was in ninth grade, according to The Hindu.
Things remained tense after that with the two sides occasionally exchanging fire. After one such exchange on January 6 an Indian commander, Gulab Singh Rawat, sought and obtained permission to take aggressive action against Pakistan troops that were targeting the soldiers under his command. The result was Tuesday’s killing of a Pakistani border guard, with another one being critically injured.
Pakistan has proposed establishing a UN-monitored probe to investigate the incident. India has refused. Meanwhile, Thursday’s brutal killing of two Indian soldiers has provoked outrage throughout most the country.
There is some reason for optimism, however. Notably, even while giving the Pakistani envoy in the country a “dressing down,” members of the government have sought to calm passions at home, with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid arguing, “We cannot and must not allow escalation of this very unwholesome event that has taken place.”
His Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khan welcomed the statement.
This makes the media’s role in whipping up public angry all the more condemnable. These actions only impede a return to normalcy which is in every person in India and Pakistan’s interest. This is especially true of India given that the stability of South Asia and how well it manages its neighborhood will go a long way towards determining its standing in the world.
In many ways, people’s anger over these tragic deaths is understandable. The media has a responsibility to help rein in this anger lest it lead to further escalation and more tragedies. In this role it is failing miserably and it is time for it to reserve course.