For the last decade, Pakistan’s response to the violations of its armed forces and intelligence has been the same as its response to the Mumbai terror attack of November 26, 2008 – “We didn’t do it.” Terrorist have no claim to statehood, its then-President Asif Ali Zardari said. But Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind, has not been extradited by the state either.
And the military cannot be a “stateless actor”.
In one of the vilest acts on the border, members of the Pakistan Border Action Team (BAT) ambushed Naib Subedar Paramjit Singh of the Indian Army and Border Security Force Head Constable Prem Sagar, killed them, mutilated their bodies, and carried some body parts to the other side of the border.
Pakistan, of course, denies it.
India, of course, has promised retaliation.
And so it continues, this show of strength and superiority, with no solution in sight.
Indian prisoners in Pakistan sentenced to death, Indian fishermen detained in Pakistan, Indian soldiers mutilated at the border, Pakistani attacks on Indian soil, Pakistani violations of the line of control. A similar story on the other side, blaming the Indian government.
The time for talks has been deemed over, and now the only exchange is of gunfire.
The problem is that the “talks” were never actually talks. They were token meetings, at the end of which a message of unity and cooperation would be dutifully rolled out to the media.
Former Prime Ministers A B Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh’s cross-border journeys, as well as those of their counterparts, Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf, were greeted with much fanfare. But what has come of those journeys, those talks, other than photo-ops?
What has come of cutting off all conversation?
The cost of silence is paid in the blood of soldiers on either side.
We have reached the sort of impasse where every time there is an attack from one on the other, Twitter erupts with cheers, as if this were a cricket match between the two countries and not battle.
We cannot repair the wrongs of the past, and each side is painted to the other as sly, manipulative, vicious, violent, and predatory.
Every now and again, the leaders of the two countries meet, if not for “bilateral talks”, on the sidelines of some summit or the other.
For all the years that Manmohan Singh, much-derided as the silent Prime Minister, a name he thoroughly deserved, was in charge, the talks never tackled anything important – not the Kashmir question, not terrorism, not border violations.
Narendra Modi is the opposite of silent. Even three years into his ascension to the Prime Minister’s seat, he is in campaign mode, giving speeches and shouting slogans into the ether. He shares his Mann ki Baat, he tweets, he signs off on press releases, and he stands at podiums.
But he does not listen. He does not answer. He deputes his cabinet ministers to hold press conferences and tackle tough questions.
Toeing the line of the leader, everyone from the defence minister to the home minister to the chiefs of the various wings of the armed forces promises revenge and shows no interest in conversation.
And so more blood will be spilled.
The enmity will be exacerbated by every killed and mutilated soldier, every death row prisoner, every captured militant, every attempted attack.
Will we ever be able to have dialogue, real dialogue with palpable results? Will we see “goodwill gestures” which mean something? Or will the man who allegedly masterminded terror attacks in India be allowed to appear in public, giving sermons?
Without dialogue, all we have is the prospect of complete and total alienation.
No more cricket tours between India and Pakistan.
No more actors, singers, or entertainers working in each other’s film industries.
No artists or writers will visit each other’s countries.
Instead, we have triumph over surgical strikes and rage over border ambushes.
A land once shared, a culture still shared, means nothing.
Without dialogue, where issues that need to be discussed are not tamely left off the table, how can we hope to see some semblance of peace?
And without peace, what are the prospects that we face?
Every now and again, a little girl who wanders accidentally into enemy territory will become the subject of a blockbuster film. Every now and again, the cricket teams will meet at a far-off venue in the course of an international tournament. Every now and again, the leaders will have a cup of tea together and put arms across each other’s shoulders for the cameras.
Everything will remain the same, until one side provokes the other, and the other promises retribution.
That is the cost of the wall we have built.