The rhetoric of India-Pakistan tensions

Despite the tough language being used over the Indian soldiers’ deaths, the response so far has remained at that.

There is no question that strong language is being used. The Indian external-affairs minister has called the attack on the Indian soldiers “ghastly”, while the defence minister is using terms like “inhuman”.

Fortunately, the tough response has remained at that: words. The conversation has filtered through many diplomatic levels and some military ranks.

India summoned Pakistan’s top diplomat in New Delhi for an explanation into the death of two Indian soldiers. The Indians have lodged a protest over the Pakistani army’s alleged actions and want Pakistan to issue an appropriate response to Indian concerns.

India says Pakistani soldiers made an incursion into the Poonch district of Indian-administered Kashmir, engaging in a half-hour firefight.

What has made the Indians call the attack highly provocative is that one of the soldiers’s bodies was reportedly found badly mutilated.

India says the manner in which the body was treated is of grave concern.

Pakistani offer

Pakistan’s highly articulate foreign minister, Hina Rabbani, went on Indian television saying that her government is prepared to conduct an independent investigation, but said it is offering more, to let a third party investigate the issue. She said Pakistan would hold investigations through the United Nations Military Observer Group.

It was an offer that India was certain to refuse. India has made it clear that they want the issue to be dealt with bilaterally, and in line with that, the external-affairs minister said a third-party investigation was not an option.

The exchange has also been emotive.

Hina Rabbani said she was saddened by India’s assertions, adding that she was appalled at the suggestion that Pakistani troops were involved in the killings.

He Indian counterpart said he was hurt by what he called Pakistan’s denial of the provocation.

If you had been in India in the past few weeks, you would understand Salman Khurshid’s feeling of despondency. He was part of a political movement that spearheaded better ties with Pakistan.

Less than three weeks ago, he told me in an interview that although caution was required, he was optimistic that India-Pakistan relations were heading in the right direction.

After a hiatus following the Mumbai attacks in 2008, both sides have recently made a concerted effort to thaw icy relations. This included a friendlier visa regime and a much publicised tour of Pakistan’s cricket team in India. They played their last match against India on Sunday.

Khurshid says the attack was meant to derail recent dialogue between the two sides.

Calls for retaliation

On Wednesday, following the Kashmir incident, there were some anti-Pakistan protests in the opposition BJP-controlled state of Madhya Pradesh. The party has also called for a retaliatory response.

Our correspondent in Pakistan told us that there was little media coverage of the Kashmir incident in Pakistan.

That was in stark contrast to the media frenzy across the border here in India. It made front-page news and 24-hour news channels maintained constant coverage of all the days developments.

Clashes between the soldiers on the Line of Control the de-facto border separating Pakistan-administered Kashmir from the Indian side are not unusual.

Both sides continue to claim the territory in its entirety and consider the Line of Control as a ceasefire line. They had agreed to a ceasefire in 2003, but it has been violated on occasion by both countries.

The killing of the two Indian soldiers in Kashmir came two days after the Pakistani army claimed that a cross-border Indian raid killed a Pakistani soldier and wounded another.

Both India and Pakistan maintain that they do not want the situation to escalate, and for now the response shall remain verbal.

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