Raising the right questions?

Pulwama Tragedy

By Dr. D.K. Giri
(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

The Pulwama terrorist attack and the subsequent counter-operations by the army are the hot topics for debate and discussion across the country. The hyper-nationalist media, especially the television, hypes it so much that, one can hear the echoes of ‘Bande Mataram’ chanted by invited audiences in the studios. Even the public domain, the streets, parks and parties are abuzz with India-Pakistan relations, especially following the Pulwama incident.
Curiously, one runs into a bevy of retired army and air force personnel in the TV channels. I found, at one time, about 15 ex-military officers of different ranks immaculately dressed finely articulate, in one channel, explaining to an audience the sophistication of modern warfare etc. Good to see our ex-military officers serenely but seriously (so they are trained and groomed) interacting with the public; a good opportunity for the public to meet and make conversation with senior ex-officers of our army, an undiluted national pride.
But it is in party political arena, the debate is becoming increasingly messy, and divisive. It started with a complete consensus but soon began drifting into a slanging match between contenders amid chest-thumping, name-calling, finger-pointing and moral-posturing etc. Perhaps, it is not unexpected and unbecoming of the politicians in the face of elections in a few weeks time. And, normatively speaking, in a democracy, there will be party political contestation and questions on actions of government, more so, in election time.
The burden of my argument here is that the Opposition has the right to ask questions, but is it asking the right ones? Apparently not. The questions the Opposition raise are turned and twisted by the ruling party to paint them with an ‘anti-nationalist’ hue. Take for instance, 11 days after the Uri attack, the Indian army conducted a surgical strike. The Opposition leaders asked for evidence, as they thought Modi government was making it up for electoral purposes. Was it right to question the operation of the army which was officially informing the country of the strike?
True that in a democracy army takes orders from the national civilian government of the day but Indian army is apolitical, thoroughly professional, disciplined and committed. They will not do the political bidding for even the ruling party. There is no such evidence in Indian military history even in sensitive security situations.
Now on the second surgical strike, in a complex security situation the Opposition is asking for evidence of casualties, provoked perhaps by Amit Shah’s preposterous claim of 250 deaths etc. However, that is for Amit Shah to prove to the alert and agile public of the country, not the job of the Opposition. In a TV channel, I was talking to a former Colonel who asked me if the number of casualties mattered. Was it not enough that the Air Force went deep into Pakistan territory beyond LoC and bombed the targets? I could feel the pain in his heart as he was speaking as if their valour and heroism were being undermined. I instantly said, Colonel, the number does not matter. What IAF has done is commendable.
As a civilian, I am told that the targets are indicated by the government, and the army’s job is simply to neutralise them. So, as the IAF said, counting casualties is not their job, it is that of the government. Opposition therefore, may be politically correct to question the government on the outcome of the action, as their claims are not verifiable. Yet, to an independent political analyst, this is a wrong question. As said earlier, the army’s operational efficiency is willy-nilly drawn into the controversy. This does not go down well with the public or with the army although the latter is unfazed by party political skirmishes.
One may urge the Opposition to desist from raising questions related even remotely to army operation, irrespective of incredible claims by one set of politicians. Opposition can ask a barrage of questions on political strategy and diplomatic acuity, under which the government cannot even duck, let alone counter-attack. Let us list some of these. One, how did 400 kg of RDX find its way into a house in Kashmir which a 20-year-old boy could carry and detonate? What happens to heavy surveillance and intelligence gathering in Kashmir? Has any head rolled so far for such a humongous failure that caused the death of our so many security personnel? Why has no enquiry been ordered completed, and the guilty identified and punished?
Second, why do deaths continue at the border? Before and after Pulwama and surgical strikes, our soldiers and security personnel are being killed day in and day out? When will the blood-shed stop? What is the government strategy to stop this?
Third, how are we going to dismantle the terror camps in Pakistan? Rahamullah Nabil, former chief of Kabul’s intelligence said: “Pakistan is sheltering 45 to 48 terror groups in the country, the Indian army should have bombed Balakot earlier.” Indians would like to see the end of the death of its soldiers and innocent civilians, or is it a fait accompli, and above all, a normalisation of relations with Pakistan?
Fourth, which countries are our allies in these difficult times? The government has not got, as it claims, the US fully on board, because of our prevarication on Afghanistan. We should have been actively and even militarily engaged in Afghanistan. Why have we left the Afghan space fully to Pakistan making USA lean on the latter?
Fifth, what is government’s policy on China? Is it not best defined as confused and cluttered? China has been consistently opposing our attempts at the UN and is supporting Pakistan. Why did Modi go into‘swing and stroll’ diplomacy with Chinese President? Why did we not convey to Beijing that we could not have business-as-usual as long as they support Pakistan sponsoring terrorism?
Sixth, has BRICS condemned it? Has SAARC taken any position? Why has not any of our neighbours condemned it? Modi started by inviting all of them to his swearing-in ceremony. Where are they today?
Seventh, what is our equation with Iran? We have a common ground vis-a-vis Pakistan. But how can we take the US into confidence as we move closer to Iran? One has friends and adversaries. One cannot please all, which Modi tries to do, not at home but internationally. Can we run with the hare and hunt with the hound? How does Modi government explain this? Can the government show us our die-hard supporters? Look at what China is doing to Pakistan with a permanent seat at UN gifted by Nehru, an idealist and impractical.
Finally, India-Pakistan problems have been fuelled by involvement of external players, the arms sellers, Jihadists and so on. We may claim it to be a bilateral issue, Kashmir as an internal matter, both correct. But can we ignore the external influences of big military powers and arms market etc?
There is a litany of questions to ask. So let the Opposition raise the right questions, which may even expose the historical fault-lines drawn by them. But in their own interest and that of the country they will have to take this call. —INFA