For too long, India’s ultra-right media has been running smokescreens to hide the extremism of the individuals wearing the military brass, especially the man who leads its army. Its army chief General Bipin Rawat cannot hide his extremist mindset. He has yet again displayed his impetuous behavior that has stirred anger, anxiety and raised questions about his fitness to lead a military that is offering itself as the ultimate bet to the US to counter China. How can one of the world’s strongest militaries armed with nuclear weapons play a balancing role of maintaining and promoting peace in a volatile region whose generals keep their foot in their mouth and are driven by hate, hostility, and naked expansionist intent?
Take General Rawat’s latest inflammatory outbursts, following New Delhi’s backtracking on the proposed meeting between Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York. His inflammatory warnings to Pakistan have unnecessarily poured cold water on the warmth genearted by Prime Minister Khan’s overtures.
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“We need to take stern action to avenge the barbarism that terrorists and Pakistan Army have been carrying out,” India TV quoted Gen Rawat as saying. “Yes, it’s time to give it back to them in the same coin, not resorting to similar kind of barbarism. But I think the other side must also feel the same pain,” he added. General Rawat’s bellicose language is reminiscent of the 2001 Agra summit between the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf when a prospective peace deal was reportedly scuttled by India’s powerful military establishment.
Swaraj-Qureshi meeting, never slated to be formal negotiations but could have opened the doors for a fresh start in search of elusive detente, was called off by New Delhi a day after it responded positively to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer of talks. India justified its decision on the killing of its security forces in Jammu and Kashmir and also release of commemorative stamps by Pakistan’s postal service in remembrance of Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, who was killed by Indian Army in 2016.
“It is obvious that behind Pakistan’s proposal for talks to make a fresh beginning, the evil agenda of Pakistan stands exposed and the true face of the new Prime Minister Imran Khan has been revealed to the world in his first few months in office,” claimed India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar. “Any conversation with Pakistan in such an environment would be meaningless.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is facing calls for resignation over alleged corruption and his party entering crucial state elections, remains weak to resist his generals’ whims. General Rawat’s threats are irresponsible and vitiating the environment in a region sitting on a powder keg, and can potentially push it towards a conflict. New Delhi’s announcement drew an angry response from Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed ‘disappointment’ at India’s response calling it ‘arrogant and negative’. Pakistan Army has said it is ready for war but chooses to walk the path to peace.
“We [Pakistan Army] are ready for war but choose to walk the path of peace in the interest of the people of Pakistan, the neighbors, and the region”, said army spokesman General Asif Ghafoor in remarks carried by the Pakistani media.
Indian administered Kashmir has witnessed a surge in protests amid massive human rights violations. The social media has been flooded with photos of abuses by Indian security forces against unarmed civilians, adding to popular discontent against its oppressive rule in the Muslim-majority region that remains a bone of contention with arch-rival Pakistan.
Indian army has been accused of extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances and mistreating dead militants. Shabir Hussain, an editor with a local English magazine, in his Facebook post recently wrote: “This is a naked parade of Indian Army’s human rights record in Kashmir.”
The United Nations Human Rights Commission, in a damning report released in June this year, accused India of massive human rights violations in Kashmir. It also accused Pakistan of excesses in Azad Kashmir, which it administers.
“The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been center-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights, and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering,” said the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. His successor Michelle Bachelet has endorsed the report. India has rejected the UN report and Michelle Bachelet’s remarks.
India’s decision has closed the doors on the resumption of composite dialogue between the two countries for the immediate future. Indian intransigence will have rippling effects beyond South Asia and as far as Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. The United States, which initially welcomed New Delhi’s announcement of Swaraj-Qureshi meeting, has not yet reacted publicly to the development but reports from Washington suggest that General Rawat’s warmongering has raised many eyebrows in the US capital. Renewed India-Pakistan hostilities could have an extremely negative impact on US peace efforts in Afghanistan.
The situation will add new layers of mistrust between the US and Pakistan if Washington keeps its mum on India’s latest refusal of entering a dialogue with Pakistan. The US has been instrumental in promoting New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan. Pakistan has for too long accused India of using Afghan and Iranian territories for fomenting terrorism on its soil, especially in Balochistan. Pakistan arrested a serving Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav from Balochistan in 2017 who remains in its custody and has confessed to his active role in supporting terrorism by Baloch separatists in the country’s largest province. Washington’s directionless policy is already firming up a regional realignment between Pakistan, China, Russia, and Turkey. A former president of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and retired Senator Afrasiab Khattak summed up the new tensions in a tweet.
“Warmongering and jingoism is the last thing South Asia needs,” wrote the Pashtoon nationalist in his tweet, adding: Let ruling elites of Pakistan and India look at wretched of the earth and disempowered masses in their countries. They have no right to squander resources on arms. Human beings come first.”
Rawat’s warmongering has been frequently condemned by Indian politicians as well and some of them had to face strong reaction from extremists within Indian civil-military establishment. Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit sparked off a controversy in June 2017 when he attacked General Rawat by calling him a “sadak ka gunda” (roadside thug). “..it feels bad when our own army chief speaks like a ‘sadak ka gunda,” he said while commenting on the General’s aggressive statements. Dikshit later apologized after his Congress party distanced itself from his remarks.
Rawat was also condemned by leaders of India’s Muslim minority for giving political statements against one of their political parties. Earlier in February this year, he sparked a political row with his remarks that the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), which champions the Muslim community’s cause, had been growing faster than the BJP in Assam because of the support of Muslims, with Pakistan and China pushing Bangladeshi migrants into India’s northeast to destabilize it.
Gen Bipin Rawat had recently said in an interview that it would have been easier for the armed forces if the protesters in Kashmir were firing weapons instead of throwing stones.