Darkness At Noon


By B.G. Verghese

The contretemps over the recent incidents on the LOC have assumed an Alice in Wonderland quality. The issue was deplorably handled by the Government with inter-departmental misspeak at the cost of coherence and the national interest. The varying versions put out gave Pakistan ample wriggle-room for plausible deniability that it promptly exploited. Simultaneously it put the Army in the wrong thus damaging both its credibility and morale and gave a handle to habitual Government baiters to up the domestic political ante and project a nation divided at a time when the situation demanded national solidarity.

The episode demonstrated once again the utter lack of a sensible structure and doctrine of communications. In an information age and instant world this constitutes a major security liability with spokesmen singing from different pages of the music. This appalling folly manifests itself in moments of crisis time and again. No lessons have been learnt and communications – the first information report on which all governance and diplomacy rests and around which public opinion is shaped – is repeatedly muddled. But so used have we become to muddling through, often on our knees, that nobody cares. The issue is not clearly understood and is therefore not even discussed.

The irresponsible and subjective quotient of a section of the media, both print and, especially, electronic, rises to dangerously chauvinistic levels with insistent demands in raucously conducted panel discussions for instant, public disclosure of what the Army or Government intends to do to give a fitting reply to all and sundry.  This just days after a high level gathering of institutional media monitors solemnly resolved that despite repeated breaches the promise of self-regulation by the media is sufficient warrant to ensure good conduct. The notion that freedom of expression is unregulated in all good democracies is a fallacy. India is exceptional in its laissez faire attitude towards the media, barring the reasonable restrictions enjoined by Article 19(2) which is frequently observed in the breach. Self-regulation is good but not enough for setting the threshold for responsible journalism. That threshold must be defined by law, with self-regulation posting higher standards. Driving fast requires good brakes, else disaster looms.

The other refrain heard after the LOC incident was that the PM must not meet Nawaz Sharif as this would be bending before the bully. Why? Dr Manmohan Singh is going to New York next month to attend the UN General Assembly and not solely or specifically to meet Nawaz Sharif. However, since the new Pakistani PM will also be there, the idea of a meeting of the two on the sidelines was mooted. Though Nawaz Sharif’s soothing words before and after assuming office about building a new relationship with India may have been belied – not on account of his own volition but since he is not in control of the Army or the jihadis – should the peace-building process be questioned or even (temporarily) abandoned?The jibe that Manmohan Singh kow-towed to Pakistan at Shram  el- Sheikh  by agreeing formally to inscribe Balochistan as an item of discussion is mistaken. Challenging Pakistan to provide credible evidence of current or recent interference by India in that province has in fact embarrassed Islamabad as it has been unable to do so.

At the end of the day, false atmospherics apart, the fact of a meeting is not necessarily as important as the content of that meeting.  Dr Manmohan Singh might well and, indeed, should tell Nawaz Sharif quite bluntly that Pakistan cannot talk, let alone make, peace by talking and making war which is what cross-border terror implies. He should ask the Pakistani PM to walk his talk and say he understands that the latter is walking a tightrope but is willing to offer him any reasonable safety net, but cannot accept constant blows from his balancing staff. Hafeez Saeed, a UN listed terrorist with a price on his head, is not a pious preacher and philanthropist but a wanted criminal who preaches hate, jihad and war from major fora and on the streets. Surely hate speech and blatant incitement to violence, as on completely bogus Indus water “theft” charges that have recently touched a new crescendo, is a crime even under Pakistani civil law? The in camera 26/11 trial in Rawalpindi’s high security prison has stalled as judges and lawyers fear for their lives.

The Pakistan Army’s jibe that those involved in the latest LOC incident were probably unknown“freedom fighters”, some of them in fancy dress as at Kargiland time and again before and since, is nonsense. None can approach the LOC from the Pakistan side, let alone intrude across it to reach the anti-infiltration fence constructed up to 100 or more metres inside Indian territory, without the knowledge and connivance of the Pakistan Army.No innocent trespass is possible here.

It is not improbable that the Pakistan Army is getting ideologically divided. A professional element possibly realises that permanent war against an Indian bogey by promoting Islamic radicalism and empowering medieval zealots is destroying the nation. On the other side is an upcoming radicalised “bearded” officer cadre that nurses caliphate ambitions and sees an opportunity to win J&K and realise that dream in league with the Taliban after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The naming of General Kayani’s successor as army chief in the next few months may indicate which way the wind is blowing. At this juncture it is important that India signal that moderation couldmean not just survival but progress within a peaceful and cooperative regional framework for a Pakistanstruggling to put down democratic roots even as it is torn asunder by self-inflicted sectarian strife, economic bankruptcy and administrative breakdown.

At home, the crude, communal and criminalised politics of the Akhilesh Yadav Samajwadi Party  government spells danger to national integrity not least through the deliberate wrecking of its already-weakened administrative framework. The campaign of vilification and intimidation unleashed against a young, honest and courageous IAS officer standing up to the sand mining mafia is dirty and dastardly. Durga Shakti Nagpal is not alone.Many of her colleagues in other states are under similar pressure, not least the intrepid Ashok Khemka. This Rajasthan IAS officer is paying the price for exposing what  are prima facie criminal land deals by Robert Vadra, under the cover of his (not Mahatma) Gandhi family connections that his political superiors would rather leave alone.  

And in Gujarat, the additional DG CID (Crime and Railways), P.P Pandey, under investigation for alleged complicity in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, was absconding from court for three months. He was then was carried to a CBI court on July 29 on a stretcher with a nurse and two symbolic Muslim stretcher-bearers, only to go missing again. The court should now try the case ex parte and place him under judicial custody as a proclaimed offender. The continuing effort to thwart justice in the entire Gujarat -2002 and related cases thereafter is shocking. The Modi justice model mocks the Modi development modelprojected by a would-be prime minister!


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