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LINE OF FIRE

Intermittent exchange of fire, followed by flag marches and meetings between top officers of the two armies — although the nation is yet to recover from the shock of the brutal killings of the two soldiers on the Line of Control, the Indian army has had to give in to a business most usual on India’s perilous borders with Pakistan. There is no ambiguity in this call of duty, to which, despite the anger and heartbreak, the men in uniform have responded unfailingly. The call of duty is less clear for the men without uniform. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has declared that there cannot be “business as usual” with Pakistan unless the guilty are brought to book. Mr Singh’s unusually stern statement goes against the grain of his earnest policy to promote India-Pakistan ties. Of course, it is natural for the prime minister to reflect the anguish and hurt felt by the people, but there is also a nagging worry that refuses to go away. It is the Opposition that has set the tone of India’s response by calling for ‘an eye for an eye’ and ten heads in exchange of one. The shrillness of its campaign has even lured the army into publicly declaring its readiness for battle. Despite condemning such jingoism, the government itself seems to have, almost subconsciously, risen to the bait. Pakistan’s sportsmen have been sent back and without much ado, the implementation of the visa agreement has been put on hold.

There is nothing to suggest that Pakistan would have upset its behavioural pattern by claiming responsibility and helping Mr Singh keep bilateral ties on track. Its steadfast refusal to punish the perpetrators of 26/11 has long forced Mr Singh to step back from his position at Sharm el-Sheikh, where he had pledged to walk the extra mile. Yet the fact remains that by giving in to war-mongering, India is allowing itself to be led by forces inimical to peace on either side of the border. The escalation of the border conflict is perhaps only part of a larger game set to unfold with the drawdown in 2014 in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the political fraternity in India seems preoccupied with the 2014 elections. Mr Singh’s threat to suspend the peace process with Pakistan reflects a desperate gambit of the Congress to prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party from running away with the first prize for patriotism.