Above the din

On Pakistan, noise cannot be allowed to guide policy, or appear to do so

The flaring of tensions along the Line of Control, and the killing and mutilation of Indian soldiers, have angered many in this country. They have also caused sections of the commentariat and the political establishment to seemingly lose their sense of proportion. Television anchors and opinion-makers have egged each other on to make more sweeping, increasingly jingoistic proclamations, calling into question the very foundation of India's Pakistan policy that recognises both countries' mutual stakes in peace. Almost ten years of the ceasefire along the LoC (despite the recent strains on it) has allowed the bilateral relationship to focus attention on issues of trade and travel rather than the old contentions of Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek, and obviated a case for external mediation. This dialogue with Pakistan's civilian leadership is one of the big achievements of the UPA and therefore it is more the pity that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Zardari have failed to sustain the momentum in the last couple of relatively eventless years. The resulting drift has brought on a situation where noise is able to lead policy, or give an appearance of doing so. On Tuesday, Manmohan Singh, who, in his years as prime minister, has been personally invested in calm conversation between the two countries, declared that it "cannot be business as usual" with Pakistan. On the same day, the planned visa-on-arrival for elderly Pakistani citizens was put on hold.

The BJP has evidently decided this is the moment to look tough, and fallen over the line separating strength from vengefulness. Sushma Swaraj demanded "ten heads" from Pakistan for the killing of Hemraj. Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena has stayed true to its patented tradition of petty vindictiveness, making sure that Pakistani hockey players are unable to play in Mumbai; they have been asked to return to Pakistan.

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