Donít shun the peace process, trust it for now

The beheading of an Indian soldier on the Line of Control on Tuesday brings back the chilling memory of a picture that appeared in Pakistani newspapers in 2000 ó that of Ilyas Kashmiri's men holding up the decapitated head of an Indian soldier like a trophy.

With Pakistani regulars involved in this week's incident, the likelihood of a repeat in the coming days is remote. But the incident does show that the Pakistan Army refuses to give up certain practices ó mutilation, as the most ghastly way to deliver a hard message, being one of them.

How should India react? The first instinct is to reflect the public anger, which was done all of Wednesday through official diplomatic channels. Pakistan shot back with not just a denial, but also a suggestion to bring in UN observers to verify their version.

India ceased to be a member of the UN Security Council on January 1, while Pakistan continues to be there. In the last few months, the government in Islamabad has come under sharp criticism for soft pedalling the Kashmir issue with India. That was the provocation for Islamabad to hurriedly get Hurriyat leaders over for discussions last month. Now hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani wants a passport, ostensibly to got to Pakistan and offer condolences on the death of Syed Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the former head of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Very quickly, the matter has acquired a diplomatic impetus that seeks to shift the debate to the old subject of third party involvement. This needs to be avoided. The ceasefire is the most important confidence building measure, and if it is under threat, then faith must be placed on mechanisms set up to deal with such situations.

The DGMOs' communication channel and local commander contacts are available options that need to be given a proper chance first. The two armies, as keepers of the ceasefire, need to discuss and address the issue at the functional level. Perhaps, even look ahead and come up with better rules of engagement on the LoC. In short, rather than shunning the peace process, it may be useful to trust it for the moment.

Pranab is a deputy editor based in Delhi

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