Charles Duhigg, writing in his ‘Power of Habit’, casually refers to a ‘habit loop’ – a cognitive mechanism that human beings slip into – where an environmental cue automatically leads to a behavioral routine. Pakistan’s consistent denial of its misdemeanors against India are illustrative of this idea. The persistent state of denial has strangled development of a two-way, transparent communication process and roadblocked confidence building. In yesterday’s incident, the bodies of two Indian soldiers on patrol near the Indian Line of Control (LoC) were found in a mutilated state. Strangely, the incident arrives on the back of constant engagement of Indian forces by Pakistani forces over the last week. A startled Indian Government demanded accountability and answers from Pakistan; yet a cold denial was what India could extricate. Pakistan has indeed slipped into a habitual loop of denial: Hafiz Saeed’s involvement, State-fostered terror, Abu Jundal, and many more. Rehman Malik’s visit to India merely underlined this habit.
The LoC, heavily fenced in some parts and porous in the other has come to define my memory of Jammu and Kashmir, an erstwhile princely State that spanned both sides of the LoC. The LoC, apart from reminding India about its naive approach to a nascent UN in 1948 also reminds about international inefficiency. Troops from India and Pakistan are stationed across the lines at intervals, on crests and troughs, some merely meters apart from the other, and some miles apart. Figure 1 depicts that increased vigil by India has served to keep infiltration attempts under check. In December, the Home Minister noted that successful infiltration attempts had trickled down along the Indo – Pak border. Pakistan, he stated, were yet to take any initiatives to flush out terrorists and dismantle their camps. The LoC is a misnomer and a line that is hardly in control. (As on December 2012, there were 2500 militants and 25 terror training camps in PoK alone)
As stern as we wish India’s response be to this unceremonious killing, it should not undercut the larger framework of peace building. India, already and appreciably, has delinked dialogue and terrorism with Pakistan. India’s disbelief will be compounded by Pakistan’s reluctance to thaw bilateral relations. The winds of geo-politics also seem to blow Pakistan’s way. Pakistan is likely to draw encouragement from its clout with two big players in Asia and the Pacific: the USA and China. Proposals that seek to place Pakistan in an Iran-like scenario by imposing economic sanctions or trade blockades is rather amusing.
India should clearly be guided by its strategic interests: building peace with Pakistan. Therefore, whenever a flicker of opportunity for peace building between the two nations arises, India should take the initiative for bettering ties. A series of unfortunate events should not trigger retaliation or military escalation nor reduce the scale and nature of engagements with Pakistan. Charles Duhigg in his book provides reasons for optimism when he infers that the ‘habit loop’ can be changed. As soon as one understands how habits can be rebuilt, the loop can be broken down. Optimism, not idealism should drive us forward.