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July 12, 1999
Government remains wary of mujahideen
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Senior officials of the external affairs ministry today commended the government's decision not to take at face value Pakistan's declaration about withdrawing its forces from the Indian side of the Line of Control because Islamic fundamentalist outfits might yet defy Islamabad.
Referring to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's statement at the benefit match for armed forces personnel yesterday, they said that having been deceived once, the government would continue with its military operations till all the intruders are driven back.
They stressed that Islamabad's next step on the conflict should be carefully monitored.
Explaining their apprehensions, the officials said information received from Pakistan indicates that the armed forces are not too happy with the government's decision to withdraw.
They emphasised that this is the first time Pakistan Army soldiers disguised as mujahideen (Islamic warriors) have been decisively defeated in Kashmir. In case the Pakistani armed forces accept defeat, the ideological framework on which they have been nurtured for the last decade or so will collapse. Kashmir will no longer be a holy war to be fought by so-called Islamic militias.
The way events have unfolded clearly indicates that the Pakistani forces were unable to keep their word in terms of keeping the supply lines open for the intruders to fight their way out.
Besides, the intruders have suffered heavy losses, with almost 700 men being killed and a substantial amount of arms and ammunition being captured. All this indicates the total failure of Pakistan's 'Operation Akhri Badla' (final revenge).
Going by the example of Afghanistan (the Taliban offensive in 1993) and the Mazar-e-Sharief offensive of 1997, most of the infiltrators are unlikely to accept the defeat so easily. On both those occasions, the extremists had rearmed themselves and launched counter-attacks. So the officials said a similar situation in Kargil cannot be ruled out.
To what extent the political leadership in Islamabad is able to control the extremists remains to be seen. The Pakistani political leadership has always talked in terms of a broad-based government while the militias backed by the armed forces and the Inter-Services Intelligence have pursued their own agenda.
If a similar reaction takes place in the Kashmir valley now, the Nawaz Sharief government's escape route is ready: it can plead lack of control over the intruders.
Asked about American newspaper columnist William Safire's recent report that Pakistan was anxious to end the Kargil conflict because of India's alleged preparations to launch a nuclear strike, the officials said it appeared to be a repeat of reports in 1990 about a possible nuclear war between India and Pakistan on Kashmir.
The 1990 report had been contradicted and called a figment of the imagination by the army chiefs of the two countries, General V N Sharma and General Mirza Aslam Beg. Therefore, a similar theory being propounded by the columnist in 1999 is being considered 'lop-sided' in diplomatic circles in Delhi.
The officials pointed out that it is quite well known that in the event of a nuclear strike by Pakistan, the Indian retaliation will be so massive and total as to result in the "automatic removal" of Pakistan from the map. Therefore, Pakistani generals know that using nuclear weapons against India is not an option.
Secondly, the Pakistani ability to launch a nuclear strike is still in doubt. The key element for such strike is thought to be still in Chinese hands, and China is not keen to have a nuclear war on its border.
India on its part has already declared that it will never be the first to use nuclear weapons in any circumstances. Therefore, Safire's theory that China had warned Pakistan about India's readiness to strike with nuclear weapons should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves, the officials said.
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