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June 11, 1999
T V R Shenoy
Let Pakistan continue to bleed
According to the Mahabharata, when Damayanti fell in love with Nala, the gods tested her. Three of them assumed the same form as him, challenging her to distinguish the man from the immortals. She prayed to Parvati for help. "Look at them carefully," the goddess advised her, "The feet of a god shall never touch the earth, their eyes are unblinking, and they cast no shadow."
It proved to be sage advice. Is it possible that the ancient myth holds any relevance at all for our day? Well, perhaps not entirely, but I am told that there are lessons to be learned by looking at the feet of Pakistanis. Not so much the limbs, but the shoes which cover them. And therein lies a story.
Kargil is several thousand feet above sea-level. At those altitudes, snow is an ever-present factor, meaning it is absolutely essential to have snow-shoes. Now, with more men being rushed into Kargil, the Indian army needs snow-shoes in far greater quantity than before. These, however, are not easily available. The best commercial source happens to be in distant Austria. When the Indian authorities spoke to the Austrians, they stumbled upon an interesting fact -- several months ago, Pakistan had placed an order for 50,000 pairs.
This is not definitive proof, of course. It is possible that (a) the Pakistan army suddenly developed an interest in trekking, or (b) that our beloved neighbours didn't equip the invaders. But let us be serious -- does anyone really believe such stories? Scarcely!
However, offering proof of Pakistani complicity and actually getting rid of the militants are two different matters. Military history suggests it is easier to stage a sneak attack than to recapture territory. In August 1914, the German armies captured thirteen French provinces; it took the Allies four years to wrest them back. In six months, starting in December 1941, the Japanese ran over Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, and Singapore; it took four years to regain them. Does that mean that the positions in Kargil won't be recaptured soon? (If not as long as four years!)
I am afraid so. I am told the Indian army is prepared for the long haul rather than a brutally brief eviction. It has also been decided that there shall be no attempt to give Pakistan a dose of its own medicine. Why is this so when the prime minister has stated there shall be no let-up in military activity until every inch of soil is free once more?
The first reason is it has been decided that there should be no more casualties than are absolutely necessary. The army has the manpower and the equipment to make short work of the invaders. If so desired, the militants can be swamped under sheer weight of numbers. But it will be an incredibly bloody affair, with the death-count rising rapidly by the minute. Nobody in Delhi cares a fig for the loss of Pakistani lives, but they are chary about Indian blood being spent. The thinking is that it is better to do the job slowly -- as long as it is done effectively.
If concern over the loss of lives is one concern, what is the other? India's standing in the world, to put it very simply. As discussed in this column last week India finds herself in the agreeable position of being tacitly supported by every major power. There have been discreet messages of understanding and promises of non-interference. But, at the same time, there have been equally polite messages "hoping" India respects the Line of Control.
The temptation of giving Pakistanis a taste of their own tactics is admittedly alluring. In past conflicts, that country always tried to open up a second front when the initial thrust started falling short. In 1965, a conflict that began in the Rann of Katch ended up several hundred miles north. In 1971, Pakistan tried to relieve pressure in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by bombing airfields in Punjab.
But what does India gain by occupying Pakistani territory other than momentary satisfaction? As Pakistan is finding out, sneak attacks are one thing, hanging on to captured land is quite another. By invading, we shall offer hostages to fortune -- we can neither stay on without spending money and men, nor retreat without loss of face.
Let Pakistan continue to bleed -- literally and in economic terms -- as much as it wants, losing global sympathy as it goes. Politically, it makes more sense for the Vajpayee ministry to go in for a quick solution. But if moving slowly but surely makes more sense -- both by saving lives and in strategic terms -- I for one won't try to play the armchair-general.
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