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June 14, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ Dr Michael Krepon

'Pakistan's future is up in the air'

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Dr Michael Krepon, president of the Henry L Stimson Center, has a keen interest in confidence-building measures to reduce tensions and promote reconciliation in South Asia.

In an e-mailed interview with Archana Masih, he expresses his assessment of the situation in Kargil and the India-Pakistan equation.

What has been your assessment of the military operation in Kargil?

This operation is deeply disturbing on many levels. The Government of Pakistan cannot pursue military initiatives of this sort while pursuing diplomatic initiatives like the Lahore Declaration. Pakistan has to choose, and its choice will speak volumes about its future course as a nation. This operation also suggests that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief has no one around him who can bravely offer him sage advice.

The Indian government has said the bodies of six soldiers that were returned to India on June 10 were badly mutilated. Would you agree that in view of such excesses, India should have only agreed to talks with Sartaj Aziz if Pakistan agreed to the withdrawal of the infiltrators?

Mutilization of soldiers killed on the field of battle is utterly reprehensible. But I would not automatically assume that this is the handiwork of Pakistani soldiers.

There is a feeling in India that the government has instructed the armed forces to take a 'soft approach' in dealing with the problem. Instead, India should be brutal in flushing the infiltrators, even if that requires attacking Pakistan at another frontier -- from the Rajasthan border. Would that be more effective in driving out the intruders?

This sounds like the kind of escalation that would have a galvanizing effect on the international community.

Certain Indian commentators also maintain that India has had a traditional 'goody-goody' attitude towards military adventurism from Pakistan. It happened when India accepted the unilateral ceasefire in 1971 when it could have regained lost territory, also in the Hazratbal crisis when the intruders were allowed free passage out of the mosque. What are your views on this assumption?

It seems to me that the Indian Army and Air Force have been tasked with brutally difficult assignments, which they are carrying out in a highly professional manner. From this distance, I see nothing remotely resembling a "goody-goody" attitude by the Government of India.

Would it be correct to term the intruders as Pakistan-supported-infiltrators? The Indian government believes they are largely Pakistan army regulars supported by Afghan rebels. Do you think the Pakistan army would get personally involved with such a risky adventure?

Clinton administration officials have described these militants as infiltrators and I have no reason to question this assertion. I also believe, with great reluctance, that an operation of this size and scope requires the equipment, logistical, and communications support, as well as planning, of the Pakistan military and intelligence service.

In your understanding of the India-Pakistan equation, can this be regarded as a deliberate attempt by Pakistan to alter the Line of Control?

I would see this as a deliberate attempt to raise the profile of the Kashmir issue internationally and to engage third-country involvement. By seizing and holding ground on the Indian side of the LoC, even temporarily, Pakistan embarrasses India and scores a domestic victory. At present, the United States, the European Union, Japan, and China have decided not to "reward" Pakistan for this military initiative by calling for third party or UN involvement. If this situation escalates further, however, third parties would have to reconsider their positions.

In your assessment, what would be the motivation for the Pakistanis to alter the LoC at this point of time, when it has largely been respected for the last 51 years? Could it be to provoke India into war, and lead to eventual international mediation in the Kashmir issue?

I do not believe Pakistan has an interest in another war with India. The motivations I have listed above are more limited in nature.

Defence Minister George Fernandes has said the Pakistan army acted independent of the Nawaz Sharief government and the ISI. Do you believe this can be true?


Is it possible the current crisis was caused by Pakistan army officers who were unhappy with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief's diplomacy -- as you will remember, they would not go to Wagah to greet Prime Minister Vajpayee -- and determined to derail the peace process if the Lahore visit could be called that?

Civil-military relations have changed in Pakistan over the past year. The old construct of complete Pakistani military autonomy needs to be reconsidered, in my view. There are also new figures at GHQ in Pindi at the CoAS and CGS positions, who are different from their predecessors.

In your understanding of the Indian and Pakistan armies, do you believe the Pakistan army has an agenda to dismember a part of India -- Punjab at first, then Kashmir -- as India did to East Pakistan?

No. My discussions with senior Pakistani officers suggest nothing of this sort.

How would you describe the men currently at the helm of the Pakistan army? Are they men driven by their faith? Are they good soldiers, or are they Islamic renegades?

The new CoAS is a man of action and the new Chief of General Staff is a God-fearing man. They are both highly decorated, professional officers. They are also good soldiers. I am not sure they have a good grasp of international politics, however.

Commentators in India say the Lahore Declaration was a Trojan Horse to disguise the Pakistan government's real intentions to foment trouble across the LoC. Would you agree?

I think it would be a tragic mistake for Indian political leaders to jettison the Lahore work plan. I would also be careful about concluding that this government in Pakistan has a long-range, master plan. This is a country that does not have a coherent plan for the future, in my view. Pakistan could go either way in the years ahead -- toward never-ending tension with India and Talibanisation at home, or toward democratic development and peaceful coexistence.

Recent developments in Pakistan are obviously disturbing in this regard. Lahore points in one direction; Kargil the other. Pakistan's future is up in the air. I can well understand why people in India would feel outraged by current events at the LoC. But for India to reject Lahore as a result would be to ensure more Kargils in the future.

In your opinion, how has India projected its case to the United States and the Western world on the Kargil issue? Do you think the US is finally willing to see India as the country wronged, which is trying to protect its territorial integrity? Do you think there is concern in Washington about Pakistan's intentions, especially in the light of the Cox report?

Washington and many other capitals -- perhaps most importantly Beijing -- have supported India's contention that the Kashmir issue should be solved in bilateral discussions. This places a burden on Pakistan to cease and desist along the LoC. It also places a burden on India -- if and when serious talks with Pakistan resume on substantive issues -- to take initiatives in a bilateral context to move this issue toward political resolution.

Do you see international mediation in the Kashmir issue as inevitable? If yes, how soon do you see this happening?

I can foresee a new push toward mediation if there is new escalation.

How long do you think the process of flushing out intruders will take?

This question should be directed at South Block.

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