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June 14, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Rajeev Srinivasan

Kargil: The China Connection

Himalayan Blunder, Reprise

There is one thing that the Indian armed forces did that I hope was a calculated risk -- not seeking hot pursuit into Pakistani territory. It must have been tempting to retaliate by opening up a new front. But then this could have followed the war game scenarios beloved of the United States Army War College's Center for Strategic Leadership:

  1. Tensions in Kashmir; Indians in hot pursuit of Pakistani-supported guerillas enter Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
  2. Pakistan moves mechanised divisions and long-range artillery from Lahore to the Line of Control, and cuts some of the Kashmir corridors, Pathankot-Jammu, Jammu-Srinagar and Srinagar-Leh. Pakistani guerillas with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles threaten to cut Srinagar and Leh off completely.
  3. India opens a second front by moving towards Lahore and deep into Pakistani territory.
  4. Both parties attack each others' military airfields; India attempts a lightning strike using commandos and air power to destroy the Pakistani nuclear stockpile, but fails.
  5. Pakistan retaliates by using nuclear weapons; this takes place within 12 days of the initial attacks.

Other Pentagon scenarios include the involvement of the Americans as 'peacekeepers' and Iran on the Pakistani side. Strangely, the scenarios don't seem to involve Chinese participation, although one would have thought that would be obvious -- China to the support of its cats-paw Pakistan.

Pakistani tactics have been a carbon-copy of their tried-and-tested ''invasions by tribals.'' In 1948, Pakistani army regulars invaded Jammu and Kashmir disguised as ''Pathan tribesmen spontaneously rising up.''

In 1996-97, Pakistani army regulars invaded Afghanistan disguised as ''Islamic seminary students,'' also known as the Taliban. Imagine, ''Islamic students'' flying F-16s and driving tanks!

In 1999, Pakistani army regulars invade Kargil disguised as ''guerillas and Kashmiri freedom fighters.''

As was abundantly clear in the Afghan campaign, these Pakistani soldiers indulge in terrorism. They will use terror tactics to demoralise their foes and in particular the civilian population. But they are also vulnerable to a determined and clever counter-attack, as Ahmed Shah Masood has demonstrated from his mountain fastnesses in the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan.

What is the proper counter-tactic? I don't know. But it is pretty clear that those of Semitic religions believe in extreme terror as a tactic: this is what invading Muslims have done everywhere; Christians during the Inquisition, the conquest of the Americas, and the Jewish Holocaust; and Marxists in the age of the Gulag, in Cambodia, and now in Tibet and Xinjiang. Not to forget Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.

Force is the language the Pakistanis and their Afghan and Arab mercenaries understand. Instead, India, like a shrinking violet, treats them with gentlemanly restraint. Chivalry is seen as an admission of weakness -- and encourages the Pakistanis to redouble their efforts.

Remember the Afghan Mahmud of Ghori, beaten but chivalrously let go by Prithviraj Chauhan seventeen times? He came back, and when he got his first chance, defeated, blinded and murdered Chauhan in 1192 CE at the Battle of Tarain.

Similarly, the troubles in Jammu and Kashmir escalated only after the terrorists were able to blackmail the government. In 1989, Rubaiya Sayeed was kidnapped by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front -- they wished to exchange her for a number of their jailed compatriots.

As Manoj Joshi details in Lost Rebellion: Kashmir in the Nineties , (Penguin India, 1999, Rs 295), an excellent analysis of what happened in the state, this was a trial balloon by the JKLF, who were in fact on the point of releasing her unconditionally when a fatal mistake was made by 'progressives.'

A Union Cabinet committee consisting of that notorious 'progressive' I K Gujral, along with Arif Mohammed Khan and Arun Nehru made the fateful decision to release five jailed terrorists. Prime Minister V P Singh went along with this. Predictably, this ''famous victory'' made it appear to the terrorists that India was vulnerable; and encouraged them to escalate the uprising and to adopt kidnapping as a regular tactic.

Symmetrically, the government refused to release various jailed Harkat-ul-Ansar insurgents after the 1994 abduction of Western tourists; even though they are missing and presumed dead after five years, there have been few cases of kidnapping since -- the terrorists got the message. Incidentally, Joshi believes the five white men were murdered some time in late 1995.

At bottom, it is a matter of will and resolve. If the government shows its implacable intent to not give in to terrorists, then they are unlikely to undertake risky and fruitless missions.

This is where the 'progressive' breast-beating and hand-wringing becomes an issue of treason, even if it is unwitting. Their endless doubts and raising of the nuclear bogey and willingness to cede territory for an elusive peace all lead to the enemy's concluding that India's resolve to fight is weak. This is the time, I repeat, for all Indians to commit to the defence of the country; recriminations can come later.

4. Propaganda failure: This is the biggest failure, in my opinion. India has a very strong case in Kashmir, but it has never taken this to the world, nor jumped up and down shouting from the rooftops about how it is right and how its enemies are wrong. In the era of the sound-bite, this is a colossal mistake. For instance:

  1. The accession of Kashmir to India is completely legal. Questioning this, as that noxious American Robin Raphel used to do, is completely unwarranted and uncalled for. It is pretty much as legal or as illegal as the accession of Louisiana or Alaska to the US, and clearly more legal than the annexation of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California by the US from a helpless Mexico in the 1840s.
  2. The famous 'plebiscite' resolution of the UN Security Council has an interesting pre-requisite -- that Pakistan pull out its troops from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and restore the status quo ante of 1947 before any such referendum can be held. Pakistan -- and its supporters, the US and China -- conveniently disregard this critical clause. Pakistan must leave PoK to Kashmiris before any plebiscite. As Arvind Lavakare pointed out in his excellent series, this little detail is never brought up.
  3. Just as Han Chinese have demographically swamped Tibet, Punjabi Pakistanis have been settled in such large numbers in PoK that the people of Gilgit, Baltistan, Hunza etc have been reduced to small minorities in their own homelands. Contrast this to the way India has prevented any such migration from the Indian plains to Jammu and Kashmir. If settlement were encouraged in J&K, just as Jewish settlements have become a fait accompli in Palestine, the Kashmiri 'problem' might be solved quite easily.
  4. China's role: The fact that China illegally occupies one-fourth of J&K, the Aksai Chin area, seems to have got completely lost in the argument. China occupied about half of Ladakh, Indian Tibet, in 1962, and shows no sign of relinquishing it. Why is this acceptable?
  5. The ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits -- they have now been eliminated entirely from their homelands -- is never spoken of. This is no less reprehensible than the removal of Kosovars from their ancestral home. Why do the Pandits, now living in miserable conditions in refugee camps in Delhi, get no sympathy? Are they children of some lesser God?
  6. The murderous thugs who call themselves ''Kashmiri freedom-fighters'' are mostly Pakistani army regulars, or underemployed Afghan, Arab, and Sudanese mercenaries. They are merciless and cold-blooded killers. It is one thing for them to murder thousands of Indian Hindus.

    But even when they abducted five white men in 1994, ironically on July 4, that did not make it to the Western news media. Even when they brutally decapitated a poor Norwegian tourist, Christian Ostroe, the Indian PR apparatus did not swing into action.

    Why wasn't Ostroe's headless body carried on every television channel around the world, gaining the sympathy of the West? Remember the fuss made by the Americans when eighteen of their soldiers' corpses were dragged around Somalia by rebels?

  7. The general lack of smarts in psychological warfare against terrorists: For instance, even though a lot of former militants in J&K have surrendered and have in fact become counter-terrorists, none of them has been paraded in front of the world's television cameras to tell blood-curdling tales of Pakistani and other nations' support for state-sponsored terrorism. Similarly, even though plenty of terrorists are ''killed in encounters,'' why is it that none of them has been seen tearfully ''confessing'' things on television? A live terrorist is much more useful for propaganda than a dead terrorist.
  8. The dangerous Sino-Islamic axis that I detailed in my column The End of Nuclear Virginity: It is clear that the Chinese and Muslims are expecting a showdown against the West, specifically against America. And they are using India as a dress-rehearsal for their coming clash of civilisations. Like the US, India too is an open, democratic, and therefore vulnerable society; if India goes under, then the West can expect the terrorists to turn their attentions across the Pacific. People like the ultra-conservative US Senator Jesse Helms need to hear this message loud and clear.
  9. The unwillingness to use counter-terror propaganda. The Israelis, who have some experience in dealing with state-sponsored terrorism, threaten massive, punitive, and immediate counter-terrorism against the relatives of the terrorist. They are fighting the hardened, doctrinaire ideologue, who believes that his 'martyrdom' in killing 'infidels' will guarantee him heaven. Nevertheless, the Israelis reason, the would-be 'martyr' will be a little less keen if he knows that the Israelis will dynamite his home, forcing his mother to starve to death on the streets.

In addition to these missed opportunities that India has been muffing for many years, the PR reaction to the Kargil crisis has been nothing short of pathetic. For instance:

  1. The murder of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja: This went against all norms of the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war -- Ahuja was tortured and shot dead by Pakistanis. Why didn't this dastardly act get enormous publicity?

    Imagine if an American pilot had been murdered in similar circumstances by Serbs in Kosovo -- it would have justified, in American minds, the use of nuclear weapons there. Instead, India, it seems, ''protested strongly.''

    In an appalling example of incompetence, the post-mortem of Ahuja's body was not even done under the aegis of the Red Cross or the International Court of Justice. A senior fighter pilot, one of the most valuable military personnel, and India let him be killed with impunity!

  2. The medley of voices explaining the Indian stand -- why is there a ministry of external affairs spokesman, a defence ministry spokesman, an army spokesman, and an air force spokesman all holding separate, and sometimes mutually contradictory press conferences? There should be a single authorised individual who speaks for the government, all arms of it.
  3. Officials shooting their mouth off -- Defence Minister George Fernandes hurt his credibility by (a) exonerating Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief, (b) appearing to offer ''safe passage'' to the entrenched militants. ''Safe passage'' would only make sense if India were to take a page from the terrorists' own books, promise them safe withdrawal, and then shoot them as they tried to withdraw.
  4. Where is the palpable evidence of Pakistani involvement? Surely there are the documents, the satellite pictures, the confessions of captured militants? Without some documentary evidence, it is all mere hearsay. Why exactly is the Indian side claiming there is copious evidence without producing it? Why this coyness? It couldn't possibly be classified information -- it needs to be broadcast all over.
  5. The sufferings of the civilian population of Kargil, Drass, Batalik and the surrounding areas -- these are mostly Shia Muslim and Buddhist civilians who have been forced to abandon their homes and become refugees huddled in makeshift camps. Isn't this just about as heart-rending as the plight of the Kosovar refugees streaming out of Serbia? Aren't the Pakistanis, by implication, as villainous as today's anointed Great Satan Slobodan Milosevic?

India needs desperately to cultivate the art of marketing and packaging itself in suitable sound-bites so that its side of the story can be heard. India starts off with massive handicaps -- the average westerner is severely biased against India based on prejudices.

One is religious prejudice -- the average Christian can understand the average Muslim, as their religions are practically identical; but Hinduism is the baffling Other. Another aspect is the picture of appalling negatives which the Indian press, as Francois Gautier pointed out in the Hindustan Times on May 11, revels in painting.

5. Who's behind all this? The $ 64,000 question -- who gains from this exercise in futility -- brave men dying for a few snow-bound mountain peaks? Of course, the Pakistani Army, whose raison d'etre is aggression against India. Various Islamic fundamentalists, now that they are a little under-employed in Afghanistan.

But for my money, the prime suspect is China. For, by investing a small amount -- say $ 50 million in arming and supplying the Pakistanis, who will then spill their blood for the glory of God -- the Chinese succeed in 'containing' India, the only nation in the region that has the capability in the long run to challenge China's dominance.

It is a terrific return on investment, and China has the money to spare -- their huge foreign exchange reserves of $ 110 billion or so can sustain Pakistani lunacy for quite a long time. At a very low cost to China itself, it is able to cripple India. Diabolically clever, indeed.

Of course, India should return the favour -- by arming Uighur separatists in China's restless Xinjiang, and by providing Taiwan with nukes and missiles. But India seems too weak-willed to do this.

But in the end, India has to resolve, to paraphrase that old racist Winston Churchill: "We shall go on to the end; we shall fight in Kashmir, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air; we shall defend our land, whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the mountains, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the valleys; we shall never give in."

Rajeev Srinivasan

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