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The Rediff Special/Wing Commander (retd) R V Parasnis

The Great Betrayal

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Only as long as one keeps one's self-respect, does one achieve success, good name and prosperity and only then is he worthy of being called a man. -- an ancient adage.

While brave young men are dying to free their country from the aggression of a resolute enemy, our defence minister announced a willingness to give the intruders a safe passage back. Rather shocking announcement this and it amounts to stabbing our brave jawans in the back while they are engaged in fighting the enemy!

We, as young officers, often faced a question from our rustic soldiers in the aftermath of the Tashkent (1965) and Simla (1971) summits: "What did we shed our blood for, if all the area we fought and won was to be returned on a platter on the negotiation table?"

We were hard put to answer not just because a simple soldier does not understand political compulsions but also because we ourselves were not convinced about the logic regarding the return of at least the disputed territory, hard won with tremendous sacrifice.

Now, how would the present officer cadre explain this "safe passage" business to their men? If the soldiers lose their will to fight on account of such irresponsible statements, let me warn, the country may suffer an ignominious defeat, from which we may never recover.

As if the defence minister's statement was not enough, the prime minister had to repeat it at the press conference in Bombay after the commissioning of INS Mysore. Now both men are denying it and blaming the media for misquoting and/or quoting them out of context.

Incidentally, as a result of the defence minister's statement India has had to listen to some insulting arrogance of a puny terrorist outfit who from their safe haven in Pakistan asked as to who we were to offer them safe passage and that if we needed safe passage we could request them instead.

Whatever little I understand of 'negotiations' one is supposed to keep one's trump cards close to the chest, offer only little in return for greater spoils and thus eventually drive home a good bargain. In this case we have declared all our hands already.

''Safe passage'' is the maximum concession we can give. Beyond this we will have to surrender our own territory. And sure enough, thanks to this statement, Pakistan is now talking of the ''Line of Control not being clearly demarcated'' so that they can claim and retain some of the commanding heights they have occupied in the hills around Kargil. What a self-defeating game our government is playing!

Let me enumerate the errors made by this government. Firstly, it was the intelligence failure that gave us no advance warning of the Pakistani intentions, the planning, the training, the movement of the intruders and the occupation of our border posts.

Secondly, it was the vigilance failure on the part of our security agencies like the Border Security Force, the Indo Tibetan Border Police, the army and, of course, the Jammu and Kashmir police. The vigilance failure is also attributed to intelligence and reconnaissance agencies.

Thirdly, the decision-making failure. The government failed to give higher directions and quick decisions on the mode of driving out the intruders. The present decision is to recapture the lost posts without crossing the LoC.

This decision forces us to fight with one hand tied at the back causing heavy casualties and leaves the initiative in the enemy's hand. Also, by cautioning Nawaz Sharief that we will use army and air power our prime minister gave an advance warning about our intentions to the enemy.

Fourthly, the defence minister absolved the Pakistani government and the nefarious Inter-Services Intelligence from this intrusion, putting the entire blame on the Pakistani army. If the Pakistani army alone is to blame for this misadventure as per his view, then why does he not grant permission to our forces to smash the Pakistani army? After a few days he retracted his statement to put the ISI in cahoots with the army but continues to defend Sharief and his government.

Fifthly, he talked of giving safe passage to the intruding marauders and maintained that for two days only to retract the statement later by blaming the media for quoting him out of context.

Sixthly, the defence minister took two army generals and an air marshal for briefing a convention of a political party, bending set rules and norms.

Seventhly, the other important Cabinet ministers like the home minister and the foreign minister publicly accepted the Pakistani government's complicity in this sordid saga. Thus the various ministers are seen to give contradictory statements, displaying lack of cohesion in the Cabinet.

Lastly the government has not been able to counter Pakistani propaganda in the international arena.

Thus, it is quite clear that the government has not been able to face the present threat to national security effectively and that the prime minister appears to have no control over his ministers, who are all following their own agendas. While George Fernandes is drawing all the flak, there are reasons to suspect that he is voicing Atal Bihari Vajpayee's views.

In conclusion, this government deserves to be dismissed. Sadly, that cannot be done in a democracy. The least that can be done is what former prime minister I K Gujral has suggested: the President must question the government on Fernandes's fitness to hold the post of defence minister and have him dropped.

The need of the hour is punitive action to mete out exemplary punishment to Pakistan. We have tolerated enough mischief. Pakistan has waged proxy wars against us for two decades, first using the Khalistanis and then the Kashmiris and finally their own troops, the Islamic terrorists and mercenaries. We have lost thousands of our soldiers and innocent unarmed citizens, spent billions of rupees and lost a lucrative tourism trade in Kashmir valley forcing starvation on the Kashmiri populace. It is time we hit back and hard.

The international community is convinced that Pakistan is playing a dangerous game and have declined to bail out Pakistan in case of war. By now our preparation for offensive action should be complete. The terrain around the LoC is such that it prevents frontal assaults on the commanding heights in the possession of the intruders.

In any case in the hills, frontal assaults are expensive in terms of casualties. 'Hook tactics' are best suited but involve crossing of the LoC into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This permission must be granted to our armed forces so that the enemy's support bases can be attacked or cut off. That will also provide worthwhile targets for our air force. The intruders can then be truly isolated and forced to flee. It is always easy to eliminate the fleeing enemy.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz has stated that ''the 740-kilometre long LoC," which was considered sacrosanct by the two countries so far "is not clearly defined," thus making room for the intruders to make claims on our area.

Preposterous as the statement may be we can use it to our advantage. On the strength of the Pakistan foreign minister's statement let us permit our forces to cross the LoC. We need to capture a lot of area on the PoK side of the LoC to genuinely secure our lifeline to Leh.

In fact this may be the best opportunity to regain the entire PoK. Since they have intruded into our side of LoC, we have equal right to intrude into theirs. In any case Pakistan's government itself is claiming that the LoC is not clearly defined. So we should help them define it properly. If the risk of all-out war is inherent in this escalation then so be it. It is time Pakistan learnt a lesson they will not forget.

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