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May 28, 1999

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E-Mail this column to a friend Varsha Bhosle

Courage under fire

This article began as an attack on the Vajpayee government. To wit: Very admirable, this restraint. It won't do to drop bombs at random -- that's NATO's prerogative. However, the fact remains, we've been had. India was lulled into complacency by Atalji's bus diplomacy. What is the logic behind Mr Advani's waving the Lahore Declaration and its no-first-use clause in face of mujahideen infiltration? Why can't India use air power against hostile intruders within its own territory? Would we be traversing the globe to bomb civilians and embassies? I don't get it: Is the life of a jawan so cheap that it can be spared?! It's a war being waged out there. An army spokesman has just said it could cost months -- hundreds of lives. It's abundantly clear now that only the hawkish temperament can keep Pakistan at bay. "Nationalists," bah.

I finished shelling the government -- and India launched air strikes in Kargil. Nothing makes me happier than eating my preceding words. I'm relishing humble pie.

It ain't jingoism when Squadron Leader R K Dhingra says, "If we didn't start air strikes now, the consequences would be more severe. We must take possession of the areas on our side of the LoC." It's only realpolitik. By letting the infiltrators linger, the LoC could be altered to Pakistan's advantage. Kargil has witnessed action during the 1965 and 1971 wars; it dominates the Srinagar-Leh highway, the lifeline for the Indian division in Ladakh. And it's near Skardu, the base for Pakistani operations in Siachen. But, most importantly, a weak attitude would only encourage Pakistan to become more aggressive. Therefore, the aliens should be, not just contained, but wiped out. OK, that's gung-ho.

Air strikes are the beginning of every war, it's said. Air Commodore Subhash Bhojwani, director of offensive operations, has put the theory to rest by reiterating that the IAF would engage only on the Indian side of the LoC. BUT, if there's interference from Pakistan, "Indian defence forces are authorised to take appropriate action." Good. The government's emerged hard as nails, and the peace-ball has been put in Islamabad's court.

Nevertheless, there's one facet which disturbs me. I'd once said there's no such thing as Indian intelligence; I've been justified. Infiltration in the second-coldest inhabited place on Earth (first is Siberia), cannot commence overnight. It requires prior planning, high altitude acclimatisation of the troops, special equipment, ground reconnaissance, etc. That all this must have been at various stages of preparation even as Nawaz Sharief received Atalji at Wagah, is a foregone conclusion. What were our spooks doing? What were our defence strategists smoking? How did vital border posts remain unmonitored even as the snow began melting?

The lapse in security led to 680 irregulars entrenching in J&K, with about 400 more across the LoC waiting to sneak in. The intruders are 5 to 6 kms inside Indian territory and located in four pockets near Batalik, Drass, Kaksar and Mushko. Indian troops are trapped between the mercenaries strategically perched at heights of 17,000 feet and Pakistani artillery positions: When the troops try to scale the ridges, the mujahideen either fire at them or guide Pakistani guns to shell their positions. Heavy shelling across the borders, from Turtuk and Drass posts, continues unabated since a fortnight. The body-bags have started arriving: over 30 men have been killed since May 9. Meanwhile, combat has also erupted in the 77-km-long Siachen glacier.

The last edition of Jane's Defence Weekly said, 'The incursions by Afghan mercenaries in Drass-Kargil sector appears to be part of a plan... The incursion appears much bigger and more heavily armed than Indian authorities are letting out. It could well be aimed at cutting off the vital Srinagar-Leh Highway. Earlier, Pakistan's Army had pushed in mercenaries of the Lashkar-i-Taiba to dominate Indian posts along the Line of Control in Poonch and Rajouri sectors and to dig in their heels in areas overlooking the vital Jammu-Poonch Highway.'

Therein lies the rub. The highways.

In his path-breaking 1995 paper, Islamabad's Road Warriors, Yossef Bodansky (of The Freeman Center for Strategic Studies) wrote, 'Using the ISI's skills at running covert operations and irregular warfare -- skills honed and proven during the 1980s in the war in Afghanistan -- Islamabad has launched a major campaign to consolidate control over the Silk Road's traditional gateways to China. Fully aware of the major strategic importance of the regional transportation system, Islamabad sees in its control over these key segments of the regional road system, the key to its future and fortunes. Beijing's present and near-future grand strategy considers the revival of the Silk Road as a primary regional strategic entity. The on-land transportation system is of crucial significance to the consolidation of the Trans-Asian Axis -- Beijing's key to global power posture and strategic safety.'

I won't attempt to synopsise Mr Bodansky's paper -- it's too exhaustive. He details all the disruptive factors in the areas along the Silk Road, eg, the Tehran-led Islamic Bloc; the Taliban of Qandahar-Herat; the Harakat-ul-Ansar, Lashkar-e-Tayeba of Kashmir; the Islamic Jihad in Tajikistan. Everywhere, ISI involvement was immediately followed by a noticeable infusion of foreign "volunteers."

Mr Bodansky asserts that the laying of the Karakoram Highway between Pakistan's Northern Area and China's Kashgar was a strategic breakthrough for the two countries because it ensured a corridor that can withstand blockade even during intense warfare. If it dominates western gateways to China, Pakistan will be in a position to exert influence over the entire Trans-Asian Axis. Unfortunately, Islamabad had to confront the reality that the main portal to China passed through J&K. Pak has always coveted Kashmir, of course, but with the Silk Road project, the ISI's direct participation in militant insurgency intensified.

When India began discussing possible elections in J&K -- a process that would legitimise its sovereignty over the state -- Islamabad needed to not just postpone the elections, but escalate militancy to a point that would compel an Indian withdrawal. Thus, the ISI embarked on terrorist warfare throughout Kashmir. 'Most of these covert operations are conducted by loyal foreigners, including Afghans and Arabs, in order to ensure a semblance of deniability... Through the ISI's manipulations, Islamabad has transformed the Kashmiri struggle into a drive for Kashmir's unification with Pakistan... This is only natural considering that Islamabad's primary objective is to make Kashmir Pakistan-controlled so that the key transportation routes can be built in order to feed into the Silk Road.'

Question: Did Mr Bodansky write the paper to sate the curiosity of an idle elitist like me, or to benefit the savants who determine the defence strategy of this country? Do our duffers really believe Pakistan would halt or even reduce its extra-territorial operations? Since its inception, what has Pakistan done to deserve this confidence?

In December 1998, Pakistan's Lt Gen Sardar F S Lodi wrote a crucial defence paper called Security Concerns of Pakistan. Excerpts: '[India's occupation of J&K] prevented a land link between Pakistan and China... China which is India's largest neighbour has never shown any expansionist or hegemonic desire or designs... We are located astride the two land routes to Central Asia. Our Northern Area is in close proximity to China, Tajikistan (which still has Russian troops on its soil), and the Afghan Wakhan corridor. Our all-weather land route to China via the Karakoram Highway is the modern version of the old Silk Route, which is of considerable economic and strategic significance to the two countries and also the Central Asian States to the north.'

Do you see how justified and accurate Yossef Bodansky is?

Now add to it the fact that China is the source of Pakistan's arsenal. It has supplied Pakistan with nuclear bomb design and fuel; tritium gas for fission bombs; M-11 missile components; gas centrifuges to enrich uranium; helped build the Hatf missile; built the 300MW nuclear reactor at Chashma despite de facto international embargo; trained nuclear technicians; built a secret 50-70MW plutonium reactor at Khusab; supplied blueprints and equipment for a missile factory in Rawalpindi; supplied heavy water to Kanupp nuclear reactor, etc, etc...

Nothing has carried such adverse implications for India's security as Pakistan's acquisition of the Haft-5 or Ghauri from China. In a stroke, it made vulnerable India's strategic assets and civilian/industrial centres to Chinese and Pakistani missile strikes. And, it neutralised the key advantage we had over Pakistan -- the Agni. In April, Samar Mubarakmand, a nuclear scientist with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, rushed to Beijing -- just two days before he supervised the test firing of the medium-range Shaheen missile...

If that weren't enough, China has redeployed its medium and long range missiles against India -- since April 6. When was it that the Great Wall of China raised the Bhagwat issue...? When did the government fall...? Why did Girja Shankar Kaura write in The Tribune of April 7, 'Sources disclosed, the Chinese leadership was also wanting to concentrate only on one political party in India, which it felt could be in power soon'? What were the Kargil infiltrators doing in that busy month? And, right now, WHAT is the Pakistani army chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf, doing in China...?

In 1997, Jane's International Defence Review said, "India has reassessed the threats to its national security, for the first time concluding that its most dangerous enemies are within its borders. Since independence, India has viewed Pakistan and China as the biggest threat to its security. But in the new assessment, the two countries have been superseded by domestic groups that are fighting the government."

Jane's was referring to domestic terrorism, of course. It hadn't taken into account a greater internal threat: the pinko activist. Achin Vanaik in The Telegraph: "China has scrapped the only missile it has that can hit India. Curiously, all of India's strategic thinkers kept quiet... India has never really figured in Chinese strategic thinking. Beijing has long recognised the Sino-Indian border conflict for what it is -- a limited boundary dispute and skirmish with no larger implications." Vanaik on Rediff: "Now we can figure out what George Fernandes's stance on China was all about. The purpose was to create a build up, without using Pakistan as an excuse. That was the purpose behind the position taken on China. Pakistan would have not retaliated. It did not retaliate in 1974 either." Guess who's been quiet since China's missile redeployment.

Ponder: could Pakistan's belligerence towards India persist without Chinese support...?

I keep wondering, Why was the government brought down at that point of time? What was the urgency? Everything points to a shadyantra. So many climacteric events can't befall a country all at once. One would have to be deaf, blind and retarded to reject the anti-India nexus between China and Pakistan. The Indian army believes that the Kargil infiltration would have taken at least 6 months to prepare. Whatever the intrigue, it's been set in motion since before January. The encroachment is just one step -- but not the climax. Which, I honestly believe, will make India scream sans ecstasy -- after the ascendance of Prime Minister Sonia Maino Gandhi.

Appeal: The Indian army *needs* funds to rehabilitate the families of army personnel who have sacrificed their lives for the country (which "sacrifice" is NOT synonymous with that of the Nehru dynasty). Donations from NRIs are welcome. Remember, it's better your money goes towards aiding army widows and orphans, than subsidising Kuldip Nayar's junkets to Pakistan. All cheques may be made in favour of the "Army Central Welfare Fund" and remitted to the following address:

Army Central Welfare Fund
Deputy Director (CW-8)
Adjutant General's Branch
Army Headquarters
West Block-III
RK Puram
New Delhi 110 066

Crescent of Terrorism
The grand pan-Islamic plan

Varsha Bhosle

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