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The Rediff Special/Anil Nair

It is time now for Simla II

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Politicians, famously, always want to fight the last war (assuming they win it). Thus, the template statements issuing from Atal Bihari Vajpayee & Co that in Kashmir we are 48 hours from inducting ground troops and a week away from final triumph.

Actually, beneath the bravado, it is evident that the regime in Delhi is borrowing courage to respond to the Kargil crisis the way some people borrow courage from a bottle of tequila.

The euphemisms say it all. The government proclaims that the military operations are a calibrated response to a neat excise of the intruders from their supply bases; where force is almost administered like medicine, the dose to be increased or decreased as required.

It sounds great, except that the doctors (read, the military) have their hands tied by the hospital administrators (the politicians). And you have a scenario where government lawyers and sundry bureaucrats fret over 'acceptable' targets.

Six hundred armed foreigners, replenished by cross-border bases, are indulging in hostile action on Indian soil, and where else in the world but in this country can it be called 'infiltration' and not war.

The Simla Agreement, commendable in other respects, was ambiguous about the exact delineation of the LoC -- vaguely putting it "as thence north to the glaciers" -- and this has been consistently exploited by the Pakistanis. For almost three decades the LoC has seen a one-way traffic with a 'No Entry' sign facing the Indian side.

One would have expected at least the BJP to react in a refreshing way and not merely waffle with good intentions and be captive to the smarmy sentiments of the liberals. But they too have their spiel ready: what about the Lahore Declaration; should that be jeopardised, they harrumph?

They, more than anyone else, should have known that talks with Pakistan, more often than not, especially when they are held with much fanfare, are more ritual than real.

There are certain truths about Pakistan we need to face up to. It's a nation whose very raison d'etre is opposition to India. The Kashmir issue is the lynchpin of that opposition.

More than 50 years after Independence Pakistan has no economy worth the name, a human rights record that is a throwback to the dark ages, a level of social progress that has barely registered at the universal index and, as its frequent unruliness demonstrates, exists in a picayune state of the perpetually aggrieved.

Pakistan is, without much exaggeration, a Taliban with some technology and a talent for cricket.

It might seem odd, but the only way Pakistan can mature is one, through stability that military rule confers on an otherwise hopelessly fractured polity which becomes incendiary with democracy, and two, ridding it of its obsession with Kashmir and, by extension, India.

The Simla Agreement brought the military back to ascendance and brought on a self-imposed moratorium on adventurism. Pakistan's basic tribal nature has seen a recrudescence during the Benazir-Sharief interlude, despite -- or is it because of? -- the relative sophistication of these leaders.

In India's interests it is time now for Simla II. And the way to go about that is to take the Kargil operations to their logical conclusion: carry out a surgical offensive on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and alter the Line of Control to our advantage.

This is militarily very much feasible. There are, however, three possible objections that need to be considered.

First is the reaction of the United States and China. Indian diplomacy, if fine-tuned, will be able to convince the Americans to hold their fire, in view of their own current preoccupations elsewhere, but especially in view of the overall stability we have in mind for the region.

China can be expected to make the appropriate noises and even some menacing gestures, but if our operation is swift enough and limited, they will remain just that.

The second question is: will Pakistan be provoked to use its newly acquired nuclear deterrent? It will naturally have apprehensions about India paying back in the same coin in such an eventuality, but the surest guarantee of Pakistan not considering this option will be not to extend our operations beyond PoK.

The final problem is about the dislocation that war will entail in domestic society. The pros of a limited but decisive engagement now have only to be weighed against the cons of indefinite insurgency in Kashmir and, as the Stockholm Institute for Peace Research emphasises, the debilitating effects of an arms race on the subcontinent's economy, for the former option to gain credence.

Finally, the carrot that Simla II will dangle: after a gestation period, an arrangement for Kashmir to become independent. Yes, independent, a part of neither India nor Pakistan. Before someone is tempted to impute traitorous designs to this suggestion, let them ponder a little honestly on the price peace entails.

You can't have two bites at the cherry: hold a population down through scarcely camouflaged coercion and at the same time ask for peace.

Also, haven't the last 50 years confirmed what Lord Curzon, that blue-blooded scion of the frontier school -- someone whose 'expansionist' proclivities should do any Hindutvawadi proud -- prognosticated about Kashmir: that instead of "being a peerage it will become a straitwaistcoat".

India is in a war-like situation and it is a demanding time for the leadership. Vajpayee shouldn't be arguing the toss now when the match is already well underway. And lest thoughts about caretaker status et al bother him, he has to remind himself that the only danger he faces in that respect is from scratching his head.

The Rediff Specials

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