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|January 19, 2002||
Lt Gen (retd) V R Raghavan
Why blame the army chief?
The Indian political leadership acted decisively after the December 13 attack on Parliament. It quickly made the incident into an internationally recognised and denounced event, and skilfully extracted a response from the major powers against those who had masterminded the attack. This forced Pakistan to use the 'T' word unambiguously and label the attack an unacceptable terrorist operation. The attack was a grave provocation, and no Indian government could have refrained from taking retaliatory action.
The BJP-led government ordered its military to deploy into battle stations and made specific demands on the Musharraf government to hand over the jihadis involved in the attack along with Indian fugitives and mafia dons living in Pakistan. India also sought that Musharraf dissociate his country from terrorism as an instrument of state policy and to reign in the terrorist groups operating from Pakistan. These demands were backed by the government's stated resolve to go to war if they were not met.
The Indian military response to the December 13 attack is unprecedented. Never before has India deployed its armed forces with the express purpose of waging a war if Pakistan does not act on its demands. India also mounted an international diplomatic offensive to back up its military threat.
The combination of international pressure and Indian military deployment led to General Pervez Musharraf announcing his intention to make a major address to his nation. This announcement came about in the presence of Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had talked tough on terrorism after arriving in Islamabad from New Delhi.
General Musharraf's speech offered cold comfort to India and those who had hoped to see a new beginning on the Kashmir issue. The general's remarks that 'Kashmir runs in every Pakistani's blood' and that his country will not give up on the issue left no room for the Indian government to make a positive response. New Delhi has continued to talk of military action unless Pakistan demonstrates action on the demands made to it.
The tension on the border and on the Line of Control is palpable. The high state of readiness of the Indian forces, moving people out of the border areas and laying landmines, has reinforced the impression of an Indian resolve to take military action. L K Advani's visit to the US and his views expressed to American leaders have also raised anxieties about the probability of a war. Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement that the situation is serious is, therefore, no understatement.
While these events were unfolding, India's chief of army staff, General S Padmanabhan, held a press conference where he gave his opinion on a range of issues. He ruled out the possibility of an accidental war, but said his army was ready for every eventuality, once the political leadership had decided to initiate military action.
In reply to a specific question on whether that readiness includes the use of nuclear weapons, Padmanabhan responded maturely and firmly. He first referred to nuclear weapons as instruments of deterrence and not war and hoped neither side would need to use them. He reiterated India's policy of No First Use, but went on to say that if nukes were employed against India, the perpetrators would receive a massive response which may put their existence in doubt.
General Padmanabhan's remarks drew an immediate response from the political leadership. Defence Minister George Fernandes went on record to say that the talk of nuclear weapons was ill-advised. Other political leaders went so far as to impute that the Indian army chief had spoken out of turn. A section of the media was also critical of the remarks.
The response to the general's remarks indicates confusion and fears in political circles about how far to trust the military on nuclear matters. It also shows ambivalence on the role expected of the service chiefs. Indian defence chiefs do not give press conferences without express clearance from the ministry of defence. In this particular case, the press conference was scheduled a day ahead of the Musharraf speech.
The import and implications of the general's press conference remarks could not have been lost on the Indian Cabinet. It is fair to assume that the intention was to signal the government's resolve to go the entire distance if Pakistan does not respond to the demands made of it. As for the general's remarks on nuclear strikes, he was saying exactly what the government's nuclear doctrine has propounded.
Where, then, was the need to blame the Indian army chief for saying what is official doctrine? The unsavoury incident was avoidable, as it undermined the authority and stature of a highly respected soldier. It also showed up the government in poor light in its ability to stand by its most senior soldier.
Lt Gen (Retd) V R Raghavan was India's director general of military operations and is currently director, Delhi Policy Group.
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