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|January 28, 2002||
The Indian giant finally breaks free
The attack by Pakistani terrorists on the Indian Parliament on December 13 and the subsequent mobilisation of India's forces, has radically changed the rules of the game in the Indian subcontinent. For close to two decades, beginning with the terrorism in Punjab, Pakistan has been fighting a proxy war against India. The Indian response to this was essentially passive and defensive.
I beg to differ with those who credit Pakistan with the successful blackmail of India all these years. We deterred ourselves for which the country's only certified think tank was mainly responsible. The director of that institute ruled out a conventional conflict, unilaterally, since the 1987 laboratory tests of nuclear weapons by Pakistan. Our failure to construct an overt 'escalation ladder' and a clear 'Laxman Rekha' has been mainly responsible for our current plight. This failure was also a result of compartmentalised thinking that broke up war in watertight compartments of low intensity -- conventional and nuclear -- without establishing clear linkages. Thus all these years saw the Indian giant hamstrung by wooly thinking, a result of New Delhi 's monopoly and also due to the absence of a structured decision making body at the top.
Two major changes have taken place in India. First, it appears that India has finally reached a conclusion that there is a need to change its basic approach to Pakistan. All these years, through many government changes, India maintained that a 'friendly, stable and prosperous Pakistan was in Indian interest.' But it seems that it has finally dawned on the Indians that a Pakistan that is impoverished, unstable and hostile is not in the Indian interest. Due to the deep rooted socio-religious factors, there seems no possibility of an early positive change in Pakistan. In these circumstances, it appears that India has made up its mind to adopt a strategy of 'isolate, contain and destroy' to deal with the Pakistan question. It is obviously a long term goal, but nevertheless marks a radical shift from the past.
Second, after sustained lobbying by many (including Inpad) India has finally got a structured and functional national security setup. It will be fair to say that the handling of the current crisis by India has been excellent. If such structures had existed in 1962, 1972 and even 1987, then the military disasters of 1962 (Sino-Indian war) and 1987 (foray into Sri Lanka) could have had a better ending. India could also well have escaped the diplomatic disaster at Simla in 1972. It is to the credit of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government that they have carried out this major reform in the security setup. The results are already visible and India's handling of the present crisis has been nothing short of brilliant. Contrasting this, with a one man show being run in Pakistan, the Indian dominance is bound to get larger.
There are also signs that the military balance is finally tilting in favour of India. India that is ten times the size of Pakistan always enjoyed numerical superiority. But since the US-Pak treaties of 1958, Pakistan had a marked qualitative edge. It is a tribute to the skills of Indian soldiers, sailors and airmen, that despite this factor, India prevailed in most conflicts. It is worth noting that a similar clash between Soviet Union supplied and American supplied arms in the Middle East, ended in favour of the latter. With its own satellites, electronics and better arms, that situation has now changed. No amount of supply of arms by China to Pakistan can really alter this tilt in balance on the scale that the US could and did.
Misreading of nuclear deterrence
The Kargil adventure of 1999 showed clearly that Pakistan intended to use the threat of nuclear war as a shield to forcibly change the territorial status quo in Kashmir. The Indian response of not crossing the LoC seemed to confirm Pakistan in that belief. It was a dangerous notion that needed to be altered. Nuclear weapons by their very nature do provide an insurance against aggression. Deterrence is essentially a defensive doctrine with offensive strategy. By reacting aggressively to the incident of December 13, India has attempted to wipe out the memories of Kargil. In this India has certainly benefited by the current climate of opinion in the world that is not prepared to accept terrorism to achieve political goals.
By making its army chief give a clear threat of total annihilation, India has made it clear that should the proxy war continue, it is prepared to up the ante to nuclear level.
The basic change in the Indian approach is not necessarily the result of any directive by the government of the day. The Indian cultural ethos has a peculiar notion of a 'right time' for retribution. The most popular story doing the rounds in India is the action by Lord Krishna against his nephew Shishupal. His aunt had begged the lord to spare his life. Krishna promised her that he would forgive him one hundred times. Shishupal went about his wayward actions being emboldened by the apparent passivity of Krishna. But when he committed his 100th crime, the lord himself destroyed him with a 'chakra' (a wheel-like weapon, not dissimilar to the one found on the Indian national flag.)
Some analysts, specially in Pakistan have been attributing the Indian hardline to the upcoming election in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Some have characterised it as sabre rattling. The ruling party will undoubtedly try to take electoral advantage of the situation, as did Ronald Reagan from the Grenada invasion and Margaret Thatcher from the Falkland war. But it will be a tragic mistake to underestimate the seriousness of Indian anger and resolve.
For the moment, the American military presence in Pakistan seems the best security guarantee for that country.
Anil Athale is coordinator of the Pune based Initiative for Peace And Disarmament (Inpad).
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