May 24, 2002


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Amberish K Diwanji

Sounding the bugle and backing off!

The Indian government, armed forces, and quite a few people are clearly itching for war against Pakistan in a bid to get the latter to desist from supporting terrorists who continue to murder innocents at random across Jammu & Kashmir. Some observations on the current state of affairs:

First, war is too important to be left to the generals, proclaimed French premier Georges Clemenceau in the second decade of the last century.

Stanley Kubrick's movie Dr Strangelove has a riposte to that. In his 1964 satire on nuclear war, a general tells a wing commander: "... When he [Clemenceau] said that 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought."

Many Indians are bound to agree with Kubrick. We are today witnessing a national farce, a parody of our nation's armed forces being mobilised, placed along the Pakistan border, guns cocked... and then told to wait while the politicians decide what next!

This government -- ever so gung-ho about war, chauvinism, nuclear weapons, clash of civilisations with Hindus staging a dharma yudh against Islam's jihad -- has displayed an amazing lack of courage [to go to war], or conviction [on the need to go to war], or both.

You do not sound the bugle to arms and send your soldiers to the border only to settle down in camps there. This is exactly what the present government has done, showing its utter incompetence. War and the threat of war are not trifling matters, but someone needs to tell that to Messrs Vajpayee and Advani.

Worse than the damage and effect it has on soldiers and the army is the politico-military message it sends out: that India is willing to bark but unwilling to bite. Just imagine the viewpoint from the other side: that Indian soldiers and tanks move up to the border in full battle gear, and then just stop because the idiots in Delhi suddenly develop a bad case of nerves.

This may have been fine in the Mahabharata when Arjun sought advice from Krishna even as the Kauravas and Pandavas faced each other on the battlefield of Kurukshetra; it looks ridiculous today when you are expected to go to war "after" having taken advice and considered all aspects.

Is it any wonder that the terrorists [and their Pakistani masters] only feel bolder after watching the Indian forces apply the brakes? Surely they are justified in thinking that for all of India's shouting and posturing, it lacks the guts for the final move? Did the US mobilise its forces for the Gulf War in 1991 or the Afghan war last year, and then ask them to stop while it pondered its next act?

One only wishes that the current Indian Army chief had told the politicians to back off from using the army for political sabre-rattling and give the call for mobilisation only after the politicians had finally made up their minds. The analogy that comes to mind is the famous Indira Gandhi-Sam Maneckshaw tussle in 1971. The then army chief, General [later Field Marshal] Maneckshaw twice turned down the request of the then prime minister to attack East Pakistan.

The first was in March: Maneckshaw said he was not ready. The second was in August, when he pointed out that his tanks would get bogged down in East Pakistan because of the monsoon. Finally, in November, he said he was ready, and proved it with the Indian Army's quick success in liberating Bangladesh in just 14 days!

Second, the other worrisome factor is the lack of a clear goal in case India decides to go to war. Is India aiming to recapture Pakistan-occupied Kashmir [quite impossible]; just knock out a few terrorist camps and retreat behind Indian lines [quite possible, and perhaps the best option]; or make a thrust into Pakistan, capture territory, and then seek an exchange of territory for peace in Kashmir [not sure if, and how, this will work out]?

War, said the Prussian general Clausewitz in the 19th century -- one of the greatest writers on this most complex subject -- is the last means of diplomacy. Hopefully, our politicians would have a clear diplomatic-political goal for seeking the help of the world's fourth largest, and nuclear-armed, military force. One reason for the awesome success of 1971 was that New Delhi had a very specific goal. Wars without clear aims run the danger of getting bogged down, and in the present scenario, with both India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, such a situation would only be an invitation to the global powers to step in.

The deep fear is that the government does not have a clear goal on what exactly it wishes to achieve. Yes, it wants to somehow get Pakistan to stop supporting the terrorists, but is not sure how to actually do that, and that is worrisome. When the US attacked Afghanistan, it had a clear goal: the capture, dead or alive, of Osama bin Laden and the destruction of Al Qaeda and its supporters. Clearly, India cannot have such a huge goal [India and Pakistan are more evenly matched than the US and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan were], just a specific goal of conveying to Islamabad that supporting terrorism can cost Pakistan too, just as it does India. But how is that to be achieved?

Last but not the least, any war is to be despised and avoided, especially a war whose outcome is mired in uncertainty. It is doubtful if any India-Pakistan conflict will actually resolve the Kashmir dispute, given that both India and Pakistan lack the maturity to give and take -- the basis for any negotiation -- or actually care for the plight of the Kashmiris. For that reason, the Indian government needs to exercise extreme caution before plunging into a war with goals unclear and absolutely no guarantee of a quick victory. If the mob violence in Gujarat can cause worldwide concern, certainly an Indo-Pak war will see other countries bring pressure to bear upon India and Pakistan.

The fear then is that if an armoured thrust against Pakistan fails to achieve India's objectives [whatever they are], what will New Delhi do next? What do you do after you have played your aces?

Terrorism in J&K: The complete coverage

Amberish K Diwanji

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