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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt

India will have to fight in its own way

December 15, 2008

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On the geopolitical chess board that is South Asia, the Mumbai terror attacks have ensured that the big players have to make a few moves that will decide the direction in which the region will move in the coming months.

The attack on Mumbai came at a time when:

The Indian government has less than four months remaining in power.

The elected government in Pakistan has not yet stabilised.

The United States-led war in Afghanistan is about to undergo a new strategic shift under the leadership of incoming President Barack Obama [Images].

India's conventional capability and advantage against Pakistan is seriously challenged because of Islamabad's [Images] nuclear weapons, which form a potent part of Pakistan's propaganda to neutralise many of India's options.

No less important is the fact that the attacks have come at a time when the economic meltdown -- the real impact of which has just begun to unfold in South Asia -- is the biggest worry for India, China and the rest of the world.

Contemporary history shows that the international community's support to India is limited to words and is not likely to go beyond it. Then, in India as well as Pakistan there is a big and effective lobby that argues that 'terrorism' is merely an issue in a long list of things to do and relations between the two countries can't be limited to one subject.

Even though assembly elections are being held in Jammu and Kashmir with fair success, no one in New Delhi [Images] is ignoring the fact that when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] visited the Kashmir valley on Sunday, curfew had to be imposed in Srinagar [Images] and the Congress party had to ferry people to Khundroo, where he spoke.

As things stand, time does not favour any player except the terrorists. Everyone else in this game would like to buy time, kill time and defy time to come out as the winner. The main players in the given circumstances -- the Pakistan president, the Indian prime minister and the Pakistan army [Images] -- are likely to do everything to come out unscathed within their country and in the region.

What will the victory that India wants and what can Pakistan's democratic government do and how far it can go are the debating points.

In India at least, most critics -- be it right wing or left wing, radical or moderate -- and strategic thinkers believe war is not the answer for the Mumbai attacks.

Though it might come as a relief, the prime minister very well understands that by eschewing the military options his government cannot avoid the fundamental issue of dealing with terrorism emanating from Pakistan. He said clearly that India had always wanted to have good relations with that country, but 'our kind desire should not be treated as a weakness.'

The options confronting India are more difficult to implement and achieve than for Pakistan.

For India, one policy option could be as Oscar Wilde said, 'Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.'

India could well concentrate on achieving eight per cent growth in these times of adversity, but for the fact that elections are around the corner. It is very important for the ruling party to be seen as doing something to give a fitting reply for the attacks. Otherwise, it can lose precious votes.

US Senator John Kerry is in New Delhi. Before him, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Senator John McCain and US Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen have come and gone. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble have also suggested that they want Pakistan to do more than just banning the Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

A former Indian ambassador to the US told rediff.com, "Khel khatam nahin, abhi shuroo hua hain (The game has not ended with the Mumbai attacks, it has just started).

Rediff.com presents a series where strategic thinkers like former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra, former ambassador to the US Naresh Chandra, former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal and others discuss India's options.

Flagging off the series is former national security advisor and principal secretary to then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Brajesh Mishra.

Mishra, a former member of the Indian Foreign Service, is a man of few words. But even before he begin listing India's diplomatic options, he asked this counter-question: "Can you tell me what steps has the United Progressive Alliance government taken so far?"

Mishra, who was the main strategist in setting the diplomatic tone in the aftermath of the Parliament attack on December 13, 2001, claims he is not angry. He says he is weighing his words and claims that he has thought out what India's strategy should be.

In 2001, the National Democratic Alliance government had moved the army to the border with Pakistan in a one-of-its-kind operation. But now, Mishra says he is not satisfied with the diplomatic steps taken so far by India:

In international relations, unless you have something to give you don't get anything.

If you have your hat in your hand the only thing you will get is sympathy. If you have your hands in your pocket, you may expect something substantial.

I heard the prime minister has said during his visit to Jammu and Kashmir [Images] that our relations with Pakistan will not improve until it curbs terrorism. But I think unless we are able to say that let Pakistan punish its people who are engaging in terrorism in India and control its army nothing means much.

My point is what is going on in New Delhi when the foreign dignitaries are arriving is mere 'sympathy'. These are just words and nothing more is attached to it. In spite of so many visits Pakistan has come out with the statement that they are not banning the Jamat-ul-Dawa. What are the US and Britain going to do about it? Are they going to cut off finances to the instrument (the Pakistan army) that is supporting the outfits carrying out terrorism in India? What are you getting so far? Words of sympathy only.

I don't believe neither the Indian people nor the government are against the people of Pakistan. But we are not talking about ordinary people here. I am talking about the Pakistan army and the Inter Services Intelligence, no one in India is talking about President Asif Ali Zaradari or the elected government. That's common sense.

If you argue that the NDA's Operation Parakram was at a huge cost then I would ask what is the cost we are paying now -- Humiliation of a billion people?

How has the US-led war in Afghanistan helped us? As far as I see, the American agenda in Afghanistan cannot succeed unless Pakistan agrees to support, wholeheartedly.

But Pakistan doesn't want to help the American war against the Taliban [Images]. Pakistan wants the Taliban to come to power in Kabul. It will give their military, as suggested by their military doctrine, a strategic depth. Do you think Pakistan is taking the war against the Taliban seriously?

India will have to fight in its own way. I disagree with the opinion that India doesn't have many options. We had options in 2001 and we have enough options today, but I can't violate the Official Secrets Act and elaborate to you what we did in 2001 and how.

I believe the composite dialogue with Pakistan is already off. But India definitely does have options to respond effectively against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. And no one is talking about war here.

Neither the prime minister nor the government of India is talking about war. The Bharatiya Janata Party has stopped talking about war. Just because one or two television anchors like Arnab Goswami or Rajdeep Sardesai [Images] talk of military options that can't be construed as the opinion of India.


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