The report about how Mohammed Ishaq, a 20-year old Pakistani from Sialkot took off on his bicycle in a huff after a tiff at home recently and unwittingly found himself in India is interesting to say the least. The fact that he was apprehended by villagers near Jammu mocks at our claims of having turned this sector into the most heavily defended border in the world.
This is not the first time this border was pierced in this manner. In 1994 a Pakistani motorcyclist likewise crossed over and was only caught when he tried to pay for petrol with Pakistani currency. These crossings were inadvertent, quite unlike the famous flight of Matthias Rust, 19, who on May 28, 1987, flew a single engine Cessna 172B aircraft from Hamburg and landed bang on Red Square in the heart of Moscow. Rust pierced the much-vaunted Soviet air defence system and landed next to the Kremlin even as Soviet commanders were scrambling their fighter planes. A Moscow traffic cop arrested Rust.
The border region Ishaq crossed over from is a sliver of territory the Pakistanis call the Akhnur Dagger and the Indians call the Chicken's Neck and has seen the fiercest fighting in 1965 and 1971. The international border here is supposed to be secured with barbed wire fencings, ditch cum bund defences, minefields, large concentrations of BSF, and a crack Indian Army division. None of which obviously stopped an angry Mohammed Ishaq.
While Mohammed Ishaq's tiff and huff ride might get him seven years in an Indian jail, as Indian authorities so obviously with egg on their faces will seek to wipe it off with the severest punishment possible. That will be indeed sad, for if anybody deserves punishment it is the people who are responsible for keeping the border secure. Ishaq's escapade can even be dismissed as just one of those sad and funny things that occasionally inject mirth into the humourless Indo-Pak relationship.
But not quite as funny is what has been happening in Hilkaka, a hilly area in the forests of Surankote in Poonch district abutting Doda district and about 35 kms from the Line of Control. We now learn that several hundred foreign terrorists and Kashmiri militants have had a clear run over an area spanning more than a hundred sq kms for several years. It was only in April/May this year that Indian forces went into this terrorist dominated enclave and have so far claimed killing about 65 terrorists and recovered more than seven tons of food supplies, and huge quantities of sophisticated arms and ammunition.
It would seem that the terrorists were running training camps and providing medical care to their wounded and sick compatriots. According to many sources the terrorists were buying supplies in the local markets and engaging porters to carry them over to their camps by paying several times the going rate.
It is also known that the terrorists were using STD booths in the area to keep in touch with their compatriots in other parts of India. They had taken to calling this area "a liberated zone", just as Sopore town was in the early 1990s. It is now believed that Pakistan was preparing to set up a National Liberation Army here under the command of Amanullah Khan to overcome US insistence that it close its terrorist camps in POK.
This is truly a shocking state of affairs and has been in the making for some years now. In mid 1998 the Indian Army's Victor Force headquartered in Anantnag sought the deployment of helicopters to interdict terrorists in the upper reaches of the Pir Panjal. The home minister, on the specious plea that it would amount to an escalation and could cause much embarrassment if a helicopter or two were brought down, turned it down.
Now we discover that the deputy prime minister, who has made quite a habit of threatening raids across the border on terrorist camps, has been oblivious to the fact that the biggest camp of them all has been functioning literally under his nose deep within Indian territory. No one, not even one with a way with words like him, can by any stretch of imagination call this cross border terrorism? This is nothing but a gross dereliction of ones duties and somebody in this government must be held responsible for it. Are you reading Mr Advani?
Unlike in Kargil, this occupation of such a large swathe of territory cannot be ascribed to intelligence failure. By all accounts, it is now clear that the absolute control over more than one hundred sq kms of territory well inside India has been in the knowledge of the security forces for several years now. Maj Gen Hardev Lidder the General Office Commanding of the Romeo Force, the counterpart of the Victor Force in the Jammu region, has acknowledged as much and has added to good measure that since forces were not made available earlier no action was taken.
It seems that the Indian Army had asked for permission to deploy helicopters and attack aircraft to destroy the terrorist camps, but the government denied this to them. The denial of troop support is even more surprising considering that the 25 division headquartered in nearby Rajouri has as many troops as a regular corps of the Indian Army. If this is indeed so, then it truly indicts the BJP led government for its failure to defend India against externally sponsored aggression even deep within our territory. The prime minister, home minister and defence minister owe the nation an explanation, even if the main Opposition party, the Congress has once failed by not seeking this from the government.
We seem to be facing another problem now. This is the formation of a 'Southern Economic Union' by the four south Indian states namely Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, in a supposed bid to harmonise economic and development policies of these states. But this is actually in an incipient bid to forge an exclusive economic union among them. This would have indeed been laudable if they were independent states and were coming together to forge a larger unity. But this is just the reverse.
This seems to be a first step to forge a sense of separateness and will have severe implications for national unity in the future. It might have even been done without being cognisant of the possible consequences. What is truly a matter of concern is the broad support this seems to have among the full spectrum of political parties in power in these states and at the Centre such as the Congress, BJP, Telugu Desam Party and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
For a few years now it has become the norm to selectively quote statistics purporting to show that the southern states are doing better when measured against certain economic and social yardsticks. It has also been the fashion in certain circles to suggest that the Hindi speaking states, the so-called BIMARU states were pulling down the rest of the country, suggesting that non Hindi states particularly the southern states will be better off without the rest.
This is truly a dangerous notion and the fact that it has support across the political spectrum but concentrated in a geographically contiguous region is even more ominous. It is well known that the so-called economic reforms instead of leading to more even development have caused severe regional imbalances and a flight of capital from the hinterlands of all regions to certain pockets. Even within these supposedly faster developing states, growth has been concentrated and has excluded the majority of people.
It is bad enough that some states have tried to forge independent relations with multilateral agencies like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, but this attempt to form an exclusive economic union is actually a bid to unionise and is a prelude to demands of greater separation. From economic union to political union is a logical progression. The Government of India must act immediately and scuttle this move. Not to do so expeditiously would be to jeopardise our hard won independence and national identity. This then represents a far greater threat than any terrorist group has posed so far.
The issue that was at the core of the BJP's propaganda in its quest for power was its promise of strengthening national security. The testing of nuclear weapons and their full deployment was meant to symbolise this commitment to make India strong and powerful. It has so far proved to be a hollow symbol of a bankrupt policy, for the reality is that India has never been so exposed to internationally sponsored terrorism and has never before paid for it with so much blood as during the BJP's tenure at the helm of affairs.
In this period families of army personnel living in cantonments were killed, pilgrims visiting temples at places like Jammu, Amarnath and Akshardam were killed, as wantonly as other innocents were killed in villages and towns all over India. Terrorists have struck with impunity in the Red Fort, the J&K assembly and even India's Parliament and this truly exposes the enormous failure of the BJP led government in safeguarding India's unity and security. In just the last five years we have lost no less than four thousand security personnel to the bullets and bombs of terrorists. And now we face a new problem spawned in the seminar rooms of multilateral agencies.
All these happenings have however not stopped the BJP President, Venkaiah Naidu, from anointing Sardar Advani as the 'Loh Purush' for the next Lok Sabha campaign. Nothing can be more inappropriate for the record so far is only suggestive of a papier-mâché purush!
Mohan Guruswamy was an adviser to former finance minister Yashwant Sinha.