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June 14, 1999

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E-Mail this column to a friend Varsha Bhosle


Mubarak ho!" Thus began the phone conversation between General Zia-ul Haq and a crony even before all of India had heard about Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination. The footnote to it is: Mrs G had overnight decided upon Operation Bluestar after hearing a taped phone dialogue between Bhindranwale and a top army officer of Pakistan. The sant was about to declare Amritsar as his capital, and the Pakistan army was all ready to liberate "Khalistan." In both instances, the transcripts had been provided by the Soviet Union.

I'm not sure if these details are backed up by memoirs of bureaucrats or spooks of that era. When I'd learnt of them I wasn't a journalist, and my source couldn't have been more reliable. Strangely, I'd forgotten all about it -- till yesterday, when I heard a telecast of the conversation between Pakistan army chief General Parvez Musharraf and his Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz.

It's a perpetual mystery to me as to how eavesdroppers wade through zillions of conversations to tune in on a relevant one. It's unlikely that we (who know Indian telecommunications as MTNL and DoT) will ever know how India caught such a clear satellite intercept. I tend to think we had assistance. Whatever the case may be, the authenticity of the intercept seems irrefutable. However, the Associated Press (when it finally found time off from Kosovo), decided it was worth four sentences, two of which are: "Today, the Indian government released what it said were transcripts of conversations... Pakistan's army spokesman, Brigadier Rashid Qureshi, dismissed the transcript as Indian propaganda." Oh well.

At one point during the telecast, my brother and I went hysterical; even the gravity of the situation couldn't prevent our guffaws. Aziz tells Musharraf: "We told him [Nawaz Sharief] there is no reason of alarm and panic. Then he said that I came to know seven days back, when Corps Commanders were told. The entire reason of the success of this operation was this total secrecy. Our experience was that our earlier efforts failed because of the lack of secrecy. So the top priority is to accord confidentiality, to ensure our success."

Secrecy...? Confidentiality...? If these mothers knew the meaning of those words, would there be a Musharrafgate? Who on Earth goes around spewing State secrets -- hidden even from their PM -- on a open line, for chrissakes. I can't even call them dorks. The only word that fits is a totally unprintable Hindi one.

Another thing I noticed was, how deficient in Urdu and English both the men are. I've heard many Indian servicemen, active and retired, speak in Hindi and English -- and the contrast is absolutely striking. Pak's army chief seems fit to be Major General Ashok Mehta's batman. It's all in the education: People who can't formulate a simple sentence -- would they have the capacity to comprehend war and peace? Kanti Bajpai says, "[Pak's] Punjabi Muslim is a formidable creature. He brought down Ayub after Tashkent, Bhutto after Simla, now detente before it occurs." Explains it.

Relative to the excerpt, I gloated over The Times of India writing, "Among other things, the taped conversations between the two senior Pakistani officers reveals: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief was apparently not kept in the picture regarding the incursions and had learnt of the developments much later."

Considering what the newspaper (like every other publication) has been pushing -- "Sharief has more powers than any other democratically-elected prime minister of Pakistan... A few months ago, he was even able to get army chief General Jehangir Karamat to resign and appoint his own choice, General Parvez Musharraf, as the new army chief. Surely, Sharief's own man is unlikely to keep him in the dark" -- one would have thought the Old Lady of Bori Bunder would have the graciousness to add a word or two about Defence Minister George Fernandes being vindicated. Well, I guess no one likes to eat mud.

Georgekaka is short-tempered and has no clue about politicking and diplomacy. Which is why I believed him: I see those drawbacks as virtues since they're necessarily shorn of calculation and self-preservation. So he jumped the gun. So what! My pal Apoorv wrote me, "Either George is the most brilliant strategist ever or the dumbest. The outcome will tell." He's neither; and the outcome shouldn't reflect on him. My take: he should stay put and avoid the Press like a plague.

The result of the foreign ministers' talks was as laid down by Sartaj Aziz's true masters -- "The recommendation for Aziz Saheb is that he should make no commitment in the first meeting on military situation... they must give no understanding or no commitment on ground situation... And he should not even accept ceasefire, because if there is ceasefire, then vehicles will be moving... That we don't know but there is no justification about tension on LoC. We want to give them this type of brief so that he does not get into any specifics."

So does that mean war is inevitable? What do I wish the government would do? To be perfectly honest, I don't know anymore. Maybe if I retrace my thought process with you, maybe the catharsis will help resolve my feelings...

My gut is hollering for revenge. It's been screaming for blood since Ajay Ahuja. It wants to see the mujahideen and the Pakistan army wiped out. It wants every mention of jihad burnt. It wants Islamabad made into a nuclear wasteland: I'm never going to forgive or forget the vile, cowardly and barbaric murders of Lt Saurabh Kalia and Sepoys Arjun Ram, Banwar Lal, Bhikaram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh. They lingered alive for over a fortnight -- with their skulls smashed, with brain tissues oozing out, with their eyes gouged out with sharp objects, with their legs and knees shattered, with their backs and shoulders crushed, with their ears, noses and genitals hacked off.

All the injuries on the bodies of the Indian soldiers are ante mortem -- inflicted when the blood was coursing through their veins, when their nerve-endings felt every prick, slash, bludgeon and stab. I cannot come to terms with it. I can stand a lot of pain before passing out; maybe that's why their agony seems vivid to me. I don't cry easily, either; but my eyes filled when I heard about the missing brain tissues. This is not how a soldier is treated. When you're faced with animals -- deal with them as less than vermin: Squash them. It's all just bringing back the narratives of Partition, of the trainfuls of hacked Hindu and Sikh bodies rolling into India, women with breasts cut off, girls with Arabic words carved on their bellies. It brings back the tales of Noakhali.

I remembered reading that the American threshold of pain is 5 Marines -- one more dead and out fly the missiles or back comes the mission. In All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos has quoted President Clinton, after American soldiers were killed in Somalia: "We're not inflicting pain on these ****ers... When people kill us, they should be killed in greater numbers... I believe in killing people who try to hurt you... I can't believe we're being pushed around by these two-bit ****ks." Maniacal as it may seem, that *is* the correct attitude when your soldiers die. Why are we bothering with Kargil? Why don't we strike Lahore?!

Anger. Fury. Rage. Wrath. That's what I feel. Vengeance. It's all I want. And that was when Apoorv mailed me a passage he'd just discovered: "A government should not mobilize an army out of anger, military leaders should not provoke war out of wrath. Act when it is beneficial, desist if it is not. Anger can revert to joy, wrath can revert to delight, but a nation destroyed cannot be restored to existence, and the dead cannot be restored to life. Therefore, an enlightened government is careful about this, a good military leadership is alert to this. This is the way to secure a nation and keep the armed forces whole."

Master Sun Tzu, The Art of War. It's eerie how all of us never stop paying homage to our heroes -- and never remember why they are that in the first place, and at precisely the time we need to heed them the most... Bottom-line: can't win a war without brains and cold consideration. Pakistan will realise that soon enough.

War cannot be a reaction. It's obvious from the timing of the return of the six bodies that Pakistan is trying to set the agenda. It *wants* us -- even the people -- to react with anger. If that suits India's situation -- fine, let's war. But it's NOT an item open to *emotional* public pressure: "[War] is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected." Meaning, it's for the armed forces and the administration to weigh. But the battle-cries multiply -- every person as far away from Kargil as is possible is airing his views on how macho we need to be, what the Army should do, which weapon to use, which post to take, who to sack, who's a sissy...

I've no comments on any of the retired military men's opinions -- they know much more than I ever will. But, there's Sun Tzu: "Just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions." What was true in 1971 may not hold true now. The only people who know the ground realities, our strengths, our deficiencies -- as they exist today -- are those currently in charge of the operations. Gentlemen, you've honourably earned your laurels; now let the others win theirs.

As for the rest: Shut up. There's little we can do but grieve -- grieve for the gold we've lost. And in grieving, to re-examine ourselves and to absorb the character of the adversary: "If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." We face a complex fraternity driven by a savage, feudal, madarsa mentality. All future bhai-chara must be taken guardedly.

Not to forget the evil at home: Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities Tahir Mahmood has said that "any attack on India is an attack on the second largest Muslim population of the world... India is Dar-ul-Islam in the sense that it is home to the largest number of Muslims in any single country." Meaning, Pakistan's attack is immoral because it is an attack on India's Muslims... Great. This makes me feel sooo close to minorities.

Meanwhile, that scourge of Usenet, Jai Maharaj, has been busy: "I will delay an upcoming purchase of a computer gizmo and send the money to jawans' families tomorrow and see about making regular contributions. I mention this only to challenge as many others to do the same -- forget that computer, scanner, digital camera, printer, etc, for now. Instead, send the money to the Army Central Welfare Fund." What can I say, I like this guy.

I'm doing my bit, too: I've embarked on a joint operation involving an olive-green uniform, elements of surprise, quick response, successive encounters, retaliatory action, strategic positioning, locking on to targets, infiltration, escalation of tension, delayed reaction leading to increased scope of operations, reaching peaks, and, sudden death. Operation Singh is quite like Operation Vijay; only, there's just no line of control.... :)

Varsha Bhosle

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