August 7, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ K Subrahmanyam

'Our ruling elite is totally indifferent to national security'

KSubrahmanyam, head of the committee that reviewed the events leading to the Pakistani invasion in Kargil, has been very vocal about the apathy of the ruling elite on national security.

The leading defence analyst believes political parties should rise above their own interests and not merely pay lip service. In an interview to Features Editor (News) Archana Masih in Delhi, Subrahmanyam spoke about the implications of the ceasefire by the Hizbul Mujahideen and the options in front of the Government of India.

With the Hizbul Mujahideen's ceasefire and the staggering effect it had resulting in the death of over 100 people in J&K -- in these circumstances what options does the GoI have?

It is not the question of what options in reference to this particular event -- we have been in a state of proxy war for the last ten years. One cannot predict how long will it continue. All I can say is this event is another episode in the long proxy war. We have to look at it as a major event in this proxy war.

But the Hizb ceasefire was being regarded as a major move in the last decade after militancy began in Jammu & Kashmir?

Yes, it was a positive mood but you must also understand that the last time when the Pakistanis found that the JKLF were trying to act independently they immediately marginalised JKLF and created the Hizbul Mujahideen. Now the Hizbul Mujahideen is trying to act independently, so now they are trying to put down the Hizb and push their own mercenaries. This is all a part of the same continuing war.

Even though the Hizb provide the infrastructure for other militant groups, wasn't the retaliation by other militant groups expected after the ceasefire?

Of course. It was expected because the Pakistanis did not make any bones about it. Their papers and all the jehadi groups in Pakistan have been saying it since the 27th that they will intensify things. That jehad will continue and that the Hizbul Mujahideen was stepping out of line. Now what they have done is that they have done a massive crackdown to intimidate, terrorise the Hizb -- to tell them that if you step out of line we will take care of all of you. That is what they had said openly.

Do you think the government wasn't sufficiently prepared to handle this kind of outbreak of violence?

The Government of India could still have not protected every Amarnath yatri. It is not possible. They could not have stopped the killings. It is not possible. The biggest army in the world cannot stop it. The Israelis couldn't do it. Others couldn't do it, it's not possible. But what is possible, what could have been done is that we should given all publicity to what the jehadis have been saying. There not only the government failed, but also the media failed. It was all there in Pakistani papers, we did not take note of it. And we didn't take it seriously.

Therefore, there is a general attitude of our ruling class, our elite -- the elite which hasn't discussed national security one day in the last year in Parliament. There is something seriously wrong with our ruling elite which is totally indifferent to national security.

You have even said this before, have you had a chance to discuss this with the powers that be? And what is the reason for this indifference?

Look, I don't go and offer my views to anybody. I offer it to the public. If anybody is interested and wants me to talk with them I go and talk to them. Therefore, I have said whatever I had to in the newspapers and television. I am not going to chase politicians in this country. After all, they are failing in their basic duty.

Where do you think the government has failed as far as the nuclear doctrine is concerned?

It's not a question of the government failing -- in fact even when the government released it, there was hope that there would be a discussion on it. I do not blame the government, the government after all reflects the people, the ruling class. Well, it is the Congress party which built the nuclear weapons, but when it comes to the politics of it, they pay much more attention to petty party politics.

It is the Congress party which built the nuclear weapons and mind you, Narasimha Rao never condemned it. I K Gujral did not condemn the tests because after all they all did it. For your politicians today, the shouting over Ram Jethmalani is all that is important. That is all they are capable of. They can't think of big things.

You spent months drafting the Subrahmanyam Committee Report, in your view what purpose has the report served?

Fortunately, I am able to say the report has served a purpose. The report did lead the government to appoint a council of ministers. Those ministers have appointed four task forces. Those task forces are all working very feverishly to bring out their reports and therefore one hopes that at least when those reports are ready, the government will start implementing them. If that was to happen, it will bring some very major changes in the national security framework.

How soon do you think these reports will be ready?

Even if it takes six to nine months I would think it is very fast work, considering we are trying to change things which have been there for the last fifty years.

Are these task forces working in touch with you, is there some coordination?

I wouldn't be able to discuss it. All that I can say is, yes, they are.

Coming back to the Hizbul Mujahideen, the government is in quite a jam -- on one hand is the ceasefire, and on the other retaliatory violence -- how can this be tackled? In your opinion what is the best way in front of the GOI?

The best way of handling this is to give maximum publicity to what the Pakistani organisations said in those few days -- what happened on the night of August 1,2, more or less bare out all the threats which they held out and therefore establish the direct nexus between the two. The jehadi organisations have even said that we will intensify our activities in the valley. The best thing now is to use the information and wage an information campaign to isolate Pakistan. That is the best use we can make of it.

What they did was an attack on Kashmiriyat. The Amarnath yatra is part of Kashmiriyat. In the violence there many Kashmiris were killed and who killed them? Non-Kashmiris. In the history of Kashmir there is a very dark period of Afghan rule. Even today the mention of 'Afghan' can send shivers down the spine. They are experiencing this again. There are trying times ahead. It is a long war and it is not of our choosing.

The Jamaat-e-Islami, the Hizb's mentor in Pakistan, has vehemently criticised the ceasefire move. Do you think the Hizb could have taken such a decision without consulting the Jamaat?

You see, in this country we are a little naive. There were people saying did Nawaz Sharif know that infiltrators were entering Kargil when he hugged Atal Bihari Vajpayee? The answer is: yes, he did. If you take history -- the Ribbentrop-Molotov Treaty was signed (between Germany and Russia) in 1939 to divide Poland. But the Germans very well knew that all this was just a preliminary step to go to war with Russia. The Russians very well knew that they had to get extra territory so that when the Germans attacked they should be able to defend themselves.

Even in the case of Pearl Harbour -- the Japanese were talking all the time to the Americans while their fleet was sailing towards Pearl Harbour. This type of doublespeak is part of international politics. Similarly, now Pervez Musharraf is trying to signal Washington that 'I have allowed the Hizbul Mujahideen to talk to the Indians'. That is one line. The other line is, tell the jehadis to finish off the Hizbul. So we have to grow up and understand.

That is international politics. It is cruel. Very harsh.

Why do you think the Hizb made this move at this juncture?

Because they were facing a lot of casualties. They even found that mercenaries were dominating Kashmir more and more.

A year after the Kargil conflict, how do you perceive the national security scenario? There were lapses that led to the infiltration -- how have we progressed since?

We have progressed in the sense that we have improved our equipment. We have improved our surveillance capability. We have perhaps improved our monitoring capabilities. We have plugged all the gaps with a very heavy cost. By pushing the troops into the gaps. Even though that's not the best way of handling the problem, there is no other short term alternative. All that has been done.

But what worries me is that at the time of the Kargil war when our troops had to be fully supported everybody wanted to engage in the fingerprinting and blaming game here. Now after the war, when you have the entire report available with every scrap of intelligence information that is available to the government printed in it, all those people do not talk about it.

This highlights the fact that people in this country are not interested in national security. They are interested in the politics of national security. That is a very, very sad thing.

When you say people, are you referring only to the political parties?

I mean the political parties and the media. In all other countries national security is above politics.

Most of the time we are talking about threats to national security from the outside, what about the threats to internal security?

Our soldiers can take care of the Kargils inflicted on us externally but they cannot take care of Kargils inflicted on us internally. But how much serious business is done in Parliament? How much time of Parliament is wasted? Like I said national security is not even being discussed in Parliament.

Therefore when you are looking at our internal politics -- caste, religion -- various other factors are all intended to create tension. Then you drag in the paramilitary forces, the army. Here are people who can't even manage law and order and they talk about autonomy.

What kind of autonomy are these people capable of exercising? If there is one riot in a city/town, they cannot manage it -- they call in central forces. You give them all the autonomy in the world, they are incapable of exercising it.

You have said that the nuclear doctrine hasn't been discussed yet, how soon do you see this discussion taking place?

They have a problem. They are not prepared to apply their mind and learn about these things. The only thing they are very good at is nitpicking and abusing each other. These are the only things they know. That is true of all our political parties with some exceptions. If you look at our politicians, how many of them are capable of talking about foreign policy, international trade, international copyright, environment?

One thing we must avoid is as soon as we elect a man to office we start deifying him. We treat those people as though they were gods. They are not. They are very normal people, capable of making as many blunders as many of us. Therefore, they must be held accountable.

Do you think the Hizb will stick to this promised, three-month ceasefire?

We will have to wait and see. If they are going to pick up a few of the Hurriyat leaders, that'll be terrifying. What if some family is taken hostage?

There is some concern that this could lead to further enmity among the militant organisations.

Yes, this could lead to a civil war kind of situation like there is in Pakistan between the Shias and Sunnis, with the Mohajirs and others.

The GoI has been showing some positive signs -- the release of the Hurriyat leaders before President Clinton's visit,and now these talks with the Hizb. What do you see happening on this front?

I believe releasing the Hurriyat leaders, making it quite clear that you are prepared to talk to them, accepting the Hizbul Mujahideen ceasefire -- I think they are positive steps. But beyond this we can't go further. We have to see what the other parties want.

The first thing we have to discuss with the Hurriyat is their own safety. How do we conduct the talks? How do you protect the talks? Because the talks themselves are going to be targeted by others.

If in the course of this -- supposing the Hurriyat gets injured, the Hurriyat gets hit by the Pakistanis and they are afraid to talk to you, then what can you do? It is not necessary that we can have a complete blueprint in advance.

At the present moment the talks themselves are the target of the jehadis. So the first thing is whether we can reach an understanding with the Hurriyat and the Hizbul Mujahideen to protect the talks. That is the first step.


Kargil: June 2000

'Ultimately it's the Cabinet and the successive PMs who're responsible'

'The Pakistani establishment has a long and consistent history of misreading India's will'

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