September 27, 2001


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Admiral (retd) J G Nadkarni

The fight begins at home

Life is full of delicious irony. Things never happen the way we expect them to happen. A group of terrorists, supposedly belonging to fugitive Osama bin Laden's worldwide network, hijack four planes and carry out a horrendous attack on two American icons. The American president and the people are incensed. George W Bush thunders retaliation and forms an all-nation coalition to combat world terrorism. India, which has been a victim of terrorism for 15 years, is quick on the draw and offers unqualified support to the US effort, including possible use of Indian territory for any action the Americans may contemplate.

All clues point to Afghanistan, where the Taleban regime has been trained, implanted and supported by Pakistan. Pakistan too offers to help the joint action against worldwide terrorism. President Bush rejects the Pakistani offer and publicly thanks Vajpayee for his support. Secretary of State Colin Powell has long meetings with Jaswant Singh. America declares Pakistan a terrorist State. All sanctions against India are immediately removed but those against Pakistan remain in place. The US orders Pakistan to stop helping terrorists in Kashmir and close all training camps. Terrorism comes to an end in Kashmir and peace returns. General Musharraf, overwhelmed by the events resigns, and a moderate regime returns to Pakistan who agree to shelve the Kashmir problem. The Taleban, losing their support from Pakistan, are overthrown and the old regime returns, signing a 20-year friendship treaty with India.

But wait. That was what was supposed to happen. Or at least, that was what the Indian establishment expected to happen. But somewhere down the line someone forgot to hand over the script to Bush, Musharraf and the Taleban. Things have not worked out exactly like that and the Indians are once again moping. After all, headmaster Bush, far from patting the good student Vajpayee for the apple, has gone out of his way to laud naughty Musharraf for his help. There is no mention of terrorism in Kashmir or Pakistan's support to it. A country which came pretty close to being declared a terrorist State has maneuvered itself to become a front-line State in the fight against terrorism.

So what gives? Has India once again got the wrong end of the stick? Have we once again bumbled?

Not so fast. The problem is our view of the world and events is always dictated by emotion. In the West they look at things a little differently. Emotion is only a small partner to realism and pragmatism. So let us remember that old chestnut about there being no permanent friends or permanent enemies but only permanent interests. Thus it should not surprise us if Musharraf ditches the Taleban and America gets cosy with Pakistan. For the time being it serves the national interest of both countries.

President Bush declared a war on world terrorism. This was part rhetoric and part sincerity. For the time being world terrorism will obviously mean that which affects the United States. We should not forget that an American's view of the world is a little different to ours. After all, when the Baltimore Orioles play the Atlanta Braves in baseball they call it the World series.

America's first priority at present is obviously Osama bin Laden. He has replaced Saddam Hussein as America's bogie number one. To get at him the United States desperately needs Pakistan's help. United States needs Pakistan's airspace, their bases for logistics and their knowhow about the Taleban and Afghanistan. For no country, certainly not India, knows more about the Taleban and the terrain they inhabit than their mentors, the Pakistanis.

So for the time being America is doing everything to please Pakistan. They have lifted the sanctions making way for the country to bring about a bit of economic stability. Having decided to bring Pakistan on board the coalition, the US would certainly like to see a stable country as its friend. This was the quid pro quo for Pakistan's assistance. But the US is unlikely to go much further. It is unlikely to repeat its mistake of the eighties of pouring weapons and missiles into Pakistan.

Should India then sulk? Not at all. Despite all American assistance, Pakistan is still in a no-win situation. America's long term policy will surely be to replace the Taleban government with a more amenable alternative and that will not go down well with our neighbour. Pakistan has had a secure western flank for about ten years allowing them to concentrate on its border with India. That may no longer be possible in the future. More than a million Afghan refugees now crowd inside Pakistan.

Pakistan may also not be able to support terrorism in Kashmir to the same extent and so openly in future. Neither will the US be able to look the other way for long. There is every possibility that terrorism in Kashmir will diminish and possibly even wither away in the long run.

Strategically, the US may need Pakistan more than India at present. But once Afghanistan is tamed, the importance of Pakistan to the US is bound to diminish. If we play our cards well we may at that stage be in perfect position to have friendly relations with Russia, China and the US, perhaps for the first time.

Before we declare our fight against world terrorism, we have to prove our competence and seriousness in fighting terrorism at home. The fact is, India has proved to be both soft and apathetic in fighting various forms of terrorism at home. An illiterate brigand kidnaps a film actor and governments of two states not only are unable to nab him but give in to his exorbitant demands. A terrorist organisation from a small neighbour murders an ex-prime minister and we do nothing about it. In fact we openly support and supply his organisation from the Indian mainland. A gangster sitting abroad strikes terror in the hearts of Indian citizens and is able to cause blasts in Mumbai. Some of our film personalities cavort with him and watch cricket matches in his company.

And what about some other terror groups which stalk our streets garbed in respectability. They bring about bandhs using coercion and terror to subdue people while a state government and its police watch beamingly from the sidelines. They resort to vigilantism to bring about results. They humiliate people by blackening their faces and burn hospitals to display their grief. Various Senas and Dals seek any pretext to terrorise innocent people.

Which country would want such a soft ally on its side in the fight against terrorism? India has no moral right to talk about world terrorism when it tolerates such forms of terrorism at home. Unless we are prepared to stamp out all forms terrorism within the country we will only be allotted the role of a sightseer in the world coalition against terrorism.

Admiral J G Nadkarni (retd)

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