August 19, 2002


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A kingdom under
Can infiltration be
     be checked?
The death squads of
Op Parakram: the
     balance shifts
Why is the IAF
     out of sync?

Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta

America's double game

US Secretary of State Colin Powell did a fine balancing act on his last visit to the region. In New Delhi, he echoed the Indian view that infiltration was continuing. In Islamabad he skirted the issue while making much of Musharraf's commitment to the war on terrorism.

Powell suggested that it was now India's turn to move down the de-escalation ladder by offering to open talks with Pakistan after the election in J&K, which he hoped would not be disturbed from outside. Powell needed asking in the language of his fellow general to lay off the J&K election.

Not long ago, George Bush downward, everyone was saying that Pakistan needed to do more to end infiltration permanently. No longer is Musharraf being pressed on this issue, leave alone being asked to dismantle the terrorist training camps and infrastructure, which, for the war against terror, was the original mandate. The buzzword was -- wiping out terrorism, root and branch.

In fact, US interlocutors are now merely saying that they are not the guarantors of Musharraf's pledges, merely a facilitator to defuse the tension that prevails in the region.

After the Qasimpura terrorist attack in Jammu against civilians, Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani advocated, perhaps unrealistically, that the US ought to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. The White House spokesperson responded that Pakistan was a stalwart ally in the terror war and killed the issue.

The perceptions of the ground reality in J&K in particular and the war on terrorism in general held by different parties are very different, especially the interpretation on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan is treated like the underdog.

On elections in J&K, Powell gave a long sermon on the need for a free and fair election, freeing political prisoners and posting international observers. No such missive was given to the military dictatorship in Pakistan on organising elections as mandated by that country's supreme court.

Watching the BBC panel discussion, Question Time Pakistan, on PTV with the interior minister, Lieutenant General Moinuddin Haider, human rights activist Asma Jahangir, a former PPP legislator, and one other panellist was a lesson in army-bashing. The panelists and the audience gave the army and Haider a hard time, calling for a civilian government and questioning the proposed constitutional 'reform' through which military rule would be legitimized. Jahangir wondered whether Musharraf was president only of 'Azad Kashmir' or all of Pakistan. (The programme was suddenly taken off the air.)

This is precisely what Colonel Inayatullah Hassan has periodically been questioning in his column in The News, called The Cutting Edge. What is the wisdom in Pakistan sacrificing the happiness of 140 million Muslims for the well-being of two million Muslims in the Kashmir valley, he asks.

The West is worried that as long as troops remain deployed along the border and the Line of Control, the chances of war will remain high. This is true. The window for war closed in mid-June owing to the monsoons. The next campaigning season will commence in September. Remember 1965? India was forced to open a new front across the international border on September 6 that year in response to Pakistan launching large-scale infiltration (Operation Gibraltar) the previous month in J&K.

Between mid-September and the first week of October are the four-phased elections in J&K. They will mark the litmus test of Pakistan's bona fides on cross-border infiltration and terrorism, though it will be hard to make the call on the origin of perpetrators of violence during the elections. Thanks to infiltration, Pakistan has already built up a force of nearly 3,000 terrorists inside Jammu & Kashmir.

Musharraf is in a Catch-22 situation. If he allows a violence-free election, the jihadis will cry blue murder though India will reciprocate by lowering tension and the US will laud this courageous act. Sponsoring the opposite course of action is bound to create greater military tension and revive the spectre of war just when Pakistan is marching down its road to elections on October 6. As far as the US is concerned, it is highly unlikely that it will push Musharraf any further on ending infiltration, certainly not till the elections in Pakistan are completed.

In fact, Powell and Co are hoping that after a successful election in J&K, India will suspend the conditionality of a total end to infiltration and make some conciliatory gesture towards Pakistan. Here, the assumption is that Pakistan is unable to prevent the passage of infiltrators, which is tantamount to an admission by Musharraf that neither he nor the ISI is fully in control of the jihadis.

But what is the ground situation in J&K today? The monitoring and management of the terrorist inventory is certainly more impressive than ever in the past. We may not have succeeded in crafting a unified command or even a unified headquarters to tackle terrorism like in Malaya or Algeria, but we have cobbled together a unified intelligence and terrorist-monitoring system.

About two months ago, a multi-agency centre was set up in the home ministry under the Intelligence Bureau together with a joint task force with representatives of civil, military, and police intelligence agencies. The national security adviser has been co-ordinating this composite effort. According to the new guidelines and joint assessment, infiltration has dropped 40 per cent since Musharraf's second historic speech on May 27.

The terrorist strength in different parts of J&K has been pegged at 3,000 to 3,200. Of this, 50 per cent are estimated to be foreigners. Altogether 72 terrorist camps have been marked and located in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Northern Areas. Woven around this network and in the pipeline are 3,500 terrorists in different states of readiness to go across the LoC. There are roughly 500 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters among them, with 75 having sneaked into the valley. The Al Qaeda label has been restricted to close associates of Osama bin Laden. The others are to be referred to as Afghan veterans.

The span of terrorist radio nets has been maintained though traffic has dropped marginally. Havala operations are continuing. The template of infiltration shows that since May 27, four and seven infiltration attempts were made in June and July, respectively. Between August 1 and 14, six infiltration bids have been foiled and 25 terrorists dispatched to heaven. The figures for infiltration -- May: 152; June: 117; July: 107; and August (till August 13): 50.

These figures, compared to last year, reflect a drop of 40 per cent in infiltration. But violence levels have not declined. The upsurge in violence has to do with the need to interfere with the Amarnath Yatra and the electoral process. The casualty rates and the ratio between terrorist and security forces have been more or less constant, hovering around 1:5. The losses suffered by terrorists are made up by fresh recruits coming in with the continuing infiltration. Unless the number of those being sent to heaven is much greater than the number of those infiltrating, violence will stay.

Terrorists have changed tactics. Hurling hand grenades at security forces rather than using improvised explosive devices is the preferred option. The terrorists are targeting election staff and political candidates in a bid to create fear and prevent a high turnout. Closer to the election, the security grid will be tightened to counter security threats.

India has reason to be disappointed with the US in making a distinction between its own no-holds-barred war on terrorism and India's restrained response to a more evil and institutionalised proxy war. It was hoped that the US would help India address its security concerns after it had brought about a regime change in Afghanistan. That has not happened.

For the US, the current priority is keeping Musharraf in place and stable. That is the reason the emphasis is on ending or reducing infiltration, not on dismantling its infrastructure. The dilemma for India is how to demobilise its armed forces who were deployed eight months ago with the express purpose of ending cross-border terrorism permanently.

The army has done a splendid job in raising the political, diplomatic, and material costs of infiltration, defanging fidayeen [suicide squads] and keeping violence down. Yet, the high cost of mobilisation -- Rs 7,000 crore so far and 200 lives -- would have been in vain if infiltration is merely halted, not switched off.

For years, Musharraf and his ilk have said that Pakistan is not involved in infiltration. By saying that it has been stopped, they have acknowledged their lie. That is a small gain for Operation Parakram.

Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta

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