February 18, 2002


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Varsha Bhosle

Puppets on a star-spangled string

So, how have we done since Op Enduring Freedom? Let's do a quick recap: As the US was readying to thram the Great Islamic Warriors, we turned down the advice of our military leadership to hit the jihadi bases in PoK in early October. In any case, between 9/11 and 9/15, most of the terrorist training camps even in Pakistan's FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) had been temporarily evacuated -- meaning, such forays should have been undertaken way before the WTC attacks. Nevertheless, even if we'd entered PoK just before the US moved on Afghanistan, we could have tripled the pressure on Musharraf, taken out some remaining bases and, most importantly, struck at the morale of the Islamic jihadis. And all this with the US in no position to advocate restraint or fight alongside Pakistan.

Of course, we didn't. For, there's that bogey of this part of the world being a "nuclear flashpoint" -- the mantra that's intended to scare us into "exercising restraint" in the face of Paki terrorism. Admittedly, the nuclear dimension is a dreadful reality. But can it be permitted to paralyse us into total inaction...? Should Pakistan's nuclear brinkmanship, designed to deter us from military action even as it bleeds us via a proxy war, be allowed to continue...? Lt Gen (retd) Vinay Shankar writes: "It is time we called its nuclear bluff... Our nuclear arsenal is much larger than Pakistan's. Given both countries' relative sizes our ability to absorb damage is much greater. Our air defence and surveillance systems are much better, making penetration by Pakistani delivery systems more difficult. A pre-emptive first strike will not in any way alter the balance. Therefore, only insanity can justify the use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan." But, as is our wont, we stayed put.

On December 18, London's Telegraph quoted senior Indian army officers saying that any hesitation to hit Pakistan would be "expensive" and not retaliating for the attack on Parliament would demoralise the armed forces. Thus, by December 28, we responded with mobilising the troops at the frontiers, snapping bus, rail and air links, reducing the strength of the high commissions, and handing over a list of 20 terrorists for extradition. "Diplomatic offensive," we happily called it. "Op Parakram is not about fighting a war -- it is about winning it without fighting one," our analysts smugly said.

Problem is, such "offensives" can't work in the absence of a visible and unambiguous determination of the government to mount an attack should Pakistan fail to mend its way. Naturally, Pramod Mahajan's telling Tony Blair that the troop deployment was "200 per cent defensive" and Vajpayee's informing the world that "we have deployed the army not for attacking Pakistan, but to defend our own territory. It should not be taken as if we are heading towards war" neutralised whatever coercive value the concentration of troops had achieved. Not to forget the Entity's promising to relax all sanctions with: "Distinct movement will be made if there is action with regard to the 20 most wanted terrorists and criminals" -- and to hell with the infiltration crisis. Rocket scientists, all.

It didn't take long for Musharraf to call the bluff -- "I can safely say that there are 95 per cent chances there will be no war" -- and continue with his adolescent activities. By January 4, it became abundantly clear to even those who still believed in the inherent goodness of Man, but excluding whackos in the mould of Bidwai and Nayar, that Mushy had no intentions of stemming the jihadi tide. The Washington Post of that day reported: "The Pakistani government has indicated it does not plan to go after [jihadis] because it views their efforts as a freedom fight, not an Islamic holy war."

January 12 brought the "historic" speech, which was soon followed by all sorts of absurd allegations against India that persist to date. At the time of writing, Dawn reports that "according to the Establishment, [Pearl's kidnapper Omar Sheikh] was suspected of having strong Indian connections and the entire drama of Kandahar hijacking was created to launch agents of Indian intelligence into Pakistan. That perhaps explains why the Indians did not give his name in the list of 20 terrorists wanted by it, a senior interior ministry official said."

Bottom-line is, as our service chiefs deposed in Parliament, there's been no decrease in infiltration into J&K. For the month of January during 2000, 2001 and 2002, incidents on the border numbered 16, 153 and 412, respectively; RDX seizures were 14kg, 159kg and 225kg, with AK-47 seizures being 86, 74 and 112, respectively. Moreover, these are winter statistics, when infiltration is "traditionally" at its lowest due to the snow-logged passes.

Through it all, and even as the Daisy Cutters were scything the Beards, Uncle Sam continued being his usual self. That is, urging us to "exercise restraint" and de-escalate on the border. The state department's Richard Boucher actually told a news briefing in January: "I would say we've seen various kinds of reports that would indicate that there is a lessening of activity across the Line of Control." I've no idea which LoC this might be.

So, how have we done since Op Enduring Freedom...? I say, we done pretty good! For, we have all the potential and all the propensity in the world to do much, much worse.

Let's get one thing straight: Atal Bihari Vajpayee ain't no Indira Gandhi. Therefore, to expect his government to stare the Seventh Fleet right in the eye, as Mrs G did during the Bangladesh war, is plain stupid. Moreover, what with the venerable The Times of India editorialising that "unfortunately, rather than adopting a measured and sober response, official India has chosen to echo the hysteria and war-mongering resounding across major world capitals", the Nobel Peace Prize aspirant couldn't possibly have gone against the whims of the professional liberals (who never did or will vote for him), as opposed to the will of the common people (who did). Simply put, we should be exceedingly grateful to this government for not having capitulated to Pakistan as yet. It's called 'counting one's blessings', and let's leave it at that.

However, I do see a lot of fury in a lot of Indians against the Bush administration for its double standards vis--vis the Terrorist State of Pakistan. To tell you the truth, I don't understand why -- unless it's a misdirected rage against our own government. To my mind, this anger springs from our depending more and more on America to pressurise Pakistan into stopping cross-border terrorism, since we know that our government has reached the end of its bluff and will/can do no more. In many ways, we are in the same sorry spot as the Pakis: Puppets on a star-spangled string -- with the stringing-up facilitated by our respective Shekhchillis.

Perhaps, I'm free from this rage against America because I'm more cynical than others and have never expected freebies from it. Perhaps, it's because I envy America's fully focused and utterly ruthless pursuit of its own interests; indeed, I'd be one happy camper if we could muster a smidgen of such single-mindedness towards only India's welfare (unlike Nehru's giving up the UN Security Council seat for the love of China). Or perhaps it's because I interpret the scenario different from the furious.

Thing is, after reading all the conflicting and bizarre reports on various events that unfolded during and after the bombing of Afghanistan, I came to conclusions with which few of my jingoistic ilk agree, viz:

  • Osama bin Laden hasn't been caught "dead or alive" simply because the US doesn't want him caught yet.
  • Bush and his team are fully aware of what Musharraf and ISI have been/are up to -- whether it's the Beards hidden in the NWFP, or the convenient fire in the Pakistan Army's Rawalpindi office, or the gagging of Ghulam Husnain, who broke the story on Dawood's presence in Karachi ("He has consented not to stand by his story on Daud Ibrahim," Husnain's friend said when asked about the reporter's mysterious disappearance and return).
  • The US does not want India to de-escalate; methinks our government is in on the scam.
  • Phase II of America's war against Islamic terrorism started long ago... guess where.
  • The US ain't gonna budge from Pakistan -- and that's what's ultimately gonna benefit us.
Uncle Sam has got his foot into Asia and is digging it in -- using the excuse provided by a fugitive bin Laden. Sure, the decimating of Islamic terrorism is America's major goal, but the West wouldn't be so superior if it didn't think laterally and long-term: China, the only nation with the wherewithal to challenge US supremacy, is next door to Pakistan, and America's setting up of a military base in Pakistan will neutralise China's influence in South Asia. Beijing has already threatened to pull out of the Gwadar Deep Sea Port Project -- which the US sees as a threat to its interest in the Gulf -- in protest against Islamabad's handing over of the nearby Pasni and Dalbandin air bases to the US. America wants to lease 20,000 acres to set up bases -- with no-fly zones and related facilities for a 10-year period, the deal including diplomatic immunity to US servicemen from the application of Pakistani laws. Now, with a hefty but trickling aid package from the US -- all tied up in tough caveats, including fair elections and the reduction of tensions with India -- how can Pakistan afford to refuse...? Would any vassal State...? Oh ya, it certainly won't be "just a short-term dance", heeheehee!

So what happened at the much vaunted Mushy-Bushy milan in Washington? Musharraf blathered on about the "aggressive deployment of Indian forces", "the Kashmir dispute", "the future of Afghanistan" -- and Bush responded with, I kid you not: "Good job".

This was followed by: "I also applaud President Musharraf's clearly stated intention to work for peace in Kashmir, and lower tensions with India. I'm particularly pleased to note that he is going to be holding elections later on this fall" - and Mushy made like the Cheshire Cat.

Later, Donald Rumsfeld said some rather rum stuff about "military-to-military cooperation". After which, Ari Fleischer clarified that m-t-m-c does not mean resuming the delivery of F-16s. After which, Condi Rice said apropos Kashmir, "The US is always prepared to help in any way, but we don't believe this is something that mediation or facilitation is going to help." Heeheehee!

Even if I *had* had any doubts about my assumptions, they were firmly put to rest by Bush's performance at the press conference: The most powerful man in the world looked fawningly at General Haddock and said: "I want to remind people from Pakistan that I didn't mention many world leaders in my State of the Union. But I mentioned President Musharraf, for a reason. And hopefully, that's an indication of my sincerity of developing a strong and meaningful relationship." Oooooh, I thought, Mushy's good as gone...

Varsha Bhosle

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