July 12, 2002


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The Rediff Special/ Lieutenant General Eric A Vas (retired)

Part I: Can India avoid a war with Pakistan?

As of now, India has a military edge over Pakistan. This tempts some hotheads to imagine India can conduct an all-out war, crush Pakistan and resolve this issue once and for all. Others believe 'wars resolve nothing.' In fact, that dictum is historically false. World War II destroyed Hitler and his gang. More recently, the Afghan war uprooted the Taliban government and Al Qaeda.

However, in both those instances, the victor, the United States, had the power and the resources to ensure the defeated countries were given economic and political support to ensure their revival. Even if India is able to 'defeat' Pakistan decisively in a future war (and this is arguable), it lacks the power to thereafter win peace and ensure economic, social and political stability in that country. An all-out hot war would therefore be a waste of manpower and resources and prove a disaster for both countries.

Many grudgingly admit this and ask, 'So must we sit back helplessly and do nothing while innocent citizens are being killed by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir? Why not at least show some guts and attack the militant bases across the Line of Control?'

Our armed forces certainly have the capability to launch a swift night attack across the LoC, destroy militant bases in Pakistan- occupied Kashmir and return the same night. However, since the 1960s, India has been insisting that the Jammu and Kashmir borders be treated as sacrosanct. In 1965, then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri warned Pakistan that if it sent guerrillas across the ceasefire line, it would be treated as an attack on India. When Pakistan ignored this warning, Shastri ordered Indian armed forces to attack Pakistan across the international border, resulting in the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

Though both sides keep lobbing artillery and mortar shells across the Line of Control, it is not apparently being treated as a serious violation. However, when Pakistani soldiers crossed the LoC in 1999 and occupied the heights overlooking Kargil, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee resisted public and military pressure to cross the LoC in order to eject the intruders. Thanks to the valiant attacks by the army, supported ably by the air force, the intruders were forced to accept defeat and withdraw. India's display of mature restraint by its refusal to escalate the war earned wide international approval. Today, while India insists the sanctity of the LoC be preserved and Pakistan stop sponsoring terrorist infiltration, it reserves the right to raid terrorist camps across the LoC if compelled to do so.

The president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, knows the Indian armed forces have the capability to attack at a time and place of their choosing. In order to counter this threat, Pakistani 'military experts' warn that any Indian raid across the LoC will evoke a strong military response and may even result in a nuclear strike. Some consider this a bluff designed to blackmail India. Others feel it would be imprudent take these threats lightly, especially when Pakistan is being cornered.

Americans are worried that if India carries out a raid across the LoC, the military confrontation might escalate. Musharraf has been told that infiltration must stop and that Pakistani terrorists operating in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be termed freedom fighters. He has promised the Americans that he will stop cross border terrorism.

But even if he is sincere in his intention, there are indications that an estimated 30,000 fundamentalists located in Pakistan are refusing to obey his orders. These renegades have been joined by the remnants of Al Qaeda who have gone underground. It is these elements that kidnapped and slaughtered American journalist Daniel Pearl, killed a number of French naval personnel working in Pakistan, and later attempted to bomb the American consulate in Karachi. If the president cannot control the jihadis within his country, can one expect him to control those operating in PoK? What will the US reaction be if India is compelled to take appropriate action against PoK bases that are fostering terrorism?

Musharraf has said he wants to be the Kemal Ataturk of Pakistan and make it a modern Islamic state. Indians wish him well but wait to see how he deals with renegade fundamentalists within Pakistan who accuse him of abandoning the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the jihadis in Jammu and Kashmir. Musharraf's security has been tightened. All this has enormous implications in the context of 'true democracy' that the military says it wants to usher in next October when general elections are scheduled. Constitutional amendments have already decreed a key political role to the armed forces. It looks like the military wants to stay in power for another five years.

Musharraf also says, 'Jammu and Kashmir is in the blood of every Pakistani.' He claims that if Pakistan is given the Kashmir valley, there will be love and peace between the two countries. He needs to be reminded that the current confrontation is not a territorial one. The conflict is one of ideology, as outlined yesterday. Some day, he will have the unenviable task of telling his nation to rid itself of the misconceptions and grievances with which Pakistan's propaganda machinery and false textbooks have been brainwashing its people for the past 50 years. The official Pakistani media continues its barrage of virulent anti-India propaganda.

Many urge India to stand down in order to decrease the tension between the two countries. As long as freedom remains a distant dream in Pakistan and its official media continues to preach hatred against India, our security forces must remain alert. India's responses to Pakistan's current moves on the five fronts are on the right lines. It has declared it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but that it is prepared to give a befitting response to any Pakistani nuclear threat. It has stressed it is prepared to discuss any issue, including Jammu and Kashmir, with Pakistan, but only when it stops supporting cross border terrorism.

Meanwhile, our security forces continue to intercept intruders and deal with armed terrorists within the state, while the government attempts to improve administration and encourage dissidents to join the political system and prove they have public support. Assembly elections are due in Jammu and Kashmir in September. These will be fair and open elections, which may be witnessed by foreign observers in their individual capacities.

Thus, to answer the question posed at the beginning of this article, while the Indo-Pak cold war continues, the military front is unlikely to escalate into a nuclear exchange or a full-fledged military conflict. It would be imprudent for Pakistan to do this and it would not be cost-effective for India to initiate an all-out war. But if cross border infiltration and terrorist attacks against innocent citizens continue, the government may order the armed forces to take appropriate action against terrorist bases within PoK. In such a scenario, the danger of an Indian raid across the LoC escalating into a major battle cannot be overruled.

Design: Lynette Menezes

The Rediff Specials

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