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The Rediff Special/ Shalabh Kumar

Converting Kargil Into A Genuine Victory

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Prime Minister Vajpayee is dangerously close to repeating the mistakes of prime ministers Nehru, Shastri and Indira Gandhi. In each of the three full-scale wars we have had with Pakistan, prior to the Kargil conflict we have frittered away the advantages of the military campaign at the closure stage or on the negotiating table.

Nehru's mistake in calling a ceasefire too early and taking the issue of Kashmir to the United Nations for resolution are fairly well-chronicled, as a starting point for the modern-day Kashmir issue. Under pressure from Mountbatten and personally committed to peace and non-violence, Nehru opted for a civilised resolution to the conflict.

The results were disastrous for India. One, it partitioned Kashmir into India and Pakistan-controlled sectors and two, permanently put under question the legality of the accession of Kashmir to India. Nehru expected the UN, and especially the United States and Great Britain, to side with India -- his government lost that particular diplomatic war, quite disastrously, on the negotiating table.

The 1965 war with Pakistan did not end in a decisive victory for any one side. The important thing, however, was that when Shastri flew to Tashkent to negotiate a peace settlement with Ayub Khan under the aegis of Kosygin, India was in a distinctly superior position militarily. When Pakistan captured the Akhnoor and Chicken's Neck salient in Kashmir, Shastri's aggressive reaction of opening war along the entire western front with Pakistan had resulted in the Indian Army making substantial inroads into Pakistan territory and famously coming within striking distance of Lahore.

Shastri, for reasons still not quite clear, decided to play a Prithviraj Chauhan to Ayub Khan's Mohammed Ghouri. He agreed to withdraw the Indian Army from all captured territories, including some strategic territories in Kashmir. J N Dixit, India's foreign secretary during 1991-94, in his book Across Borders -- Fifty Years of India's Foreign Policy, excuses Shastri with these words: ''Shastri, under pressure from a friendly country like the Soviet Union, and taking into account the larger considerations of peace and stability, perhaps agreed to a compromise beyond what was necessary.''

Once again the military gains had been sacrificed at the negotiating table for an elusive peace and stability. 1971 was probably the best opportunity that India had to resolve the Kashmir issue on terms favourable to it. India had come out of the war not only a decisive but also a magnanimous victor.

The ceasefire Indira Gandhi unilaterally declared, against the advice of her armed forces commanders, was driven by real politik and economic reasons. It was consistent with the stand that the war was necessary only to resolve the genuine desires of the Bangladeshis and the concomitant problem of refugees in India. Importantly, she was also guided by the mood of the nation.

The people of nations at war pay a heavy price -- the economic, physical and emotional cost of wars are extremely severe. Dead and injured soldiers, war shortages leading to rationing, black-outs, not to mention other war-driven economic problems, can leave a people discontented and seeking an end to it all. A prolonged war with Pakistan on the western front, after the Bangladesh war, would have taken a heavy toll on the people, and probably the sheen off the decisive victory on the eastern front. Apart from the above mentioned reasons, superpower politics, in the form of pressure from Soviet Union for a quick resolution, also played a part in Indira Gandhi's decision.

In declaring a unilateral ceasefire after General Niazi's surrender in Dhaka, Indira Gandhi was securing her own political future as much as addressing the real concerns of continuing a war. By closing the war at the point that she did, India came out a clear and undisputed victor. An aside -- the psychological impact of this on us as a nation will have to await evaluation by future historians.

A young country, scarred by a crushing and humiliating defeat by a neighbour claiming friendship, struggling to find its feet in the comity of nations where armed power pretty much defined (still defines, some would say) global stature, forced into a compromising deal with another just a few years back, responds with a decisive armed victory in support of a morally sound cause -- just what the doctor ordered.

Indira Gandhi, a far tougher and shrewder politician than either of her predecessors, drove a fairly hard bargain with Zulfiqar Bhutto in Shimla, post-1971 war. The crucial difference was, of course that India was the decisive victor and the negotiations were not under the aegis of any outside power. Significant steps could have been taken to resolve the issue of Kashmir in Shimla. While Indira Gandhi cannot be accused of playing it soft, she did not drive a particularly hard bargain on Kashmir.

The Kashmir issue was discussed. It did not form a part of the formal agreement essentially to make the agreement more acceptable to the Pakistanis, as India once again sought the moral high ground of peace and stability. This is what J N Dixit has to say in his book: ''Mrs Gandhi was keen to resolve the Kashmir issue also. It was suggested to Bhutto that the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir be redrawn and readjusted in the context of the military operations of December 1971. It was also suggested that the ceasefire line should be initially called the 'Line of Control' and then the Jammu and Kashmir problem should be resolved by Pakistan retaining control over the areas west of this line (what we call Pak Occupied Kashmir today) and India retaining jurisdiction over the areas east of this line. Bhutto told Mrs Gandhi that this suggestion was acceptable to him but he did not want this particular arrangement to be a part of the formal agreement as he would be accused in Pakistan of abject surrender.''

Sensitivity to the enemy's izzat! Add that to concerns of peace and stability, over the country's strategic needs.

The lessons for Prime Minister Vajpayee are clear. In every war/conflict that we have had with Pakistan, the military gains have been lost through poor execution of the endgame. Kargil must be different.

As of now, we have gained little from this conflict. Facts of the case -- Pakistan or Pakistani-backed guerrillas invaded our territory, we have lost around 400 men, brave and patriotic men, recapturing those territories from them and restoring the status quo.

The world, especially the US-led western world, supported us in our intention to clear the intruders from what we declared as sovereign territory -- more on this a little later. When the going for the intruders got tough, Pakistan made a virtue out of necessity and magnanimously offered to withdraw. We have, in keeping with our years of commitment to peace, stability, non-violence, offered to hold fire (I suppose stopping of air-strikes etc means that in simple terms) and allow the intruders to return to wherever they crawled out from.

What have we gained, Mr Vajpayee? When you get back to the negotiating table with Mian Sharief, what is the plus that you will claim out of this conflict?

That we managed to defend our territory and repulse the intruders? Wasn't that only expected from one of the world's largest armed forces? When the conflict started, there was little doubt in any one's mind that the intrusion will be repulsed -- it was only the time that it would take that was under question. In any case, the entire purpose of the nuclear tests and becoming a nuclear power was to deter our enemies from harbouring any hopes of ever again capturing Indian territory, wasn't it? Or are we claiming that the ability to repulse an intrusion by a small band of 'unofficial' soldiers is a key measure of our military strength?

That we managed to get the world, read that as the US, to support our actions? We need to be careful here. The world has supported only the act of clearing out the intruders, not even the legitimate and in military terms, fully justifiable, act of crossing the LoC to cut-off their supply lines. No country has come out in open support of our stand that Kashmir is an integral part of India.

The US agrees with us that we are fully justified in using the armed forces to throw out the intruders. It, to a large extent, accepts that the intruders are supported by Pakistan. It has still not uttered a word, however, supporting India's contention that Kargil is only one in a series of Pakistani adventures to forcibly try and reverse the perfectly legal accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India. When the conflict in Kargil ends, so will the support that we enjoy from the world community, unless we drive home the advantage now.

The biggest debit of the Kargil conflict has been to expose the state of unreadiness that the Indian armed forces are in. For years we have heard from defence experts that the cuts in defence expenditure are slowly eroding the strength of the Indian armed forces. Kargil has brought us face to face with that reality.

There is little doubt about the bravery and toughness of the Indian soldier. Unfortunately, wars are not won by those alone. Pakistan now knows that it can inflict reasonable damages on the Indian Army through such intrusions. Nawaz Sharief, in his televised address to the Pakistani people, pretty much states the obvious, when he says that there will be many more Kargils in the future.

This is not an idle threat -- Pakistan has little to lose. The Islamic jihad does not put a premium on its soldiers lives. To make Pakistan think twice about these misadventures, we need to make them pay a heavier price for Kargil.

That is, in effect, the lesson of 1948, 1965 and 1971. The concerns for peace and stability, the desire to been seen as statesman-like and the need to score political points through an early resolution should not compromise what is clearly an opportunity to inflict severe punishment to Pakistan. Pakistan is currently on the mat and the time is right for some decisive blows.

The first step is to stop all talk about ceasefire. Pakistan chose to start the conflict. The option to close it is India's. While the Nawaz Sharief government, under pressure from the US continues to put pressure on the Mujahideen soldiers to withdraw, we have the ideal opportunity to build our military positions in the valley.

India holds the aces here -- no one will believe that the withdrawal is complete unless India says so. A direct corollary is that India should declare that the withdrawal is complete only when its military objectives are satisfied. Capturing strategic points all along the LoC in the valley could be one of them. We should, when we do choose to declare a cessation of hostilities, be entrenched in all strategic points necessary to defend the valley.

On the diplomatic front, we have a unique opportunity to finish what Indira Gandhi started in Shimla. A final resolution of the Kashmir issue is possible right now. Converting the LoC into the international border is probably India's best way forward -- that, however, is grist for another column! At that stage the victory of Kargil will be complete.

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