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The Rediff Special/ Lt General Eric A Vas [retired]

Indo-Pak confrontation: Who's winning?

The concept of religious groups having the right to claim a separate national identity has never been accepted by India, which succumbed to the Muslim League's bullying tactics and accepted the Partition of India in order to avoid bloodshed. In 1947, there was no question of Pakistan having the right to Jammu and Kashmir merely because it is a Muslim majority state. When tribal raiders, sponsored by Pakistan and lead by regular army officers, overran the state and almost reached Srinagar, the Maharaja signed the instrument of accession and joined India. He then handed over the administration of the state to the popular Muslim leader, Sheikh Abdullah

When the Indian armed forces were flown into Srinagar, there was overwhelming public support in the Kashmir valley for India. While the raiders were being swept back into Pakistan, the government in Delhi, an aggrieved party, made a formal complaint to the UN Security Council, which named Pakistan as the aggressor. The UN ordered a cease fire and ordered the withdrawal of Pakistani troops and raiders from J&K. This was to be followed by a UN-supervised plebiscite to decide the will of the people. The cease-fire was accepted, but the other two provisions of the UN resolution were never implemented...

At that time, Pakistan became an ally of the US in its confrontation with the Soviet Union. It received massive military aid from the US. Misjudging its strength, successive governments in Pakistan fought two more wars against India. In the Indo-Pak War of 1971, Pakistan suffered a crushing defeat. Over 92,000 of their officers and men were taken prisoner. East Pakistan was renamed Bangladesh. By then, Pakistan had come to realise that they could not defeat India in a conventional war.

In the early 1980s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan resulted in a fresh US-Pak alliance with renewed military aid. Pakistani officers and men had an opportunity to lead Afghan insurgents in their successful guerrilla war against Soviet forces. Pakistani strategists asked themselves, 'If we could defeat a superpower in Afghanistan, why not adopt the same tactics and defeat the Indian army in J&K?' This simplistic view overlooked the important fact that in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union was fighting against an angry anti-Soviet Afghan people, backed by the US and Pakistan. The situation in J&K is quite different. Ignoring this fact, they began to launch well-trained guerrilla fighters across the line of control. Contrary to Pakistani expectations, there was no popular uprising in J&K and the Indian army proved to be a tough opponent. Moreover, when the Cold War ended, Pakistan was no longer a front line US ally against the Russians, and was no longer the recipient of generous US economic and military aid.

Nevertheless, Pakistan continued to wage a low intensity proxy war in J&K. The aim is to win the Kashmir valley. The tactics used is cross border terrorism by foreign militants in the guise of freedom fighters. The propaganda line adopted to sustain this war and win internal support and international sympathy is that 'Pakistan has been cheated. This Muslim-majority state should have acceded to Pakistan under the terms of Partition in 1947. India is using its armed forces to suppress Kashmiri Muslims who are demanding the right for self-determination. India is afraid to permit a UN supervised plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of the people.'

However propaganda could not conceal that Pakistan's economy was in a hole with reserves of barely $3 billion and big deficits in goods and services. Moreover, international television programmes depicted India's booming lifestyle. More importantly it showed how Indian Muslims were playing an equal and sometimes dominating role in every sphere of activity: social, political, military, in sports, in art, music and the film industry. This convinced many Pakistanis that Muslims in India were not being treated as second class citizens. They began questioning the relevance of Partition. Some recalled that on his death bed Jinnah had regretted the formation of Pakistan and called it 'the greatest blunder of my life.' Pakistani morale on the home front began to fall.

Elected politicians in Pakistan, conscious of public opinion, wanted a rapprochement with India. Military leaders and fundamentalists were determined to prevent this. Every time there was a move towards friendship, the military organised a coup, deposed their elected prime minister and justified their actions on the grounds of security. They proclaimed that India was trying to undo Partition and make it a client State. They used the fear of India to unify the country. They also adopted the slogan 'Islam in danger' in order to progressively Islamicise the armed forces and society. This enabled them to retain a fašade of popular support.

However, the practice of clinging to political power by appealing to religious sentiments saw the rise in Pakistan of intolerant fundamentalism, which resulted in suppression of Ahmediyas, who were branded as non-Muslims. This was followed by an increase in sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias. Moreover, nothing could conceal the steady downward slide of the country's economy. Nevertheless, General Musharraf continued using militant groups to carry out acts of terrorism across the Line of Control in J&K.

After the 9/11 attacks, General Musharraf had no option but to join the US-led coalition in the fight against international terrorism. This decision meant abandoning a five-year-old policy of support for the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and providing military bases on Pakistani soil for the American attack on Al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban hosts. In consequence, another hard decision had to be taken to crack down on militant fundamentalists inside Pakistan who support the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and form the backbone of terrorists operating within J&K. These militants also want to oust pro-American Musharraf from Pakistan.

In taking these decisions, General Musharraf had to first deal with powerful generals within his armed forces who opposed his policies. He sacked General Mahmood Ahmad, chief of the Inter Services Intelligence directorate. He next sacked the deputy chief of the army staff, General Mussafar Usmani, an Islamist who favoured a less pro-American stance. Both these officers were personally close to the president, having jointly carried out the coup against the Nawaz Sharif government in October 1999 after Sharif sacked General Musharraf while he was out of the country.

The general's bold decisions have proved to be a boon to his country. As a reward, governments and international banks have rescheduled his country's debts over 30 years, reduced tariff barriers against Pakistani textile exports to America and the EU. Governments have nudged donors, including the IMF and the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank to provide soft loans for restructuring the economy and boosting Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves.

Moreover, America has removed all sanctions against Pakistan, which were imposed in 1990 when the government in Islamabad was deemed to have crossed the line into nuclear proliferation. It has provided $600 million in economic assistance for poverty alleviation, promised to try to write of its $1 billion bilateral debt, allow the Pakistani army to buy military parts and spares for its ageing American weapons systems and restore its military to military contacts.

General Musharraf is attempting to assume the role of a statesman rather than a mutinous soldier. However, the threat of a fundamentalist backlash at home against him and his pro-Western and anti-fundamentalist supporters remains real. Attacks by Pakistani terrorist groups on the J&K assembly and later on India's Parliament on December 13, 2001 were apparently carried out by defiant terrorists. Their aim was to prove that their groups are beyond Musharraf's control, and to provoke a war between India and Pakistan in order to undermine Musharraf's regime. The plan misfired in Delhi thanks to the prompt reactions of Indian security men and good luck. Subsequently, India has mobilised its armed forces, which are presently deployed on the border. [But imagine what would have been India's response if the vice-president had been killed, the main entry doors blown up and about 50 MPs gunned down.]

India's current political and military responses to the Pakistani-sponsored low intensity war, which is taking place in J&K are on the right lines. India declares that 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. India has stressed that it is prepared to discuss any issue, including J&K with Pakistan, but only when it abandons its support of cross border terrorism. Meanwhile our security forces continue to intercept intruders, deal with armed terrorists, and the government attempts to improve the administration and encourage dissidents to join the political system.

Design: Dominic Xavier

Part II: The problem of internal security

The Rediff Specials

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