May 22, 2002


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T V R Shenoy

What exactly are India's options?

May I start by talking about Spiderman? [Yes, I know I should be writing about war, and terrorism, and how sad it is to live in a bad neighbourhood, but bear with me.] The Spiderman, by the way, is not the record-making movie released a couple of weeks ago, but the comic-book that began it all forty years ago.

The tale runs that young Peter Parker, a neurotic teenager, gained spider-powers after being bitten by a 'radio-active' spider. His first reaction was to use his powers only as much as it would benefit him. While leaving a television studio one day, he allowed a burglar to escape; asked why, he shrugged and told the guards that it was none of his business. Later that day, the same criminal killed Parker's beloved uncle, Ben. The story ended with the moral: 'With great power comes great responsibility.'

Think of this as an allegory for what is happening in South Asia. The "great power" is the United States. Ben Parker, the victim who was let down, however accidentally, is the Indian public. And the burglar? Well, I leave that to you!

After the attack on Parliament on December 13 last year, there was immense international pressure on India. The recurrent motif was that Delhi should not react in haste. The Americans, specifically, were insistent that India give General Musharraf more time to act against the militants running amok in his country. While the Government of India arranged for the Indian Army to be deployed in strength on the border, there was no crossing of the international border. [Nor, for that matter, of the Line of Control.] But what was the result?

The training camps, as many as one hundred of them, are back in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir [call it what you will]. India believes that up to three thousand 'volunteers' are being instructed in the finer details of their chosen craft in these outposts.

Next, there have been reports coming out of Pakistan that General Musharraf struck a devil's bargain with some militant outfits before that farcical referendum. [These allegations have been made by Pakistanis and independent Western journalists, not Indians.] It seems that three of every four militants who were imprisoned following American pressure have been released.

So much for the fruits of India's restraint! Small wonder then if the leadership in Delhi has little faith in the soothing words coming out of Washington. If there is a measure of anger against Pakistan, there is also disgust at what India perceives as the United States' double-dealing vis-a-vis South Asia.

From Delhi's perspective, the United States has done precisely nothing to put pressure on General Musharraf, which is precisely what it had promised back in December. Instead, in the name of strengthening its ally in the 'war against terrorism' the United States has given General Musharraf a blank cheque in South Asia. I am not saying this is necessarily correct, but it is an accurate report of how Delhi feels.

General Musharraf is in a much better position to ward off Indian retaliation in some ways than he was in December. He has had time to mend fences with some of the militant groups, if not all of them. He has had time to ensure that his troops have taken their base positions. He has given the militants enough breathing space until the snow melted in the Himalayan passes.

What has India gained? Nothing much. A soldier's comment sums up the mood rather well. "Previously, they [the terrorists] used to attack us directly. Now that we are posted at the border in full strength, they are making a target of our wives and children instead."

Obviously, the atmosphere, both in the armed services and among civilians, is one that is sullen.

I believe that there is little room any longer for a third party to intervene as the United States did five months ago. When the Union home minister announced in Parliament that India must look to its own defences, he spoke as much to Washington as to Islamabad.

But what exactly are India's options? Speaking of putting diplomatic pressure, as the Left continues to do, is silly. The only nation capable of doing so is the United States -- and it shall not do anything of the kind until the campaign ends in Afghanistan. Business links between India and Pakistan were minuscule at the best of times, so snapping them is little more than a gesture. Stopping cricket matches isn't a gesture that will shake militant groups. What does that leave but armed retaliation in some measure?

There is little talk any longer in New Delhi of "calibrated responses" as there used to be immediately after the December 13 attack. I am afraid any minister who speaks in such a manner would invite derision at best. The Congress (I) spokesman got it right when he said that asking the high commissioner of Pakistan to leave Delhi was something that should have been done a long time ago. And Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has already asked for a declaration of war. The interesting point about this last fact is that even in the deep South there is a genuine dislike for Pakistan. Obviously, pressure is mounting across India for Delhi to take some tangible action.

And the mood in Delhi too has shifted. It is no longer a question of 'whether' but of 'when' as one man put it to me.

Can we trust the Americans when they say that General Musharraf can deliver the goods, and any replacement would be worse? We have heard that story before -- only to see the wolf descend upon innocent women and children in Kashmir.

But remember the moral of Spiderman, you Americans! Ignore the growing intolerance and fundamentalism in Pakistan at your own peril; exercise your power now, or weep later over slain innocents of your own!

Terrorism strikes in Jammu

T V R Shenoy

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