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Pakistan: The need for smart action

By Maj Gen Ashok Mehta [retd]
June 11, 2003 08:39 IST
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For the leader of the world's largest democracy and an emerging world power to be sharing the high table with leaders from P-5 and G-8 is no small honour. But for him to be pleading India's case that they ask Pakistan to stop cross border terrorism is a bit demeaning. And now we have Home Minister LK Advani emulating his leader in the US, beating the terrorism drum.

Last year India threatened to go to war with Pakistan -- nearly did so, but for the US. Even that failed to force Pakistan to stop cross border terrorism. Some of the very leaders Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was dining with recently had kept telling us: don't go to war, give us more time, we will tell Pervez Musharraf to stop it, etc. They did little on cross border terrorism but ensured in their national interest that a war did not take place last year.

Every country advances its own national interest. Unfortunately, though India has been saying it will fight this war on its own, it has built up neither the strength nor the resolve to do so. 16 months after ordering its military to battle stations and four months after withdrawing the forces without achieving the central objective, India blinked a second time: offered a hand of friendship to Pakistan.

"The Indian ship of state had run aground. It had to be brought on course by restoring relations with Pakistan as on 13 December 2001," observed a key advisor to the prime minister.

In a stark shift in strategy, India has signalled several concessions to Pakistan. It is quite a switch from its previous policy of preemption and coercion. Because India is no longer saying: 'We won't talk till you end cross border terrorism'; but that: 'Yes, we will talk, but for talks to succeed, you will need to stop cross border terrorism.'

In fact India is saying ending cross border terrorism is no longer a precondition. It has bought Pakistan's line that all terrorists are not under Pakistan's state control and therefore has conceded that infiltration need not end 100 percent.

In Parliament the prime minister had alluded to some changes in J&K which created quite an uproar. Later he said concessions would have to be made. His foreign minister claims he has a roadmap which will move step by step to a future summit. He has been rather cavalier in suggesting intelligence sharing and joint patrolling with Pakistan.

Pakistan has responded positively through Prime Minister [Mir Zafarullah Khan] Jamali. General Pervez Musharraf has promised not to be an obstacle. Jamali's authority was tested when his nominee for the new envoy to India was changed by the foreign office. No wonder Vajpayee offered to talk to Musharraf instead of Jamali who has been exchanging peace signals with him.

On the question of infiltration, Musharraf repeated the familiar line that 'there is no infiltration but if there are training camps they will be gone tomorrow'. Jamali's explanation [and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri's more recently] on cross border terrorism was also familiar. He said: 'We have no control over them. India has more resources, it can be more firm with them. We can give a helping hand.' To which the Indian foreign minister came up with the unoriginal idea of joint patrolling to monitor the Line of Control and intelligence sharing.

It is completely untrue that terrorists are not under the Pakistan army and ISI control. There are numerous training camps and launch pads, the latter under army control. All one has to do is to read the recent writings on jihad by Jessica Stern, Bernard Henry-Levy, David Hicks, Mohammad Amir Rana, etc to discover that there are at least 110 training camps in existence.

Terrorists, as any soldier familiar with the terrain on the LoC will tell you, cannot cross the LoC without the support of the local army unit deployed there and cover of artillery barrage. They need guides on both sides to keep them on track. As for joint patrolling, it is a non-starter. The 798 km long LoC and 198 km international border [which Pakistan calls working
] is mined most haphazardly on both sides and especially in the upper reaches, mines have drifted on account of snowfall. The terrain is difficult and the LoC not marked on the ground. Further it is a live border with regular exchange of fire. Under these conditions only potential martyrs would risk joint patrolling.

The root of cross border terrorism is not infiltration, but the half a million madarsas in Pakistan and PoK and hundreds of training camps disguised as nobler institutions of god. Instead of joint patrolling, the more effective means to controlling cross border terrorism would be the appointment of an international monitoring and verification team to check out the various training camps and jihadi institutions.

Another confidence building measure would be a complete ceasefire on the Line of Control/international border in J&K. In 2001, an unofficial ceasefire was observed and this was supplemented with one unilaterally declared by the local Hizbul Mujahideen. A ceasefire, at least on the LoC, is a prerequisite for ending cross border terrorism.

But no amount of confidence building measures with Pakistan will work unless it is serious about creating an environment for peace and tranquillity conducive for the resumption of the political process leading to any peace dividend. Pakistan is indulging in customary symbolic gestures to showcase the nobility of its intentions prior to the Musharraf visit to Camp David later this month.

Pakistan can never permanently switch off the tap of terrorism, its eternal and divine leverage over India. The US will continue to wink at Pakistan's duplicity on its public pronouncements on ending terrorism as long as the latter continues to give US support against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is already reaping a rich economic harvest from the US on this account. It is therefore naïve on Vajpayee's part to think Musharraf will be told to end cross border terrorism. If the US did not help India save its face during last year's military Operation Parakram and instead deterred India from going to war, why would George Bush do anything now? Drinking water or wine, he has sized India's capacity in taking the hard line and will therefore wait it out.

India-Pakistan normalisation process minus cross border terrorism is perfectly doable. We can play cricket, hockey and organise mushairas. Nothing more politically substantive and meaningful. Operation Parakram has led to the present thaw. It is either war or a crisis-like Brass Tacks in 1986-87 or the nuclear alarm in 1990 -- that has led to cooling off between India and Pakistan be it at Tashkent, Simla, Lahore, and even Agra. If India could not tame Pakistan even after a comprehensive military victory and 93,000 prisoners of war in 1971, how can Vajpayee's latest offer in Srinagar bring to an end Pakistan's pathological hostility to India of which cross border terrorism and Kashmir are mere symptoms.

It is business as usual on the infiltration front despite Pakistani reports that all camps have been ordered closed before  Musharraf's visit to the US. Let no one be deluded by such actions that were done many times in the past. What India therefore needs to do is to fight this proxy war on its own and not on Pakistan's terms. It is both essential and urgent that India raises the cost for Pakistan's failing jihad.

India should be smarter than buying Pakistan's line that infiltration is beyond its control. Clandestine Special Force operations across the LoC in a reverse proxy war have to begin. At the same time, Operation Sarp Vinash has shown that punitive counter terrorism operations on our side of the LoC can keep the terrorists on the run. The appointment of Lt Gen S K Sinha as the new governor of J&K is bound to result in better operational coordination than has been the case
so far.

In three to five years, given the political will, J&K can be returned to the pre-Kargil era of political and economic revival. The army must once again create the space for this while politicians hopefully will come out from their dream world and Wagahwallahs stop lighting candles by day.

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Maj Gen Ashok Mehta [retd]