Exasperated by the way Musharraf ran rings around them, the BJP rulers of India moved some divisions to the border. General Musharraf gave an interview to Steve Coll and sent a message: if you want anything from me, you must give something in return - and by that he meant some return on Kashmir. It is a pretty pointless game: Pakistan sends terrorists - or does not notice they are crossing the border - and they attack the Indian army or civilians; in return, India threatens dire consequences, but does nothing. The only sufferers in this game are the Kashmiris, who have to live with hostile, paranoid, overbearing Indian soldiers.. This column was published in Business Standard of 10 June 2002.
TALKING HIS WAY OUT OF TROUBLE
This is the patriotic season, and patriotism requires abuse of Musharraf. Many are doing that very well. So no great harm will be done if I take some time off and recount just what Musharraf is telling us. Here, it is not his speech to the nation on 27 May that is important; it is his interview with Steven Coll, Managing Editor of Washington Post two days earlier.
Coll asked Musharraf if infiltration across the line of control had stopped. Musharraf said, “I have always been saying that there is nothing happening across the Line of Control…we will ensure that terrorism does not go from Pakistan anywhere outside into the world.” He did not say, “We have stopped everyone from crossing the line of control”; instead, he said, nothing is happening. Coll found that evasive, and again asked him, “Are there new initiatives that your government can take now to advance the cause that you outlined in January?” Musharraf repeated, nothing is happening across the line of control. But he said he could not take responsibility for what is happening in Kashmir. He condemned the attacks on Indian Parliament, in Jammu and in Calcutta because the assailants had killed civilians, and said he would “move against anyone involved here” if he was given proof. He thus implied that killing Indian police or soldiers was not terrorism. A third time Coll asked, did Musharraf mean that he had consistently seen no activity, since January, or that he had stopped the infiltration “right now, this week”? To which Musharraf replied, “I repeat: there is nothing happening on the Line of Control. That is what I would like to repeat.”
So Musharraf was persistently and deliberately vague; he refused to say that he had stopped infiltration since 12 January as he had promised. And in the same breath he kept saying, “There must be reciprocation.” He also made it clear that by reciprocation he did not mean de-escalation of the military buildup. He meant that the Indian army should leave the towns in Kashmir and go out to the outskirts; and that India should allow international media and human rights organizations (such as Amnesty) into Kashmir. The Indian army is killing people, burning houses and raping women; that must stop. And the line of control should be monitored by the UN.
What did he think India was trying to achieve? Two things. First, it was trying to stop infiltration from Pakistan so that Kashmir could be isolated and all resistance crushed. And second, India was trying to destabilize Pakistan. “Wherever there is an ethnic division which can be exploited, wherever there is a sectarian division which can be exploited, these are the two areas which they have exploited all along in the past years. All along. And we know that. We know that there have been training camps across on their borders when there were certain ethnic differences within our society. They have been involved with that. We are very sure that they carried this out…” And why does he think we did such nasty things to them? Because “they want a subservient Pakistan which remains subservient to them…They are arrogant and they want to impose their will on every country in this region.”
Musharraf was very illuminating about Pakistan’s strategy. He said his forces follow a strategy of deterrence – that is, of promising to make war costly enough for India to deter it. They are capable of “offensive defence” – and he said, “These words are very important.” He meant that while his troops would try to make incursions into Pakistan expensive for the Indian army, they would also try to take some territory; such real estate would be useful in the bargaining after the war. It was the territory we had taken in Sind in the 1971 war that gave us an upper hand; this time, Musharraf would try the trick on us. And in case India tries to confine the war to Kashmir, he has massed 150,000 ex-servicemen close to the line of control; they will stage a massive infiltration into Kashmir, combine with the rebels inside and engulf our forces. “Such dynamics will be unleashed … that maybe even I may not be able to control.” In other words, the tactic of 1947 and 1998, of sending armed men into Kashmir without admitting them to be Pakistani soldiers, will be tried out on a much larger scale.
Finally, his most important message: “Pakistan is no Iraq. India is no United States.”
That is the truth. Ever since September 11, this government has suffered from an illusion. It has believed that because the US could avenge the attacks of September 11 upon people of its choice in Afghanistan, India had acquired a right born of precedent to punish Pakistan for its support of terrorism in India. But acquiring a right is not enough; you have to enforce that right. Advani has said ad infinitum that India’s problem was its own and it had to tackle it itself. In that spirit, the government mobilized the armed forces and prepared them for a military conflict with Pakistan.
But India is not the US; Pakistan is not Afghanistan. The US could remove the Taliban and replace it by a friendly government; India does not have the military might to do so. Even if a military calculation showed that it did, it would have to reckon on nuclear destruction before a friendly government was installed in Pakistan. And without a friendly government, terrorist incursions into Kashmir cannot be stopped. The best that can be achieved with a war is that some territory would be taken, some battles would be won. At the end of it there would still be the same or similar government in Pakistan; India would have to negotiate with it. And even if, in another Simla agreement, Pakistan agreed to stop all infiltration, there is no way of keeping it to its promise forever.
So however intense the frustration of our rulers, they have no way of overcoming it. Some of them earlier justified the killing of Muslims in terms of Gujarati Hindus’ spontaneous outrage. They too – Vajpayee, Advani, Joshi, Fernandes – are outraged; in outrage they can start a war. But their action will be just as ill directed and pointless; it will achieve no worthwhile purpose. If they had any sense – and any concern for public money – they would pull back the troops.
So is there no solution? No response that would work? Collect all VHP hooligans, make them grow beards and learn Punjabi, and send them to Pakistan for theological training. If nothing else, it would ensure peace in Gujarat. And who knows, they may convert the Pakistanis to peace.