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Why not a military option against Pakistan?

By Vivek Gumaste
August 04, 2009 16:30 IST
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If diplomacy could be translated into actual warfare, then the joint Indo-Pak statement at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt would be tantamount to a massive decisive victory for Pakistan and a colossal defeat for India leaving it with a near defunct armory. In fact, India's composition exemplified everything that a country should not do in international parley: barter away ones advantage and willingly handover to its foe a new issue much to its own detriment. No wonder Pakistan walked away from this summit a clear winner having successfully set the agenda and manipulated the conclusion to suit its interests.

However to decipher the true significance of this encounter, we need to reach beyond the innuendos and the syntax inherent in the documentation. Lost in the polemics of delinking terrorism from the composite dialogue and the reference to Balochistan is a far more important nuance of Indo-Pak relations. A message that rings loud and clear and which India has repeatedly failed to comprehend: Pakistan has not changed its attitude and continues to indulge in wordplay that is plain chicanery.

The entire document reads like an exercise in deception. Compartmentalising terrorism and the composite dialogue gives Pakistan maneuvering space to drag its feet. It can claim to be in the process of normalising relations with India while covertly abetting terror on the side. If Pakistan's intention was beyond reproach, then the need for this clause, "action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed", would be redundant. Moreover, Balochistan is a red herring thrown in to muddy the picture, place India on the defensive and an issue to be resurrected at a later time as an equalizer to Kashmir.

Making a bad situation worse is India's gullibility which it flaunts as moral bravado.

"Just put the cards on the table, I am not scared," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is quoted to have remarked to Yousuf Raza Gilani at the recent summit in his trademark self effacing style; a characteristic that may be an asset in domestic politics when confronting political adversaries but is a definite liability on the international stage. The net effect of PM Singh's candor was the inappropriate and self incriminating reference to Balochistan.

India's display of naiveté becomes all the more unacceptable in light of the premonitory events preceding this arbitration.  A few days prior Lashkar-e-Tayiba founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, who had been in custody since December for his role in masterminding the Mumbai attacks, was released from jail. Apart from indicating a lack of resolve on reigning in terror, what this release signified was Pakistan's blatant disregard for India's sensibilities. In effect Pakistan was cocking a snook at India, ahead of this deliberation.

In lieu of a firm, uncompromising stand that this delinquency warranted India responded with its standard accommodating nature which only reinforces the concept of India as a soft nation that is incapable of hard decisions: in other words a wimp. Terrorism remains the contention numero uno between the two countries as far as India is concerned. Yet India readily acquiesced to the Pakistani version of the draft.

For Pakistan treachery has always been second nature. Kargil stands out as another example of this continuing deceit. In February 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the leader of the hardline Bharatiya Janata Party, shed his inhibitions and hopped onto a bus to Islamabad carrying with him a message of peace and goodwill. On his trip he made it a point to visit Minar-e-Pakistan (a monument built at a site where Indian Muslims first articulated their demand for Pakistan) to affirm India's recognition of Pakistan as a nation and to allay any misgivings that Pakistanis had about India's notion of their existence. In return, barely two months later, Pakistan sent hordes of army personnel disguised as militants to invade a large swath of Indian territory triggering the Kargil conflict.

Since the early 1990's Pakistan, through its proxy agents, has conducted a relentless campaign of terror against India, bombing its cities, hijacking its planes and attacking its Parliament with the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 being the most recent in this endless and more to come series of diabolical acts.

Every terror attack has engendered a stereotype sequence of events that religiously repeats itself at regular intervals. Terrorists attack India, India seethes with anger and lodges a protest with Pakistan. Pakistan initially denies any involvement and then reluctantly agrees to look into it under world pressure. Months later the whole episode is forgotten and we are back to square one.

The tenor post 26/11 however did seem slightly different at the outset. People's wrath had prompted the Indian government to mount a sustained diplomatic offensive. And for once Pakistan appeared to be responding positively to India's concern. The present resolution throws a monkey wrench into the whole process. Again Pakistan has managed to wriggle out of a tight corner, thanks to India's naivete. The cycle repeats itself.

The top leadership of the two countries has met several times over the last decade starting with Vajpayee's historic bus ride. Each time Pakistan has chanted the same mantra: we will not let terrorists use our soil to launch attacks against India. But terrorists continue their activities unabated with India appearing as a hapless victim incapable of protecting itself.

An analysis of the decade long tete-a-tete between the two countries leads one to the following conclusions. One, Pakistan on its own will not act to eradicate anti-Indian terrorists from its midst for its own official machinery is inextricably intertwined with this anti-India strategy. Two, the present civilian government even if it appears sincere at times is incapable of countering the diktat of the all powerful Pakistan Army that calls the shots in that country and whose anti-India mindset is impregnable. If that is the case aren't we wasting our time dealing with a powerless broker?

Lastly, it is obvious that India does not have the diplomatic finesse or clout to force Pakistan's hand.

That brings us to an existential conundrum: what do we do in this setting? The joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh indicated that both "Prime ministers recognised that dialogue is the only way forward."

Let me play devil's advocate and pose the question: why? Is it essential that we cling to an approach that has yielded no results? We have persisted with this policy for over a decade. We have shown exemplary restraint in the face of extreme violent provocation and dutifully internalised the loss of lives of our citizens. How long can we wait and for what? Another attack like Mumbai 26/11 or until our country is completely devastated and destroyed? After all terrorists have vowed to bleed us to death through a thousand cuts.

Diplomatic correctness warrants that we eschew a military option and India's ethical values have always nudged us in this direction. But do we have a choice when there is no authority in Pakistan capable or willing to stem the rot? Does it not then become our bounden duty to take all measures to safeguard the lives of our citizens?

Precision surgical strikes covered by the readiness for wider military involvement if necessary must be a standing, practical option executable as a last resort to extract a permanent and lasting peace from our wayward neighbour. Yes, there is a definite downside to such a venture: the danger of conventional warfare escalating into a much dreaded nuclear combat. And it is this concern that has repeatedly kept our leaders from pursuing this path and it is this bogey that Pakistan has repeatedly flagged to blackmail India into inaction.

But we must remember that this is a bogey that cuts two ways. Our neighbours despite their macho talk suffer from the same trepidation that we harbor. They must realize and probably do, that they are not be immune to the deadly consequences of a nuclear fallout. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan is a mere chimera, not a practical possibility.

India's naivete and Pakistan's deceit have inadvertently conspired to produce a stalemate that maintains a dangerous status quo between Pakistan aided terror and India's inertia. To break this logjam, we need to be pragmatic. A military option kept hanging like a Damocles sword in tandem with an ongoing dialogue is vital to ensure results.

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Vivek Gumaste