Saturday, October 6, 2001
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Can’t we stop this?

No, we can’t stop this bloodshed, contends Ashwini Bhatnagar, till India takes terrorism by the horns and grapples it to the ground.

WE can’t. Not by the processes that we have known so far. Not by replicating the example of Punjab’s combat with terrorism, or through solutions that were found for some parts of the North- East. A single day, September 11, has altered everything. The terrorist is now in sharp focus and the weight of the non-Islamic world opinion is against it. Physical liquidation is the watchword and America, with its more than 6,000 dead in the World Trade Centre and Pentagon blasts, is in "hot pursuit" of the man it claims masterminded the terrible massacre. However, it is no more a question of the state pursuing a criminal or a thriller-like hunt for the Jackal. Instead, the actions of September 11 have opened a can of worms that have slithered to different corners of the globe to nibble at the geo-politicial balance. So we have a scenario wherein America wants Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan doesn’t want to give him up. It has coldly admitted to harbouring him and inter alia lent full state support to an individual’s alleged act of genocide. Pakistan promised all help to the USA and then backtracked to supplying only intelligence inputs for whatever they are worth in terms of credibility. Saudi Arabia, said to be a US ally, too had second thoughts. In sum, the cover is blown and there appears to be no difference between individual/groups’ terrorist acts and those of nations and it has to be globally accepted that terrorist actions have evolved to being covert wars being waged by nations against each other.


Map showing terrorist camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir

Of course, India has been emphasising Pakistan’s total involvement in the proxy war being waged in Kashmir for the last dozen years or so. But following the blowing away of the fig leaf of cover of our neighbouring countries, the ramifications are but obvious. The fast developing situation in Afghanistan means the following things for India, specially Kashmir. One, General Pervez Musharraf, in his televised address to his nation following the New York bombings, had made it clear that the Kashmir issue was central to Pakistan’s agenda. He told India to "lay off," which in effect meant not to precipitate matters in Kashmir and let Pakistan play its role in securing "freedom" for Muslim Kashmiris. The posture adopted by the General, even when the WTC bombings had scarred the world, amply demonstrated that despite the focus of the West on terrorism, he would continue with his gameplan. The politicial will to take on the world opinion was starkly underlined by him. He will, he said in so many words, carry on with the task of "liberating" Kashmir from "Indian occupation." In ground terms it means that Pakistan will keep on pumping in more men and material into Kashmir. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly building blasts on October 1 amply proved the point.

Two, Pakistan had successfully managed to leverage its position as a frontline state during the last two weeks to turn the American attention away from India and from Kashmir being a victim of terrorists’ pounding. Initially, America continued to stress that its first target was Osama bin Laden and it may turn its attention towards Kashmir later. It meant that the war against terrorism may be fought in phases, or worse there may be a differentiation between ‘our’ terrorists and ‘their’ terrorists. Thus, one terrorist organisation was banned while its affiliate, which operates in Kashmir, was kept off the list. The Americans apparently first wanted to fight their own battle before joining issues with other countries like India. Our own war against terror has thus to fought by us alone now as well as in the future. A minor redeeming feature will be that there will be "understanding" in the West about India’s compulsions to take on the terrorists, human rights notwithstanding.

Security forces examine the remains of a car after it exploded outside the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly building in the heart of Srinagar on October 1
Security forces examine the remains of a car after it exploded outside the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly building in the heart of Srinagar on October 1
— Reuters.

Three, America could not strike quickly and tellingly against either Osama or the Taliban. Even with the public baying for the blood of the terrorists involved in the WTC blasts, the Bush administration was halted in its tracks by the lack of intelligence on the wanted man. The Taliban claimed him as their own and America’s allies counselled against an "open war." But if one country protects an alleged criminal, how does another bring him to justice? Precision attacks is one option, the other is invasion. The former is only an euphemism for the latter because in going after Osama, the USA would be violating Afghanistan’s air and land space. It is an act of war and retaliation is fully justified. Similar will be the scenario if the USA backs the Northern Alliance to topple the Taliban. From all angles, therefore, Osama can be brought to justice only through war.

However, the end of Osama or his group would not mean the end of terrorism or the philosophy which propels some to commit suicide in the name of religion. Politicial leaderships of various hues, specially in our immediate neighbourhood, have coopted terrorism as part of their strategic vision. They are being seen by these leaders as special tasks commando units or covert operations units. The objective is territorial gain or causing instability in targeted areas. Countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, etc have specialised in the creation of these terror units and then joined an axis of nations in the name of religion. This alliance with its specialised units can target anyone whom they see as being prejudicial to their interests through terrorist strikes and then diplomatically come together to stall any effective move against the perpetrators of the crime. The USPresident’s current predicament has been caused by this ‘grand’ alliance. India too has faced it several times in the past when the Organisation of Islamic Countries refused to listen to its stand on Kashmir.

Given the above scenario, what are India’s options in stopping the bloodletting in the Valley? It is amply clear by now that whatever happens to Bin Laden or the Taliban, the situation in Kashmir will continue to be volatile. The reason is that with increasing American pressure on Afghanistan, and its continuing focus on it for the next couple of years at least, whatever the current outcome, mujahideens will have to disperse from that land. A large section of these mujahideens will definitely infiltrate into Kashmir to enlarge instability in this area. Pakistan wants it so because of the strategic interest that it has in the Valley and also because it may want to expand the theatre of conflict. A flashpoint situation is needed by it in order to practise brinkmanship at the global level. It wants to push ahead with its Kashmir agenda even if it means nuclear sabre-rattling. Gen Musharraf referred to the nukes that he has with him during his address to the nation.

Furthermore, for initially supporting US plans, Pakistan received loan adjustments and grants. In aiding the US any further, it would want its pound of flesh in the shape of Kashmir. The US has to only turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s form of terrorism and the "freedom fighters" will have their way in the Valley. This is one hope that Musharraf apparently has while dealing with US demands vis a vis the Taliban. The use of force through terrorist action to gain strategic footholds in the Valley may be next on his agenda. China will not complain, neither will Russia and the Islamic world may fully support his action. In fact, the New York bombings, in a manner of speaking, are heaven sent for General Musharraf. The world is now aligned along two axis and he can leverage both due to the Taliban link that Pakistan has and the Americans need for this frontline state.

India, thus, has to rely heavily on America to ensure that its case on Kashmir is not entirely overruled by the powers that be in the comity of nations. Its reliance is also because of the hope, possibly gone now, that any action in Afghanistan and its consequent fallout on Pakistan may cause infiltration to stop from across the border. However, the defiance that both Afghanistan and Pakistan have shown to world opinion on Osama goes to show that the Kashmir agenda will be pursued by our neighbour with added vigour. The myth of the USA as the world’s only super power has been shattered and Pakistan should like to make the most of a situation in which the mighty Americans have been forced to contend with their own problems rather than be the world policemen.

India today faces the threat of more violence in the Valley. Spectacular strikes, bold border manoeuvres a la Kargil and incitement of the population at large appear to be on the cards. Terrorist actions in other parts of the country for added shock value may also happen. Beefing up security may help in a limited way but no amount of security can deter suicide bombers. In the name of religion, a host of such madmen are also locally available. India has, therefore, a very difficult task ahead of it. Diplomacy on a war footing which leads to isolation of Pakistan may pay some dividends. However, the real test will be in terms of how, when and where India wages its own war against terrorism. Till the time it takes the bull by the horns and grapples it to the ground, it will not be able to stop the blood of innocents and its own forces from flowing into the gutters in Srinagar.