Saturday, November 10, 2001
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Are war clouds hovering over our horizon?

Are war clouds hovering over our horizon?

The rhetoric is shrill and the border is active. As Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee hops from Russia to the UK and then finally to the USA to garner support for India’s position against terrorism, Pakistan has reportedly moved about 60,000 troops to within 15 km of the Line of Control. Maj. Gen. Himmat Singh Gill (retd) analyses the threat perception.

THE one question that is frequently coming to the minds of most Indians today is whether we are about to go to war with Pakistan. In other words, is Pakistan bent on creating conditions that could lead to such an eventuality?


Only the uninitiated and the reckless would answer the above question with a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’, because the simple truth is that there are too many forces and imponderables at work in the ever-evolving Indo - Pakistan social and psychological chemistry. Some will see the recent build up in the Akhnoor and Ganganagar sectors as a prelude to something more ominous. Others would, however, dismiss the sporadic artillery shelling, frequent infiltrations and loss of human life on the LoC as one of those regular occurences which we have learnt to live with. A third school of thought would term the daily reports of the border clashes as mere rhetoric indulged in by the print and electronic media in their bid to outclass each other as being the first with the news.

So where then lies the answer to the complex question? To my mind, an objective assessment of the national interests, ground imperatives, geo-political compulsions and constraints and the growing shadows of certain international developments recently would be a pragmatic matrix under which we could analyse Indo-Pak relations and their consequent fall-out from time to time. Quite necessarily in this assessment is the role of Jehad and religious fundamentalism (be it be of the Muslim or the Hindu variety) and the stark contrast in the make up and operational preparedness of the operative organ that enforces the political will of a nation, namely the Army. All these factors would need to be scrutinised in some depth.

Let us first put ourselves in the shoes of General Pervez Musharraf and analyse how he sees his national interests. Kashmir is a disputed territory, and much of the world, including the United Nations which has also passed a resolution on this account, recognises this position. The Indian position is based on Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession, the Simla Accord and the Lahore Vajpayee — Nawaz Sharief Agreement. However, post -Agra and post- WTC bombings, General Musharraf can definitely feel that the Kashmir issue has been truly and fully internationalised. After the fall of the erstwhile East Pakistan, the other remaining dispute with India is only Kashmir, and it is good strategy, and better politics, to be not in any hurry to resolve this matter. Any partial or full agreement would make his army angry because they must have their revenge over the debacle in the Bangla Desh war. General Musharraf would, therefore, need to think twice before agreeing to a formalisation of the LoC into an international border (IB). Even then, what would happen to the northern Siachin areas beyond Pt NJ9842, and other areas along the Indo - Pakistan border?

Further, being a Mohajir, it is not going to be easy for General Musharraf to control a restless Punjabi-dominated army that wants to avenge 1971. Now General Musharraf would reason that we are as good a nuclear power as India and this will act as a major deterrent for the Indians before they decide to attack or undertake "hot pursuit" into Pakistan territory. The USA, the UN and the whole western world would be up in arms if India decides to embark even on a conventional troop attack. They would highlight the danger of it escalating into a nuclear conflagration, which none in the world can possibly welcome. General Musharraf could reason that now that the Taliban and Afghanistan have once again projected Pakistan as a frontline state assisting the US- led war against global terrorism, and as long as he can keep the USA happy with its logistics and operational support for Afghanistan, the USA might just look away if he were to embark on a little side adventure to even out the few salients and bulges along the LoC and leave a name for himself in history as an intrepid warrior and towering statesman of the Islamic world.

Yet, on the converse, he would be also well aware that a large segment of his army now stands deployed along the Durand Line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, and he is in no position, (militarily, economically and Strategic Mobile Reserve capability- wise) to take on the Indian armed punch for long. Nor would he have any strategic depth left with him with the Afghan war raging in his neighbourhood and growing dissidence in Pok itself, where the local leaders have been clamouring for an independent state of their own, divorced from Pakistan. General Musharraf’s present concern would be to do nothing drastic to upset the US-led drive against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and derive maximum economic, military and political benefits from the USA, the UK, Germany, Japan and other Muslim nations.

The inflow of money and military hardware will not only strengthen his own position, but also counter any dissidence within his own army. The Pakistan army has by now got used to ruling the country, and any situation, national or international, that perpetuates their regime would always be most welcome. After the Agra summit Musharraf has already legitimised his Presidency, and the USA insistence that India and Pakistan must resolve the Kashmir dispute expeditiously only strengthens his position further at home and abroad.

Pakistan’s expedition into Kargil had not been received kindly by the Americans and this would hardly be the time for him to try anything in Kashmir and spoil it all for himself. In any case, insurgency, terrorism, trans border depredations and covert acts of sabotage can flourish only in a ‘disputed’ territory and a once- for- all resolution of this problem (if he were to go to war over Kashmir) would deny him for all times to come any viable platform for confrontation with India. Yes, he could still resort to the Muslim card but he knows that there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan.

In other realistic terms, Pakistan is unlikely ever to beat India in a conventional or non-conventional (nuclear) war because of India’s strategic depth, greater economic and manpower strength, and at least a one- and- a- half times better military capability. The Pakistan army, at the best of times, has had only a limited War Wastage Reserves (WWR) stock, and fighting any prolonged action would create its own logistic and resupply problems.

Musharraf’s counterpart on this side of the border is PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is at heart a poet and a thinker, far removed from the thoughts of war, killings and strife. He is one who would rather recite his way to victory, than send his soldiers to battle, and possible death. Today, he sits on a high moral plane for having told the world that terrorism can strike anywhere and not only in J&K, for proving that it is not necessary to cross the LoC during the Kargil war to regain one’s own territory, and for reminding the free world that all that he now asks of them is to ensure that Pakistan ends its proxy war so that India is freed of the burden of having to take any military counter- measures of its own.

It is my view that a mature Vajpayee and a cool Jaswant Singh, with George Fernandes toning down his utterances a little, can safely steer the present hot- cold- hot situation away from an open war with Pakistan. A war which could well result from an unthought of ‘hot pursuit’ would be to no one’s advantage, and will only delay the rooting out of global terrorism and a return to a peaceful environment in our region. India is unlikely to take any undue advantage in Kashmir, at the cost of the war in Afghanistan, and the PM has said many times that both India and Pakistan should talk out the matter. This way, diplomatically, economically and socially, we would gain on all fronts. We must also avoid becoming too Pakistan-centric, though the training and the re-equipping of our three forces needs to be accorded the highest priority.

Another area of concern is the growing effect of politics in the defence field. In Pakistan,General Musharraf’s diminishing hold our the clergy and the pro - Taliban elements might tempt him into a misadventure against India. Analysts feel that he might use a limited engagement over Kashmir to divert attention of his people from his pro American stand. General Musharraf is being tested severely by large demonstrations against providing logistic and other support to the USA in its war against the Taliban. There is mounting restlessness and public anger against him is peaking. An engagement with India would give him something to show to his people. The thought is tempting and the compulsions are propelling enough to make General Musharraf desperate.

At home here, nothing produces a better vote bank than a skirmish or a war on our borders. Elections in UP and Punjab are due next year and the timing may just be right to sort out the Kashmir issue. Mrs Indra Gandhi played the Bangla Desh card in 1971, though the country cannot be counted as one of our best allies today.

However, a war with Pakistan today will be a rather costly affair, and no personal agendas of leaders, or the perceived gains of a particular political party, should be permitted to cloud the final decision - making process of crossing the border in an open act of war.

So, are the two countries going to war in the near future? The indications at the moment are that they will not — not only because of their own shortcomings and constraints, but because India realises that a stable and unfragmented Pakistan is any day a safer bet than a radically fundamentalist, pro - Taliban and pro - clergy dispensation.