Symbolic action or target reaction? - by Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami Back   Home  
Even as the Indian Army Chief S Padmanabhan spoke out saying the time has come to act against cross-border terrorism, the diplomatic pressure is increasing on New Delhi to respond cautiously to the attack in Jammu on May 14 which claimed at least 30 lives.

In a bid to understand where India is headed in its counter terrorism measures, NDTV spoke to Dr Farooq Abdullah, Chief Minister, Jammu and Kashmir, Air Chief Marshal (Retd) A Y Tipnis, Former Chief of Air Staff and I D Swami, Minister of State for Home Affairs.
Mr Swami, while it is true that there is pressure on the government to respond, the Army Chief himself says that in his view it is time to respond to terrorism. The NSAB says respond in some form, there is also considerable diplomatic pressure. How is the government really weighing these two sides and which way is the government's view itself tilting now?

Swami: I will not know the government view, those views are taken and formed at a very high level. We have made all peace moves, we had unilateral ceasefire, what have we not done and the whole of the world knows. When September 11 took place, whole of the world formed an international coalition and the US also said that there is no difference between terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and what happened in the US.

Is there also a feeling that whatever response we need to take needs to be done with some degree of immediacy? I mean, with the melting of the snows, infiltration rises as Dr Abdullah has been highlighting, it expands the areas for terrorists to hide and operate from. Is that also factored in by the government?

Swami: All these inputs will be taken into consideration while the authorities take a decision about it. But as you yourself have mentioned about the treaty, where is the harm? The government can always think over it. While we cannot revoke the treaty, we can certainly amend the treaty. After all, these options are available and can be exercised and military options, as General Tipnis has said, are available and it was made clear by India much before. All options are available to the Government of India.

Dr. Abdullah, the Defence Minister in an interview to New York Times said that we will take no action till September. We don't want to do anything that would jeopardise the election process in Kashmir. Where do you stand on that?

Abdullah: I'd like to ask you, is India important or is election important? If India doesn't survive what elections are you going to hold? The position is that the nation is important and any decision has to be taken in the interest of the nation and for me it is vitally important that terrorism has been increased by Pakistan to a major degree. A major response has to take place, there is no doubt about it. We can't wait any longer.

The snow has melted and is melting very rapidly. People are waiting on the other side to cross and I have made it abundantly clear that Al-Qaida and others are there. The forces America wants to fight are in the territory of Pakistan and on one side, they are on this coalition called the anti-terrorism coalition. I can't understand how America is a part of anti-terrorism coalition when the very mother of terrorism is giving them this basis where these Al-Qaida people are and I tell you very clearly that I am quite confident and it will not take very long for those people to cross our borders.

So what should we be doing? For example, the US President rings up the Indian Prime Minister and says that the Jammu attack was outrageous, we are with you. We have the American Ambassador today after emerging out of a meeting with the Home Minister saying terrorism all over the world is condemned by the US. Do we continue to take US at face value that it can pressurise Islamabad to change its ways?

Abdullah: Was US able to pressurise Israel? This is India. It's a free and independent nation. The survival of India comes first as far as I am concerned.

When you say you suggested air strikes, for example, on selected targets as one of the options, do you say so because India has the clear advantage there that we stand to make strategic gains. Or do you favour such strikes because you think it indicates the political resolve of the Government of India to act?

Tipnis: I think we have shown enormous amount of patience. Now is the time to show we have resolve too. We cannot afford to vacillate any further. Rajdeep talked in the terms of that any action across the Line of Control is fought with risks and danger. Certainly, any military action is fought with danger, but we had to make sure that we are doing this after showing enormous amount of patience and responsibility.

So it's essentially about sending a message?

Tipnis: Not a message, our intention is to stop terrorism. The aim is very clear -- there cannot be any terrorist action against India. The actions that we have taken so far have not resulted in any diminishing of this terrorist action. In fact, there has been an increase and I would say that unless we take some action, our credibility is at stake. I believe it has already been eroded to such an extent that people believe that India is incapable of taking any serious action.

Dr. Abdullah spoke of the Israel example. In the Indian context, in the context of the subcontinent, can we draw those parallels in a nuclearised south Asia? Can military action be considered in a nuclearised south Asia of the kind that we are all seemingly alluding to right through this discussion?

Tipnis: They are just falling into the Pakistan trap. If we fall into this trap, it will be nobody's folly but our own.

Abdullah: The bleeding has been on for the last 13 years. How long are you continuously going to bleed?

Swami: If I may add, has he not declared war against us, proxy war, which means war by other means?

The government keeps saying there is a proxy war, Air Chief Marshal Tipnis is very clear where he stands; the problem seems to be with the politicians. The military has always been very clear that they believe that the time has come for military action. The politicians on the other hand, obviously because they have different pressures to weigh, seem to be much more circumspect. Is that still the feeling in the government?

Swami: Circumspections would always be there. But the decisions are taken in consultation with the generals where Air Marshal Tipnis would also bear me out and even General Padmanabhan has said it that the time has come. All these things show in which direction we are thinking. Does the decision have to be taken at a particular moment, at a particular context?

I'd like to come back to the question of response -- symbolic action or target reaction. Jaswant Singh said some time back that their Jehadi leadership has been freed, they live in houses and get paid and are given allowances by the Pakistani government. If India does act, how would one act against this Jehadi leadership, which would continue to stay and perhaps proliferate for eternity. What would happen to this leadership?

Swami: It is known all over the world that they have been protecting the Al-Qaida and the Taliban. Who was the creator of the Taliban?

Abdullah: My own view on this is that the Americans must realize that they are on the wrong wicket. We have never been against the people of Pakistan. Nobody in India is against the people of Pakistan. It is these people who are ruling and ruling through proxy and all these movements of terrorist organisations that are fed by ISI and all their generals, it is these people that we are against. And for God's sake, if America wants to take action, it is time that they realized that the mother of terrorism is these people and they have to act.

No longer do we listen to President Bush or the Ambassador Blackwill saying terrorism is terrorism. Yes, but here you are saying that they are living in houses, they have got all sorts of things. They shoot anybody they want to shoot. But this is all rhetoric. How long is rhetoric by America going to be there? America is giving the money to sustain their economy, they are also giving them the weaponry now. I believe it is going to come to them. Then where is their war against terrorism? Let us make it very clear to them.

Swami: It has been reported that nuclear threat, not only threat but nuclear use was decided at the time of Kargil. That is on record now.
Published in NDTV