Last week's terrorist attack near Jammu leaving 35 people dead has sparked speculations that a limited war between India and Pakistan is now too close a possibility. Both the target and timing maximised the gains of those who want to push two countries towards a very dangerous conflict. A repeat performance by terrorists, who seem very determined and capable, may deliver them their objective of bringing two nuclear rivals to blows. Should we become a pawn in the hands of terrorists and shouldn't we avert a possible war that is more inimical to our national existence than India's?
All indicators and most of the prerequisites are in place on both sides and the war -- a limited war though to start with -- may break out anytime in the subcontinent. Those who still rule it out either are in deep deception or overestimate the nuclear deterrence as a panacea to all security threats. Seeing too much of tough posturing, instead of war, that has lost its utility to the point of a bluff-called, in India's stance is a dangerous miscalculation that we had made in 1965, 1971 and 1999 during the Kargil misadventure. A war suits neither side, but a limited war at this point of time does suit India the most.
The US diplomacy had worked during the Kargil crisis on India's side and after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on Islamabad's side as we had fortunately joined the coalition against terrorism. But it may no more be able to manage the conflict that seems to be increasingly becoming unmanageable. Last time it had worked because the US and its coalition against terrorism were too preoccupied with Afghanistan, and Pakistan was doing more than required. Now, the focus of US diplomacy is on Pakistan to "stop cross-border terrorism" and favour India, as Christina Rocca's recent visit has shown unambiguously. Deputy Secretary of State Armitage's visit would require substantial measures on our part not to let "cross-border infiltration" take place. Islamabad will come under increasing pressure to reverse its pro-militancy line on Kashmir that Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, chairman of Pakistan's Kashmir Committee, and All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders have rightly rejected recently in their Dubai meeting.
After the December 13 attack, General Pervez Musharraf had to promise in his January 12 speech to rein in the militants and not to let Pakistani soil be used against any country for terrorism. His speech gave the international community a hope and premise to persuade India to wait for the follow-up by the general who needed time. The world waited and continued to encourage him to take more measures. A broad range of measures that he indeed took against extremists were, however, not enough to stop the terrorist strikes either at home or across the LoC. The fact of the matter is that the general was too constrained to take effective measures against the militants engaged in Kashmir jihad, since the high brass still lived in the illusion that the war against terrorism would end at Durand Line and the western coalition against terrorism should be ignoring the ongoing cross-border militancy to our advantage as a reward for our role in Afghanistan. It not only crossed over to our side of the border with Afghanistan, but also beyond our tribal areas to the other end in the south.
The half-baked measures taken against the extremists, instead of controlling the terrorists, facilitated the emergence of a new coalition of outlaws who want to punish Pakistan for its role against terrorism, spread anarchy and bring Islamabad into conflict with not only India but also with the international community. Every other investigation into a terrorist act testifies to the increased linkages between the al-Qaeda-Taliban combination and the fraternity of extremists in Pakistan. Most of the non-Kashmiri militants engaged in jihad were more capable of rescuing their comrades-in-arms from the main battle front they had lost to the US-led coalition.
A reversal of pro-Taliban policy by Islamabad did not culminate into an end to the pro-jihad Kashmir policy, as it should have logically, since the Kargil syndrome had not lost its influence over our strategists. The militancy was, and is, indivisible, and could not have been tackled piecemeal. The hesitation in taking it to its logical end worked to the advantage of those who decided to turn their guns on Islamabad who they thought had betrayed them. Finding their perpetrators wanting and suspecting their future commitments, they decided to abandon Rawalpindi/Islamabad before it could see through the new threat in the offing.
If New Delhi was waiting for yet another provocation, the last Tuesday attack near Jammu has provided it. And one can now safely predict that the terrorists have many a provocative suicide-bombs in store they are capable of exploding anywhere, anytime they like with an aim to destabilise Pakistan and bring it into a fatal conflict with India. The Indian jingoistic reaction plays into the hands of the agent provocateurs. As far as the preparedness of the war, India is so much ready for it on every count it has never been in the last 30 years. There is a serious possibility of India taking the route of a limited war across the LoC on the pretext of a hot pursuit of the terrorists, beside extracting highest price from Islamabad by keeping the international borders hot while persuading the international community to morally endorse its actions and make Pakistan coalesce in.
As opposed to a unified India at the highest preparedness for war, Pakistan is a divided house and with no international backing against New Delhi's aggressive designs. The US engagement in our tribal belt won't deter India from making an advance and international community is inclined to support New Delhi if we do not meet our obligations to stop cross-border terrorism. The remnants of our pro-Jihad policy have once again put us in a blind alley and there is no way out but a retreat from an untenable pro-militancy line.
Before India moves across the LoC, even though it may cost it heavily, we must amend a policy that we can't even defend and stop this last bogey of jihad that provides India a moral edge over us and allow it a room to outmanoeuvre the Kashmir question altogether. The only way out to put India back on defensive is to stop this militancy from our side that is no more an instrument in our hand. Pakistan has condemned the attack on Jammu, if not because it is indefensible, it must also move forward to rein in all those who can play havoc with the subcontinent.
The stakes are far greater than small tactical advantages we are so obsessed with. We must aim for the greater objective of our own national existence and a safe way out for the poor Kashmiris. The possibility of a limited war that is bound to turn into a full-fledged war, resulting in a devastating nuclear exchange, must be pre-empted and the ball is in General Musharraf's court. Instead of fighting with the democratic opposition, he must take it into confidence for a new national consensus without which General Musharraf cannot take Pakistan out of its yet another weakest hour. The time has come we say farewell to arms, instead of others calling our last bluff of 'first-use'. No one will let us use it, nor should we ever think of it again as we did activate our nuclear assets during the Kargil crisis, as has now been revealed by former president Clinton's aide.
By showing our fullest willingness to rein in the terrorists, we should seek a quid pro quo on some kind of talks on Kashmir. But we will be asked to take confidence building measures before we could insist on a quid pro quo. We had the chance, but we missed it. This is the time to pay smaller price for our own folly, if we are not that stupid to pay the bigger price for not reading into the greater threat simply because we have the bomb. This is a three-front situation, every strategists worth the salt must avoid. We can turn the tables on the Indians by removing the stigma of terrorism from the Kashmiris' indigenous struggle and that suits our own internal security as well.
Published in Pakistan daily Jang.