Await storm after the polls - By Lt Gen Vinay Shankar(Retd) Back   Home  
For some inexplicable reason our policy makers appear to have accepted a linkage between the successful conduct of elections in Kashmir and the resolution of the dispute between India and Pakistan over that province.

Given the historical perspective and the hardened position of both the adversaries in the context of Kashmir such interlinking reflects a “disconnect” from realities. Statements made in the last few days by some of our senior leaders seem to reveal this realisation.

Otherwise it was as if elections in Kashmir have not been held before. Or some revolutionary changes have taken place in the run up to the elections this year.

Maybe the war against terror has influenced in some manner the understanding of the problem leading to the belief that the context has altered significantly. In that as a by-product of the successful conduct of elections, Pakistan will now be persuaded to relent from its fixation to annex Kashmir by fair or foul methods.

There were, and are, far more compelling reasons for Pakistan to consider abandoning its Kashmir policy. Which for a wide range of reasons it has chosen to ignore. One can hope that some day reason will prevail.

But for the time being our battles to protect our sovereignty must continue to be fought.

Reports of the first two rounds of polling should give some comfort to the Centre. But that in no way should detract from the complexity of the challenges that lie ahead. J&K is in a state of ferment and turbulence in the short term is to be expected.

But as the situation stabilises we would do well to remember that the State requires some years of good governance, before it can be expected to limp forward to normalcy.

To an observer it appears that while the Kashmir elections are engaging the attention of the nation’s policy makers a graver and more important issue is being wished away.

In the vain hope that the unfolding events will, through some divine intervention, lead to the resolution of the situation created by us when we decided to mobilise our defence forces as a threat to Pakistan to back off from its support to terrorism.

More than nine months of posturing has not yielded any results. Some sabre rattling took place but both nations desisted from letting the situation escalate into a shooting match.

But now as we approach the next campaigning season and the missions of our mobilisation still not accomplished, we reach a stage when the critical decision can no longer be deferred.

Obviously the Army cannot continue to remain on the border for such extended periods. Some who glibly comment that the Army is meant to stay deployed do not, regrettably, understand the very basics of military mobilisation, modern warfare and the negative effect that prolonged periods of staying on the alert can have on the fighting capabilities of armed forces.

Unless the purpose of the present posture is to equally exhaust and demoralise the adversary so that out of sheer fatigue the military dictatorship of Pakistan is compelled to respond positively to our demands. It is doubtful that this is our strategy.

For if it were, the approach would have been different. So, the threat of application of force or the actual application has to be objective and time related.

When views are solicited on what ought to be the government’s course of action now, the answers that one gets are perhaps reflective of our national psyche, in that decisive action must, as a rule, be deferred or avoided.

A recent US study has rightly concluded that India’s capabilities and potential are of little use since its leaders are averse to taking decisions.

Some suggest that after the elections the military can demobilise; the reason for such connectivity remains obscure. If pointed out that surely the deployment that we undertook, as a sequel to the terrorist attack on our Parliament, was not aimed at the elections in Kashmir, the inclination is to merely shrug off the issue.

If the questioner persists with the argument that we had mobilised to take punitive military action if Pakistan did not step back from its support to militancy then how can our military now return to barracks without that achieving that objective?

The next answer is a cryptic “oh well the US will not permit us to go to war”. A belief that is widely echoed it seems by a surprisingly large section of our policy makers. Now this is serious.

Unarguably, a strategic convergence of interests with the US would be eminently desirable. So would a partnership that encompasses flow of technology, trade, economic assistance and defence.

That we would have to accept the position of a junior partner is also understandable. In the pursuit of building bilateral relations a bit of bending is also forgivable. But forsaking the freedom to act in the defence of the nation for fear of the frown of the sole super power is totally indefensible.

Surely India can withstand the denial regime that in the worst case might follow. After all, we are none the worse off from the chastisement that followed our going overtly nuclear. Defiance often is a good tonic for morale.

We are likely to emerge stronger and more united. There has to be a premium on our values and sovereignty; we cannot allow these to be trampled upon.

Recently there has been many references to how great the Chinese are. In every sphere the Chinese example is cited to illustrate what we ought to be doing or how we have been mismanaging.

To some of us this had become quite irksome. Yet on this occasion one is driven to join the chorus as the Chinese approach to nationalism best illustrates the point that a nation cannot be easily bullied.

Bringing down the US spy plane definitely required guts. But the Chinese did not flinch. Or earlier, in their gameplan to assimilate Taiwan when they wanted to test the US commitment to the defence of Taiwan, they did not hesitate to fire missiles around that country.

If one looks carefully it would be clear that one of the most important pillars of Chinese nationalism is the acquisition of military power and a willingness to use such power in the pursuit of the country’s strategic objectives.

In contrast we have been exceptionally diffident and mostly reactive in addressing the relationship between national security and the build-up of military power.

Hesitation over going to war or a desire to avoid it is understandable. Search for solutions that shun the war option are consequently of the utmost importance. But at the same time ruling out the use of force altogether, is to be unrealistic.

What is worse is to let the adversary believe that India does not have the “national will” or the “stomach” to brave the consequences of a war. For such a belief encourages Pakistan to mock us with one provocation after another.

The carnage at the Swaminarayan temple proves the point if the surmise of our intelligence agencies is not off the mark. That the country does not need any further proof is another matter.

The clamour for a dialogue with Pakistan after the elections in J&K is getting increasingly insistent. Dialogue instead of war is a very powerful argument. But where is the framework for discussions?

Are we, virtually at gun-point, to be coerced into coming to the negotiating table? After all, since the failed Agra Summit and 9/11 have there been any definitive indicators from Pakistan that suggest a willingness to forsake the use of covert force and a transition towards creating the appropriate climate for an amicable resolution of our differences?

To the contrary, the message from Pakistan is talk or else you will suffer and talk obviously to submit. Take the ongoing elections in Kashmir. Has not Pakistan indulged in blatant terrorism with no holds barred to sabotage the elections?

We are told that President Musharraf has his compulsions after he joined the Americans in the war against terror. He has to posture for his security and to stay in power.

And at this juncture he cannot appear to be making concessions especially to India. We should therefore be patient and help in giving him the space he needs to enable him to negotiate a path that can eventually lead to peace with us.

Unfortunately, all this is just not believable. For all the evidence seems to suggest that Musharraf should not be trusted. Coupled with all this is the intriguing inability of the US to curb Pakistan from engaging in subversive activities against us. Therefore the big question is what do we do?

The option to effectively use force is available only for a very limited period unless we want to defer decisive action to the summer of 2003 or for ever.

Admittedly taking recourse to military action is a tough call. But if the nation has run out of options then it must. And no permissions should be sought. Support certainly.

The final question is that before we are compelled to go over the brink can Pakistan see reason? Though time is running out, one can hope.
Published in Deccan