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What India wants

What India wants

Author: Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)
Publication: Tribune India
Date: January 15, 2009
URL: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090115/edit.htm#4

US won't prod Pakistan to deliver

Mumbai has shown that India has not found a suitable antidote to stopping cross-border terrorism inflicted on it by Pakistan since the early 1990s despite the threat to go to war over it in 2002 after the attack on Parliament. Initially limited to J&K, the scourge has become an all-India menace after jihadis crossed the red line demarcating the disputed territory. This transgression went unchallenged without any politico-military response, encouraging the handlers of jihad to refine strategy and lethality of attacks.

India's tolerance of repeated assaults on its sovereignty and democracy and its overwhelming desire to accept compromise have amazed western strategic experts. Maintaining the world's fourth largest military and security establishment that cannot protect its people is equally befuddling. The planners and perpetrators of Mumbai were convinced the mission would be accomplished easily and India would take it lying down. Two dozen major terrorist attacks in the last four years, including one against the embassy in Kabul, have left 1000 dead.

Mumbai was waiting to happen; what is worse, it happened even after US intelligence agencies warned that attacks would come "from the sea against hotels and business centres in Mumbai". Public indignation and outrage was even more severe than at the time of the attack on Parliament which led to Operation Parakram. Despite the clearest evidence ever of Pakistani complicity, the government response was tentative. As nationals of 22 countries were killed or wounded, New Delhi approached the UN, internationalising a bilateral issue, rightly highlighting the evil of terrorism. It made the usual demands: asking Islamabad to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure, custody of India's 20-most wanted, and bringing to book the handlers of the attack.

The precision strike against Mumbai is attributed to elite killers of the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba, finessed by the Pakistan Army. Contrary to claims that it is cooperating with the civil government, distancing itself from politics and had severed ties with militant groups, the motive for the warlike act by the Army was to provoke a crisis and return it to centre-stage. This would allow security forces to disengage from the highly unpopular war in the West and shift the strategic focus to the Indian border.

Completely surprised, India initially relied wholly on diplomacy, virtually ruling out the military route. Before the start of the Kargil war, the government had declared that the Line of Control would not be crossed. During Operation Parakram a studied ambiguity was maintained on the use of force. Foreclosing the options limits the strategic canvas forfeiting flexibility. True, the coercive diplomacy option had been exhausted in Operation Parakram even as India had a distinct military edge over Pakistan. The military option was blunted by Pakistan's nuclear blackmail even as it pressed ahead with cross-border terrorism. To counter this India crafted first a limited war doctrine and later a cold-start operational strategy, but neither could fructify under a nuclear overhang. How to cold-start a limited war and keep it limited is the dilemma.

While nuclear weapons prevent a crisis from escalating, they do not prevent a crisis from occurring. Seven years after the Parakram and several mini-crises on the way to Mumbai, cross-border terrorism thrives without any effective riposte. How is India going to get Pakistan to dismantle terrorist infrastructure, disarm, demobilise and reintegrate the jihadis in society? Only the Pakistan Army and the ISI under international pressure have any chance of doing this.

The big challenge before the government is to prevent the next high profile terrorist attack before elections next year which could compound the ongoing crisis. The 2001-02 crisis was unique: there was a second major strike against a military cantonment in Kaluchak even as the two armies faced each other. War clouds, which had been deflected after the attack on Parliament by the US extracting concessions from Pakistan, including commitment to ending cross-border terrorism, suddenly reappeared after Kaluchak. This time the US and the international community shifted the focus from cross-border terrorism to a nuclear exchange and defused the crisis by securing more specific pledges from General Musharraf on ending terrorism. Now Pakistan, by heightening tension along the border, has diverted the focus from terrorism in Mumbai to war.

Take a look at the Parakram and how things were different then. A BJP-led NDA government, strong on national security and keen on settling core issues with Pakistan, was in place. Before the attack on Parliament, J&K was confronting highest levels of violence, with instability and terrorism spreading outside the state. Army Chief Gen S Padmanabhan had said that the Army was fighting one Kargil every 16 months. A top gear coercive diplomacy backed by full military deployment was launched. The military government in Pakistan was doing US bidding in Afghanistan and there was no Talibanisation of Pakistan. The war in Afghanistan was in the mopping-up phase and the Afghan Taliban had taken sanctuary on Pakistan's western borders.

While the bulk of Pakistan's 11 and 12 Corps were still deployed in the West, India came close to crossing the red line twice in January and June 2002. War was prevented on both occasions by US diplomacy as it was not in its national interest.

Today the geo-strategic picture in different. The Mumbai attack has exposed the government's inept handling of internal security so close to elections. Yet the security situation in J&K has never been better and violence levels at an all-time low, as the high turnout in the elections has shown. Pakistan has a weak civilian minority government where the military is calling the shots. Internal insecurity is at its peak with jihadi suicide bombers roaming around freely in Punjab. With the war in Afghanistan gone horribly wrong, Pakistan's cooperation is paramount for US- Nato forces to turn the war around. For better compliance from Pakistan, the US is likely to offer inducements on Kashmir and Afghanistan.

Despite the newly crafted India-US strategic partnership, the US will be even less willing and able to prod Pakistan to concede to India's demands.

The calibrated diplomatic response has so far yielded only UN strictures against leaders of terrorist groups in Pakistan. India's military options from surgical strikes to a limited war to a naval blockade are either too ineffective or symbolic or too dangerous. A diplomatic confrontation that drags on contains the risk of rogue elements in the Pakistan Army provoking a localised conflict with the potential to escalate. A strategic stalemate is politically the least satisfactory outcome for India unless the US can extract concessions for India as it reluctantly did in 2002. Evidence that the US has can be the key to forcing Pakistan to yield and end the crisis. But it won't end cross-border terrorism.

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