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Time for decisive steps

Time for decisive steps

Author: T. V. R. Shenoy
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 23, 2002

Introduction: India can no longer be bluffed into inaction

"Fool me once, shame on you," runs an Arab saying, "Fool me twice, shame on me!" In an age when the most recognised Arab faces belong to Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Yasser Arafat, the cadences of Arabic probably grind on an American ear. But that does not deny the verity of the statement.

The United States was quick to urge "restraint" on India immediately after the attack on Parliament on December 13 last year. The message, conveyed in the most honeyed terms, was to the effect: "Give Musharraf some more time to deal with the militants in his country. If you weaken his position then his successor will be even more of a hardliner."

Today, Delhi wants to send an unambiguous message to Washington: "We listened to you six months ago at our own peril. We have been betrayed by a fellow democracy. Under your shield, and taking advantage of your benign neglect, General Musharraf is up to his dirty tricks once again."

So, what exactly has the general been doing of late? For starters, he has reopened the terrorist training camps in Pakistan which were shut down earlier to assuage American opinion. Second, he has supplied several 'volunteer' students - anywhere between two and three thousand of them - to these schools. Third, under Musharraf's patronage several former Al-Qaeda and/or Taliban supporters have moved from Pakistan's border with Afghanistan to its border with India. Fourth, and this seems to have been part of the deal struck before that farcical referendum, three of every four militants who were arrested have now been released.

Is the US unaware of these facts? Scarcely. American interlocutors have never denied the truth of these data when confronted by their Indian counterparts. The standard American response has always been: "In these matters we agree that India's information is superior to our own." Sadly, this is generally followed by the same sweet refrain: "But you have to give us more time to work on Musharraf."

I think we have gone as far as possible along that particular road. The US' promises have proved to be flimsy. So, what alternatives does that leave for India?

"Exercise all diplomatic options!" says the Left. As ever, it is delightfully vague as to the details. The nation best placed to exert pressure on Pakistan is the US. It is not going to wag a finger by way of reproof. From Washington's perspective, Islamabad's support is still required to wage the "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan - no matter how hypocritical that slogan sounds in Delhi.

The US has put aside 28 billion dollars - a sum comparable to India's entire budget - to the fighting in Afghanistan. A chunk of it goes to Pakistan under the guise of aid. This is not a carrot-and-stick policy, it is carrots, carrots, and yet more Daucus Carota all the way. In essence, the US is prepared to grant General Musharraf a free hand in Jammu and Kashmir in exchange for his support in the Afghan campaign.

Is there any other nation which possesses any leverage in Islamabad? The Arab world is consumed by the drama in Israel. The European Community is irrelevant. And nobody in India is going to trust China to play the honest broker.

If diplomacy hits a cul-de-sac, what are the other options? How about economic sanctions?

Frankly, commercial ties between India and Pakistan run the gamut between 'minuscule' and 'non-existent'. That does not mean, however, that India should not take a good, hard look at the Indus Water Treaty. But the effects on the lower riparian areas might take a very long time to become evident - which would give ample time for more murders in J&K and elsewhere.

What does that leave? Cultural relations and sports? Pardon me, but I doubt that halting cricket matches between India and Pakistan would concern General Musharraf's Arab mercenaries for a second!

Practitioners of realpolitik will probably say that there is another option - to give Pakistan a dose of its own medicine, in other words, to sponsor terrorism in that country. It would not be difficult to find secessionists willing to take Indian arms and money in Baluchistan, Sind, and the North-Western Frontier Province. But does Delhi have the skill to play that game? I remember how previous administrations played fast and loose in Sri Lanka, and with what disastrous results. Anyhow, I think it is bad policy, in the long run, to sup with terrorists; history indicates that they always end up biting their sponsors' hands.

The truth is that India has no choice but to act in a manner that will bring home the consequences of his actions to General Musharraf. I hope it does not come to that. I witnessed the consequences of war in 1965 and 1971, and the decades between have done nothing to dim my memories. So, yes, I hope there is a change of heart overnight in Islamabad. And yes, I hope that General Musharraf renounces terrorism as an instrument of state policy in J&K. But, somehow, I get the impression that the general is still calculating that the US will come to his rescue.

At the end of the day, it is the US, and not just Pakistan, which is having a choice forced upon it. It has already failed the diplomatic test, namely in ensuring that matters did not boil over in South Asia. Now, it must face the moral test: it must demonstrate that President Bush was serious about waging a crusade against terrorism across the world.

Several Americans have condemned the wanton killing of women and children as terrorism. But are they prepared to take the logic of these statements to the natural end? If it is a blunt choice between tackling Musharraf and tackling terrorism, which way shall the US swing?

In one sense, the answer does not matter at all. India is not prepared to wait any longer upon the US' decision after the bitter experiences of the past six months. It will take action, not against the people of Pakistan nor even its government, but against terrorism.

If you have read this far, you probably have one question: shall there be war? My answer: yes.

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