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AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY

On October 16, 2002, the national security advisory board and the cabinet committee on security of the Indian government took the decision to “redeploy” the troops posted on the international border, more than 10 months ago, to their pre-deployment positions. However, troops deployed on the line of control have been left untouched for the time being. Whatever the rationale, it must be said that the decision and particularly its timing are baffling.

Admittedly, the defence minister, George Fernandes, has assured the nation that “there will be no lowering of vigil in Jammu and Kashmir”. He has also stated that if the need arises in the future, India has a decisive capacity to respond to any emergency situation, which suggests that the withdrawn troops can be re-deployed quickly. It may be recalled, the mobilization of troops had taken around four weeks and the withdrawal could take up to six weeks.

As was to be expected, the decision has invited mixed reaction. A section of the Indian political class and the strategic community has welcomed it. But clearly, there are those who are deeply perplexed by the move to withdraw troops. They believe that the decision was taken under international pressure and, more so, under American pressure. But according to the cabinet committee on security, the decision has been taken after “deliberation upon and examination of all aspects of continued deployment of our security forces along the border”. The same cabinet committee also felt that the “armed forces have achieved the objective assigned to them”.

This objective, it is being argued, was the successful holding of Jammu and Kashmir elections, and that has been accomplished. However, this was neither an original nor a very convincing objective for the troop deployment. Troops were deployed on the border after the December 13 attack on Parliament. The basic objective of the deployment was to preserve India’s security and territorial integrity and to decisively crush cross-border terrorism. India wanted Pakistan to stop supporting cross-border terrorism and to end its “use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy”. In addition, India demanded action by Pakistan on the list of 20 fugitives. These demands were linked to the troop deployment and articulated by the Indian government on a number of occasions.

In essence, the idea behind the mobilization was to fight a decisive battle against terrorism. The prime minister stated this on many important platforms. Other political leaders and officials reiterated the same argument repeatedly. It even appeared that India would go to war to realize its objective. But nothing was done. Thereafter, through friendly media columnists and some “experts”, it was argued that the mobilization was not for the purposes of going to war, but for coercive diplomacy.

It is evident that none of the substantial demands associated with cross-border terrorism was accepted by Pakistan. Though Pakistan, under international pressure, did pay lip service to the pledge to end international terrorism and renounce terrorism as an instrument of state policy, the policy vis-à-vis India and Kashmir was continued.

Pakistan never backtracked from extending moral, political and diplomatic support to “freedom fighters” in Kashmir, never mind that some of the statements and speeches of Pervez Musharraf in which he strongly spoke out against terrorists operating through Pakistan. Musharraf also took some symbolic action, including arresting some terrorists belonging to organizations banned by the United States of America. The rest of the cadre of these organizations was not deterred by such operations. Even the arrested leaders were not really restrained. In reality, these organizations continued to operate from Pakistan by simply changing their nomenclature.

Even the Indian government did not buy Musharraf’s stunt. It rightly pointed out that his words must translate into action. And it is clear that this did not happen. Infiltration continues. The governor of Punjab accepted this stark reality on October 21. Earlier, the Indian foreign secretary had also admitted that infiltration was continuing in Kashmir. The Indian foreign minister, the Union home minister, and other important officials have consistently argued that Pakistan has not stopped infiltration. Even the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, during his visit to south Asia, admitted that infiltration had not stopped. Besides, Pakistan has still not taken any action on the list of fugitives.

The debate on whether the troop mobilization was a classic case of coercive diplomacy will continue, but few can dispute the fact that the troop mobilization and subsequent withdrawal was a big policy fiasco. There is no credible information available about the resources spent on this operation, but the entire exercise did put a burden on the exchequer.

The question that arises then is: where did the government go wrong' There is no doubt that the Indian government certainly did the right thing by demonstrating its resolve to fight transnational terrorism by mobilizing troops on the border. It faltered in making demands on Pakistan. There was no need to link the list of fugitives to the attack on Parliament and the troop mobilization.

The linkage diluted the seriousness of the matter. Most important, these fugitives were not linked to the attack. This issue should have been raised either before or sometime later. And the second and most important factor is that the source of a Parliament-type attack is probably the decision-making structure of Pakistan. Which indicates that the response of the Indian government should have been harsher.

What will be the implications of the troop withdrawal' There is no doubt that large sections of the Indian people and troops have been thoroughly demoralized. India will be facing an emboldened Pakistan and an emboldened Musharraf. The coming months may witness a rise in infiltration. There will be much more interference by the US, which practises preemption itself and advocates restraint for others. The US will also try to sell border-monitoring technology to south Asian countries. For years, it has been advertising and campaigning for such technologies.

The related question that arises is: what ought to be done by the government' The government will have to withstand international pressure and protect its territory and citizens from Pakistani aggression, launched in a variety of ways. War and ethics are not forever mutually contradictory. In the present context, fighting a war will certainly not be unethical for India. Western countries know it well because they exercise the option to use force quite often.

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