The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The decision by the government of India to withdraw troops posted in forward locations along the international border was inevitable. The costs of maintaining the deployment were far outweighing the benefits to be accrued by the presence of the troops and the decision was, therefore, along expected lines. India wanted to signal to Pakistan that it was willing to use military force if Islamabad did not stop sponsoring terrorism against it. This was the largest deployment of the armed forces since the war against Pakistan in 1971. In addition to the army, both the navy and the air force were put in a state of high alert. The gains from the massive mobilization are not intangible. The international community, especially the United States of America, became deeply conscious of India’s concerns about terrorism inspired by Pakistan, and put considerable pressure on the military regime to put an end to the proxy war it had unleashed against its neighbour. Indeed, Mr Pervez Musharraf’s landmark speech in January this year could be directly related to the deployment and the international pressure that followed. The Pakistan president had, on that occasion, categorically distanced his regime from terrorism and the so-called jihadi forces that were causing havoc in Jammu and Kashmir and beyond. Mr Musharraf had also promised to not allow Pakistan’s territory to be used for terrorist activities against any other country.

Even the level of infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan and the number of violent incidents in Jammu and Kashmir came down in the next three months. Mr Musharraf’s speech also demonstrated to Kashmiris and militant outfits the opportunistic and expedient nature of Pakistan’s policies. Disillusionment with Pakistan throughout Kashmir is now a firm reality, and there are few, if any, Kashmiri groups that advocate violence as a means of advancing their political struggle. India had earlier signalled that it would consider de-escalating after the Jammu and Kashmir elections. The polls have been successfully conducted, and have been widely seen as being the freest and fairest in the state’s history. The level of popular participation in the election confirms that most Kashmiris are willing to join the democratic process, and have rejected the politics of terror and violence.

India is unlikely to use military force against Pakistan in the foreseeable future. There was little utility in maintaining such a large number of troops in a state of high alert. Although the Indian army is amongst the most professional in the world, being in a state of readiness in particularly harsh conditions without seeing military action can have an adverse impact. The government’s decision is, therefore, very welcome. Army deployment was not intended to bring about total compliance, but to signal the readiness to use force if Pakistan did not take corrective action. There are now other means at the disposal of India to put continued pressure on Pakistan. If, however, Pakistan were to view India’s withdrawal not as a sign of weakness, but as a gesture of goodwill, and begin to act as a responsible member of the comity of nations, bilateral relations could improve rapidly.

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