RHETORIC ROLLS, NOT MILITARY MACHINE 

Read more below

By FROM SUJAN DUTTA
  • Published 15.12.01
  •  
New Delhi, Dec. 15 :    New Delhi, Dec. 15:  Despite the warnings to Pakistan and the use of strong language by politicians, strategists are still not convinced that the military option to strike across the Line of Control in the wake of the attack on Parliament will be exercised in a hurry. In any case, the decision to enter into an armed conflict is political and not military. Defence minister George Fernandes said in Patna today that "a lot of thinking" was on to work out operations to strike at militant bases. For about two years now, India has been talking of some 90-odd terrorist training camps in Pakistan. Till such time as it manages to convince the international community, it will be difficult to win support for the stand that these are legitimate targets. And, without legitimate targets, the armed forces cannot have a brief for military operations like hot pursuit and/or aerial strikes. In the two days since the firing in Parliament, too, there is no military signal that units crucial to an operation are on the move. Armoured units have not moved closer to the border. Neither have aircraft shifted bases nor have there been intensified sorties for recce. Military strategists in both India and Pakistan presume that in any case there is practically no "element of surprise" in a conflict between the two countries. For them, the situation even when battles are not actually raging, continues to be one best described as "no war, no peace". The strategy of increasing the pressure on militants without crossing the LoC - essentially the strategy that was also used in Kargil - therefore continues to be persisted with. "For reasons other than military we did not cross the LoC. It is not just a matter of going across the LoC and liquidating a camp. Israel has not been able to eliminate camps of the Hamas for years and years and now they have had to send tanks into Ramallah and even target Arafat's headquarters," says retired air chief marshal S.K. Kaul. "Theoretically, we can go and hit the terrorist camps. That is the sort of thing that the US has been doing and Israel has been doing. If such tactics hold good for them, why should it not hold good for us? In war, when the time comes to strike, you must strike hard. But there has to be a calculus on what could be the Pakistani response," said Kaul. Such calculus will take into account the consequences of increasing militarisation in South Asia. With the Afghan war moving to Tora Bora, Pakistan can practically get involved in war on two fronts. Indian forces engaged in counter insurgency operations in Kashmir and the Northeast will also be under increased pressure. Even in Nepal and Sri Lanka, armies are engaged in internal wars. This is the setting in which the argument of hawks in the Indian establishment - who advocate an offensive strategy - will have to be weighed. As defence strategists set about planning a response to the attack on Parliament, some of the thoughts - and Fernandes said in Patna today that a lot of thinking was currently on - will be on where Islamabad's "defensive threshold" ends. In Kargil, the objective was clearly defined - eject intruders from territory. In that sense it was a limited, conventional war that did not take the offence into areas under Pakistani control. The Kargil example has been used by experts to justify that space still exists for a limited war despite both India and Pakistan having gone nuclear. This is also an idea that serving military officers favour. Most recently, it was voiced by the chief of the army's northern command at a seminar in Jammu. But even the "limits" of a limited war cannot be defined. "If you want to pursue the policy of hot pursuit, you have to be prepared for an all-out war," says retired brigadier A.C. Prem, author and analyst on military affairs. "Our strike corps can go deep into Pakistan - maybe 30 or 40 kilometres. Then there is what is called 'limit of no further penetration' and beyond that point, is the nuclear option. I have no doubt that in Pakistan's case, the level of nuclear threshold is much lower. The second option is to devastate the enemy's nuclear installations and send in the land forces. I am not sure any of these two options can actually be exercised. In the long run, it might be better to do unto Pakistan what they do to us - disintegrate the state from within."