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Of war-mongering and accountability

Print edition : Feb 02, 2002 T+T-

By moving to take on the government of Pakistan, the BJP-led regime is pursuing a policy based on the BJP's agenda rather than one in the national interests, even at the risk of war.

WHEN Parliament meets on February 25, the Opposition should demand answers of the government to the questions which people have been asking. Was it necessary for it to bring the country to the brink of war? What national interest was served by running such high risks, not excluding the risk of a nuclear war? For all the risks incurred, the enormous sums of money spent and the tensions generated, what has the government to show to the people by way of the results? And such as they are, do they bear any proportion to the risks, the expense and the tensions? And, how long will the confrontation last? Home Minister L.K. Advani said on January 25 that he would "need a couple of months to judge if there has been... any diminution of cross-border terrorism".

The author of the policy of brinkmanship, John Foster Dulles, was not unwilling to gamble with human lives when he said, "If you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost" (Life, January 16, 1956). This very course was adopted by the Indian government when it massed 500,000 troops along the international border with Pakistan and along the Line of Control (LoC). The people were indignant over the attack on Parliament House on December 13, 2001. No country, no government can fail to respond to such an outrage which bore every sign of aid and inspiration from a source in Pakistan, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). It was as clear to any person in his right mind that the Government of Pakistan could not, would not have mounted the attack. It had not taken leave of its senses to take on New Delhi in New Delhi itself.

But, the Bharatiya Janata Party regime decided to take on the Government of Pakistan. Its objectives became evident as the events unfolded. One names the BJP advisedly, for two reasons. First, nothing much is left of the ramshackle coalition which the National Democratic Front (NDA) once was. Secondly, the regime in power was not pursuing a policy based on the national consensus and in the national interest. It was pursing a BJP agenda even at the risk of war and damage to the national interest. That interest was served pre-eminently by the demarche to Pakistan made on the morrow of the attack. It was limited to redress of a grave wrong.

The demarche, read out by Foreign Secretary Chokila Iyer to Pakistan's High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, was pre-eminently reasonable - no self-respecting country would have asked for less - Pakistan should stop all the activities of the JeM and the Laskhar-e-Toiba (LeT); arrest the "well-known" leaders of the two groups; freeze their financial assets and seal their offices. There was no demand that the leaders be handed over to India.

Despite Pakistan's preposterous initial responses - to call for joint investigation and hints of conspiracy by Indian agencies - the demarche did not warrant mobilisation of troops for its satisfaction. That could have been accomplished without taking the country to the brink of war. Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, had nailed his colours to the mast by his famous speech at the Seerat Conference on June 5, 2001. At a meeting on December 3, over which he presided, it was decided to close down the madrassas (seminaries) involved in terrorist activities under the patronage of "two main sectarian groups", The News reported (December 14). "Sources said that full-fledged decisions to this effect would be taken in the last week of this month when the President would again preside over a high-level follow-up meeting on the issue of registration of madrassas and framing of regulations to monitor their activities" - the steps announced in his speech on January 12, 2002. Diplomatic pressure would have sufficed to secure acceleration of the process. Failing redress, recourse to the U.N. Security Council, limited explicitly to this issue, would have put Pakistan in the dock.

The bible of diplomats, Ernest Satow's hoary work A Guide to Diplomatic Practice, defines demarche as something "what in English might be described as an offer, a suggestion, an advance, a demand, an attempt, a proposal, a protestation, a remonstrance, a request, an overture, a warning, a threat, a step, a measure - according to the circumstances"; adding, "and unless the translator happens to know what the circumstances were under which the demarche was made he will be at a loss for precise English equivalent". The representation acquires its meaning from the context. In the instant case, it was to serve as an ultimatum. A deadline was set only later and the objective was defined beyond redress of a wrong.

New Delhi did not implicate Islamabad explicitly. On December 13, the Union Cabinet resolved: "We will liquidate the terrorists and their sponsors, wherever they are; whoever they are." The Home Minister was asked pointedly whether a "surgical strike" across the LoC was contemplated. He replied: "The resolution was clear enough." The question would not have been asked but for the fact that an ambience of retaliation was being fostered.

The Minister for External Affairs, Jaswant Singh, was circumspect if not accurate when he said on December 14 that "the attack was the handiwork of a terrorist organisation based in Pakistan, that is the LeT". Parliament's resolution adopted on that day said: "The cult of violence and hatred promoted by senseless element (sic) having no faith in democratic institutions has claimed seven innocent lives." This dignified formulation did not allege official complicity. That was left to George Fernandes, now relieved that the coffin scandal was behind him. On December 15, in Patna, he accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and said that evidence of its involvement would be provided whenever it was deemed necessary.

No such charge was made by the Delhi Police on December 16 when it announced the results of its investigation - the attack was mainly planned and executed by the JeM, aided by the LeT. The former's commander Ghazi Baba was the main culprit. The Cabinet Committee on Security met on December 17 "to discuss options, including retaliatory strikes at targets across the LoC" which Advani and Fernandes advocated (The Indian Express, December 18). Advani told the press meaningfully: "The whole nation should be prepared... it (the response) will be a joint decision by the government and the military." One would think that such a decision, which is necessarily political, is one for the government alone to make. Only when it decides to strike does it consult the military on the feasibility of the move.

In his statement in Parliament the next day (December 18), Advani said: "It is now evident that the terrorist assault on the Parliament House was executed jointly by Pakistan-based and supported terrorist outfits, namely, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. These two organisations are known to derive their support and patronage from Pakistan's ISI. The investigation so far carried out by the police shows that all the five terrorists who formed the suicide squad were Pakistani nationals.... The incident once again establishes that terrorism in India is the handiwork of Pakistan-based terrorist outfits known to derive their support and sustenance from Pakistan's ISI... The Pakistan High Commissioner in India was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs and issued a verbal demarche demanding that Islamabad take action against the terrorist outfits involved in the attack on the Parliament House." The ISI was not accused of actual complicity in the incident itself.

Nor did he, in this prepared statement, demand that Dawood Ibrahim be handed over. He did so only in his replies to the debates in both Houses of Parliament the next day (December 19).

The debates did not provide a mandate for war. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar roundly denounced warmongers. Somnath Chatterjee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) asked uncomfortable questions and advised the government against hasty action, even as he supported the fight against terrorism. He complained that the Opposition had not been consulted, and criticised BJP members' bid to portray themselves as the only patriotic party in the country. S. Ramachandran Pillai of the CPI(M) warned that action across the LoC could lead to a full-scale war with Pakistan.

The Congress' response was muted lest it played into the BJP's hands in the Uttar Pradesh elections. Its spokesman, S. Jaipal Reddy, said that it would support any "well-considered decision." In Parliament Dr. Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee warned against "loose talk". Arjun Singh criticised the government's "rhetoric", especially the cry that it would be an ''aar par ki ladai'' (decisive battle).

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee conceded that "no single party can take a decision on such matters. Everybody will be taken into confidence." He added: "We are presently exploring all the diplomatic avenues, but other options are not closed." His demands were strictly in line with the demarche : "It is for the Pakistan government to take action against the organisations responsible for the attack since it is aware of their activities." The all-party meeting on December 30 gave Vajpayee no mandate for war, either.

Two American pronouncements around this time deserve note. On December 19 the State Department's spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We have said and we continue to believe that India needs to investigate thoroughly. They need to reach firm conclusions on this," adding any evidence that India can provide to us or to others to establish that case (re: JeM and LeT) would provide an even better basis for going after the terrorists and provide an even better basis for the Government of Pakistan to go after these terrorists which it has said it would do."

On December 21, President George W. Bush blocked the assets of the LeT. He said: "LeT is a stateless sponsor of terrorism, and it hopes to destroy relations between Pakistan and India and to undermine Pakistan's President Musharraf. To achieve its purpose, LeT has committed acts of terrorism inside both India and Pakistan."

Each of the three points was well taken. The Director-General of the Border Security Force (BSF), E.N. Rammohan, an officer of high integrity, told a TV channel, on August 9, 1990, that Pakistan had "not much control" over the JeM and the LeT. Their agenda was not confined to Srinagar. It covered Islamabad. Khaled Ahmed described in The Friday Times (December 7) the environment in which they functioned. "The clergy, aligned with Talibanisation, thought they could remove Gen. Musharraf and take over the country."

For over a week preceding Bush's pronouncement, the LeT's official website carried messages such as these: "Wake up Pak Army and stop Idiot Musharraf! He is a failure and many failings await him. He is an absolute fiasco and flopped ruler in the history of Pakistan" (The Indian Express, December 22).

However, on December 21 New Delhi recalled its High Commissioner Vijay Nambiar from Islamabad; announced the "termination" of the 25-year-old Samjhauta Express train service and the two-year-old Lahore-Delhi bus service from January 1. Air links were snapped from December 27. This was not in response to public opinion. On the contrary, there was a "manufacture of consent" by means of official pronouncements, leaks, and inspired comment. Advani, riled by Bush's exoneration of the government of Pakistan, remarked (December 21), "I have always said that we have to fight terrorism alone. Nobody will help us. The kind of evidence we have on Pakistan's role is clinching. Even if after this... they have to include Pakistan, as a major Islamic state, in the war against terror, our people cannot be expected to understand."

This was a marked shift from his statement only three days earlier. Evidently, the simmering resentment reached the brim when the U.S. took Pakistan's support after September 11. The demarche of December 14 was only a preliminary move, soon to be overtaken by the list of 20 "most wanted" men from Pakistan which was handed over to its Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi, Jaleel Abbas Jeelani, on December 31. To the specific demands of December 14 were added a new demand which the list represented. India wanted to see, as the articulate official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Nirupama Rao, put it, "the beginning of a new approach" by Pakistan. Indeed, as was reported, "sources here emphasised that India's concerns went far beyond the arrest and repatriation of these individuals. India's prime objective was to see permanent eradication of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan's soil" (The Hindu, January 1, 2001).

As late as on January 18, when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell came to New Delhi, the government was adamant on both points as pre-conditions for the pullback of troops. "Distinct movement will be made (with Islamabad) if there is action with regard to the 20 most wanted terrorists and criminals," Jaswant Singh stipulated, along with "the earliest restoration of mutual confidence between the two countries."

IN order to appreciate the significance of this extension of the goal post, beyond its sight on December 14, and what it presages, one must look closely into the events in the last days of December.

Once Parliament adjourned on December 19, the government went public with leaked warnings. "Pakistan has time till Christmas Day to comply with India's request to hand over Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar and crack down on his outfit as well as the Lashkar-e-Toiba. If President Pervez Musharraf refuses to take action, India feels that it has no choice but to 'take matters into its own hands to protect its national interest'. The mood in the Indian establishment signalled that the government is prepared for war, if Pakistan remains adamant. India, which feels that the U.S. has the maximum leverage over Musharraf, is banking on Washington to force his hand...

"In the next few days, New Delhi is likely to ask Pakistan to stop flights over Indian air space, downsize India's mission in Islamabad, strip Pakistan's most favoured nation status and revoke the Indus water treaty of 1960. The treaty had survived the wars of 1965 and 1971... The U.S. administration was politely reminded how American citizens clamoured for tough retaliatory action after the September 11 strikes.

"The Foreign Ministry was privately furious over President George W. Bush's remarks yesterday. New Delhi's irritation was conveyed to the President, who late last night issued an amended statement and asked Pakistan to crack down on the outfits... (The Telegraph, December 23).

The targets were no longer the LeT and the JeM. The target was the Government of Pakistan, despite the fact that not one country implicated it in the incident of December 13. Bush spoke, as he did on December 21, on the basis of intelligence gathered by his agencies. That day (December 21) one of the key suspects, Mohammad Afzal, told Asian Age that the LeT "is not involved in the attack". India Today reproduced (December 11) a statement he made six days after the attack implicating the LeT as well as the JeM and asserting, for good measure, "Pakistan is very much behind the December 13 attack on Parliament". The weekly's correspondent later reported (January 7): "Indian intelligence agencies are still searching for concrete evidence that directly links the Pakistan establishment to the attack." Washington Post's correspondents Rajiv Chandra-sekaran and Rama Lakshmi reported on December 28: "Despite rampant speculation by some politicians and media outlets here, Indian investigators said they have not uncovered any evidence directly linking Pakistan's military or its intelligence service to the attack. 'It's very diffi-cult to prove' said an intelligence official. 'There's no smoking gun'."

This hardly provided any warrant for the massing of troops on the borders, cries of war and talk of "surgical strikes". Unless, of course, the real objective went beyond redress for the outrage of December 13. A report in The Hindu (January 11) exposed that objective. "India is unlikely to pull back its forces from the International Border and the Line of Control soon. According to highly-placed government sources, New Delhi, after the attack on Parliament, is determined to deal with terrorism decisively. For that, it aims to create a suitable political environment in the region that will eventually enable it to make a deal with Pakistan. The mobilisation of ground troops along the borders is central to the strategy that will strengthen India's hands during future negotiations, they observed. As of now, India has positioned its forces all along the borders in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. All its three strike corps, that can spearhead a military campaign, have been mobilised."

Those who hail this as "coercive diplomacy" do not know what they are talking about. The essence for coercive diplomacy is the use or threat of force in aid of diplomacy, not as a means of duress whether to buttress a status quo based on force or establish one to accord with the interests of a powerful state. Coercive diplomacy, as the title of the classic on the subject describes it, is "forceful persuasion." Its subtitle states the corollary: "Coercive diplomacy as an alternative to war." The work written by political scientist Alexander I. George, an Emeritus Professor of Stanford, was published by the U.S. Institute of Peace in 1991. It is based on seven case studies.

In coercive diplomacy proper, not only are the channels of communication left open but they are actively used; for the object is to persuade and to avert war. The BJP regime deliberately clogged those channels and rejected dialogue from Day One. None of the measures which Pakistan began taking from December 24 onwards every day, made any impression - freezing the assets of the LeT and the Umma Tammere-Nau; the arrest of Masood Azhar and a series of arrests of extremists totalling 2,000.

A senior Western diplomat in Islamabad told B. Muralidhar Reddy that Musharraf "cannot be seen as acting on the specific demands of the Indian government. The containment of the jehadi forces would have to be a gradual process and any harsh measures could endanger the very stability of his regime" (The Hindu, December 26). But, he had missed the whole point. New Delhi's aim, as some Indian analysts noted, was that Islamabad should be "seen" by the world at large and by this region particularly, to be climbing down, softened for the eventual diktat. The New York Times noted (December 23) that India saw "a rare opportunity to accomplish what perhaps half a million Indian troops and police failed to achieve" in Kashmir during the 12-year-old militancy. Pakistan, it later noted, had to find a way to "avoid war without humiliation".

When on January 20 Advani addressing a Shiv Sena rally in Mumbai deplored the Simla pact, as a failed opportunity, and said "we will solve the Jammu and Kashmir issue once and for all", he did not have a compromise in mind, surely. He added, shockingly, "Pakistan is not a trustworthy nation".

Alexander I. George's comment is as relevant as it is perceptive: "Both the objective of coercive diplomacy and the means employed on its behalf are likely to be sensitive to the type of relationship the coercing power hopes to have with the opponent after the crisis is over. Both Kennedy and Khrushchev hoped to move toward an improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations after reaching a mutually acceptable way of resolving the missile crisis. The contrast with the way the U.S.-led coalition viewed the post-crisis relationship with Saddam Hussein's regime could not be more pronounced." New Delhi's object is dissimilar to the Kennedy-Khrushchev model. They averted the immediate crisis and went on to negotiate wider accords based on commonality of interest. New Delhi aspires to "make a deal" through the massing of troops.

George writes: "Coercive diplomacy does indeed offer an alternative to reliance on military action. It seeks to persuade an opponent to cease his aggression rather than bludgeon him into stopping. In contrast to the blunt use of force to repel an adversary, coercive diplomacy emphasises the use of threats to punish the adversary if he does not comply with what is demanded of him."

COERCIVE diplomacy is an attractive strategy insofar as it offers the possibility of achieving one's objective in a crisis economically, with little or no bloodshed, fewer political and psychological costs, and often with less risk of unwanted escalation than does traditional military strategy. But for this very reason coercive diplomacy can be a beguiling strategy. "Particularly leaders of militarily powerful countries may be tempted sometimes to believe that they can, with little risk, intimidate weaker opponents to give up their gains and their objectives. But, of course, the militarily weaker side may be strongly motivated by what is at stake and refuse to back down, in effect calling the bluff of the coercing power". Hence, the risk of war.

Kennedy made considerable use of persuasion. He employed a variety of diplomatic and open channel to clarify, explain, and justify to his adversary as well as to others why the demand he was making was truly important to the United States and why he was strongly resolved to achieve it. "Cognizant of the principles of crisis management, Kennedy deliberately slowed down the momentum of events, particularly during the Cuban missile crisis, in order to give diplomatic processes and communication an opportunity to work toward a peaceful resolution."

Neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev viewed the particular conflict of interests in the dispute or their overall relationship as approximating a zero-sum conflict. Each side was careful not to impose humiliation on the other.

But, of course, the Bharatiya Janata Party regime knew it could not go to war. There was massive U.S. presence in the region on the land, in the sea and in the air not far from the scene of potential conflict. Satellite surveillance ensured monitorship in a real sense as the removal of Lt. Gen. Kapil Vij as Corps Commander showed. Vij was commanding 2 Corps, which was part of the Western Command, and its movement was detected by the Pentagon through satellites and reported to both India and Pakistan (The Hindu, January 21). Reliance on the U.S. to pressure Pakistan was central to the Government of India's strategy. Mobilisation of troops was aimed as much at securing American intercession on its behalf as ensuring Pakistan's compliance. The level of American presence in South Asia today is far greater than at any time in the last half century; far greater than it was in 1962-63, for instance. Advani told a U.S. audience on January 9: "These days, whenever pressure has been put on Pakistan by Washington, it has responded, even in the case of the two organisations which have been responsible for the attack on the Indian Parliament."

Having felt that it had been left high and dry by the U.S. in the wake of September 11, New Delhi used December 13 to accomplish its own, rather than a national agenda. If that strategy succeeds, it hopes to emerge a winner not only in the U.P. elections but also in the Lok Sabha elections due a mere two years from now. The Lok Sabha can be dissolved earlier - and the allies discarded thereafter.

One astute politician, Pranab Mukherjee, keenly sensed the danger of war and the game the BJP was playing. His outburst is significant and is likely to set the pace for debates in Parliament. Earlier, as The Telegraph reported (December 19): "Many aspects of the investigation and handling of the issue have irked several parties, but no one is willing to risk being dubbed anti-national. This is one reason why every speaker in the Lok Sabha today made it a point to extend all co-operation to the Government in fighting terrorism...

"What came across from Advani's statement was that the government did not have more evidence against Pakistan. If it did, this would have been the best opportunity to place it before the nation and get support for any action necessary. The Home Minister was careful not to blame the Pakistan government directly.

"Though in public Ministers and officials speak of an 'iron-clad case' against Pakistan, doubts are being raised privately. There are murmurs within the government about the botching of what was an ideal opportunity to revive the BJP's sagging political fortunes.

"'There is too much of posturing by government leaders, which raises doubts. If the ISI is really involved, it may have been wiser to work quietly towards nailing them through careful investigation. There is posturing only when there is not enough proof', said a recently retired government official."

Where, incidentally, is Advani's White Paper on the ISI which he promises repeatedly since 1998 (vide the writer's "The Tale of a White Paper"; Frontline, November 24, 2000).

PRANAB MUKHERJEE explained the Congress' support to the government while expressing his doubts and even "anger". It's strong national interest, nothing else. At this time, we do not want to create the impression that there is a divergence of views in the political establishment... Certain questions do come to mind. One is whether it was necessary to build up this type of hype, this war psychosis. Was it mean to draw international attention to the type of terrorist threat we are facing? Or was it meant to influence the local elections? Or was it meant to counter pressure from the inner layers of the Sangh Parivar?

"Another question constantly haunts me. If our demand is that Pakistan must stop supporting terrorism and it's only then are we prepared to talk, what does this mean? No country will say it is supporting terrorism, so how can it say it has stopped supporting terrorism?...

"Surely the problem cannot be resolved by launching a war against the country which is harbouring the terrorists. It is just not possible. We have to fight it within our borders; see that terrorists don't infiltrate into our country. This is how we have been doing it for the last 10-20 years. We are not in 1914, when an Austrian prince was killed and Europe fought World War I. If you are the U.S., maybe you can think of doing that. When you are not, you are not... They shouldn't have created this war hysteria. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states. Surely they are aware that the United Nations Security Council empowers the five permanent members with special powers to intervene in a conflict between two nuclear states?" (The Indian Express, January 13, 2002).

An exercise in "coercive diplomacy" by Jawaharlal Nehru, exactly 50 years ago, provides an instructive contrast. Pranab Mukherjee is right. Such crises had occurred before. Nehru did not tackle them in the BJP style. On May 1, 1951, a Proclamation was issued in Srinagar for convening a Constituent Assembly to frame a Constitution for Kashmir. Pakistan was afraid that it would be used to foreclose a plebiscite by securing through it a ratification of the State's accession to India. S. Gopal records its threats of war. "It seemed possible that Pakistan might attempt to occupy the valley by a swift military action. Troops were concentrated on the Kashmir border, new divisions raised, reserves called up, leave cancelled and raids and sabotage in Kashmir stepped up. Nehru decided that the best way to prevent escalation was to take countermeasures and let it be known that this was being done. The armoured division was moved upto the Punjab border and no great secrecy was maintained about the fact.

That was on July 11, 1951. Four days later, Liaquat Ali Khan cabled to Nehru protesting against the Indian move." (Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 2; p.115). He wrote: "In addition to movement of infantry divisions, your one armoured division and independent armoured brigade have been moved forward from Meerut and Nabha to the vicinity of Amritsar."

Nehru's reply of July 17 did not contest the movement of troops but assured him that "there is no intention whatever for any aggressive action on our part." The crisis petered out. The entire correspondence was published by the MEA in a 24-page White Paper on "Indo-Pakistan Relations". Why not publish the text of the demarche of December 14, 2001? The contrast between the crises of 1951 and 2001 is stark and instructive. Nehru's was a defensive move on Indian soil, intended entirely to deter an attack. No demarche, ultimatum or threat was delivered. Far from ruling out talks, Nehru invited Pakistan's Prime Minister to New Delhi for talks to "discuss every matter of concern to us without any conditions attached". While asserting that "it is not for India or Pakistan, whatever our wishes, to decide the future of Kashmir. Kashmir and the people of Kashmir are not commodities for barter or for bargain. It is their inherent right to determine their own future" (White Paper; pp. 13-14). It was Pakistan which stipulated preconditions.

Nehru was candid. The BJP regime denied massing of troops even as the print and electronic media reported it. Meetings between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries in Kathmandu were first denied and later played down ("no separate and substantive" talks were held). The BJP regime has been systematically deceiving public opinion. For, its denials were addressed to the people of India. Foreign media reported what they saw. Thus was a war hysteria built up and maintained. The government knew it would not and could not go to war for four reasons. First, the P-5 of the Security Council, who had united in 1998 on Pokhran II, would have acted in greater concert now, under U.S. leadership. Secondly, Pakistan, though far weaker in armed strength, has a fair ratio for defence as a deterrent. Thirdly, there is no casus belli to flaunt. Neither the demarche of December 14, nor the list of December 31 nor the demand for end to "cross-border terrorism". Lastly, the Opposition was beginning to see through the game after its initial acquiescence on the plea of "national interest". Witness, Pranab Mukherjee's comments. The people of India are prepared to shed their blood in the country's defence. They would have recoiled from a war in circumstances such as these, a war which exposed them to costs and hazards that bore not the remotest relation to the provocation.

THIS brings us to the nuclear factor. On January 18, 2002 in Washington, Defence Minister George Fernandes woke up to the truth that no "mature person would talk about a nuclear conflict". Earlier, in an interview in India he had said, "We could take a (nuclear) strike and then hit back. Pakistan would be finished" (The Hindustan Times, December 30, 2001). When on January 2 in Lucknow Vajpayee said that "no weapon would be spared in self-defence; whatever weapon was available would be used no matter how it wounded the enemy", he could not have been referring to the Bofors gun. This nuclear sabre-rattling at the height of the tensions has escaped censure. This was well before Chief of the Army Staff Gen. S. Padmanabhan's famous remarks at his press conference on January 11 which prompted Fernandes to issue the instant and unctuous disclaimer. "I wish everyone gives up this talk of nuclear weapons being brought into play." Neither need have spoken on this subject at all. At a press briefing in the Foreign Office on December 27, Major-General Rashid Qureshi, the President's spokesperson, had said: "Pakistan and India are responsible nations and we cannot think of using nuclear weapons. These are deterrents and not meant to be more than that. The use of nuclear weapons is something one should not even consider."

THIS was a remarkable declaration from a country which had declined to endorse the "no-first-use" doctrine and flaunted its nuclear weapon status as ample compensation for its inferiority in conventional warfare. To what did Gen. Qureshi owe the confidence which now prompted him to rule out the use of weapons? Was it U.S. assurance of India's intentions not to go to war and of its own support if it did?

He was clearly trying to assure the U.S. and at the same time enlist its sympathies. A remark which he made on this occasion, at the height of the tensions, took not a few people by surprise: "The Indian government is putting itself into a corner where it would be difficult for them to now back off." Evidently, he felt sure that attack it would not.

Concern in Islamabad was palpable, though; lest any incident drive the two countries to a war neither wanted. And for good reason. What Zafar Abbas of The Herald, who reports also for the BBC, revealed in detail in its issue of January 2002 should prod serious reflection: "It was late at night on December 21 when President Pervez Musharraf was approached by the country's intelligence supremo who wished to discuss a matter of grave urgency. Pakistani intelligence had picked up credible signals from across the border that the Indian Air Force was planning a major strike, possibly in Azad Kashmir (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) in the name of hot pursuit. Pakistan was in touch with Washington minutes later and what followed was a flurry of night-long diplomatic activity that ultimately convinced India to back off...

"But the threat did not dissipate entirely, top security officials say. The following night, significant movements of the Indian Air Force were reported not only in the Kashmir region but also in the jurisdiction of its Western Air Command. Washington again came into the picture and another diplomatic exercise ensued, during which the Indian side once more denied any aggressive intent. The air strikes were ultimately averted but the movements on the Indian side on December 21 and 22 strongly suggested that Delhi was seriously considering the war option, a top-ranking security official told The Herald: 'In fact we were convinced that war was imminent'.

"From that point onwards, Pakistan's armed forces were put on full alert, leaves were cancelled, and a major troop deployment was ordered along the borders. Pakistan too was now prepared for war. ....Senior Pakistani security officials say their assessment of a possible war had assumed concrete form by December 27. By this time, the concentration of Indian forces along the border was such that Delhi's intentions were clear not just to Islamabad but also to Washington... According to a highly placed official in Islamabad, a critical phase in this war of nerves came on December 29 when President Musharraf spoke on the phone with the U.S. Secretary of State. By then India had relocated its forces in Assam to the Pakistani border. Musharraf told Powell that India had made this move only twice before, in 1965 and 1971, adding this was a clear sign that Delhi was preparing to strike. Within no time President Bush was on the phone with the Pakistani leader, asking Musharraf to show restraint and also promising that the White House would contact the leadership in New Delhi to ask them to back off. Later Colin Powell called the Pakistani President, informing him that India may not go for the war option. At the same time, however, he asked Islamabad to do something about the 'foreign militants' allegedly operating in Kashmir. Even though the U.S. administration was still pleased with Pakistan's role in the Afghan war and was more than willing to keep the relationship going, Washington had also decided to up the ante. To appease Delhi the emphasis now was on taking action against organisations such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba, groups that the U.S. State Department had already placed on its list of 'foreign terrorist organisations'."

Read this along with John F. Burns' report in The New York Times of January 8 and the picture is complete. "Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, became so concerned last week that tensions over Kashmir would spill into war with India that he telephoned the American Ambassador in Islamabad, Wendy J. Chamberlin, to ask where Washington intended to draw the line in supporting India.

"'What General Musharraf wanted to know was how Washington could guarantee that India wouldn't wait for some new incident to occur, then claim that it was backed by Pakistan and use it as a pretext to go to war', an aide to the General said, insisting on anonymity. The General's reasoning was: 'What if some outraged Kashmiri takes a Kalashnikov and shoots an Indian politician or puts a bomb in a parking lot? Is Pakistan going to be held accountable everytime anybody picks up a weapon? Is Washington saying that all freedom struggles, everywhere, can be suppressed under the guise of the war on terrorism?"'

Instances there are aplenty of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and later its defector the "real IRA", striking whenever peace talks made any progress. In 1984 a bomb exploded in a Brighton hotel where members of the British government were staying during the annual Conservative Party conference. It killed five people. In 1991 an IRA mortar attack was aimed at 10 Downing Street while the Cabinet was in session.

The list of 20 "wanted" persons given to Pakistan on December 31 at the height of the confrontation, which step, in turn, exacerbated it, included, incredibly, the name of Syed Salahuddin, supremo of the Hizbul Mujahideen, with which New Delhi parleyed after the ceasefire in July 2000 and praised its sagacity.

In his speech of January 12, Musharraf announced a ban on extremist bodies as also the LeT and the JeM, besides several measures against religious extremists. India welcomed that. On the list he said: "There is no question of handing over any Pakistani." Given the evidence, they would be prosecuted. The non-Pakistanis "will be proceeded against whenever one is found". On January 19 he told the CNN: "As far as Pakistanis on the list are concerned, we are not going to hand them over... about non-Pakistanis, we do not have them here."

The deadlock is complete, apparently. Jaswant Singh had insisted a day earlier on "action" on the list if "distinct movement" is to be made.

Fernandes told The New York Times on January 2: "If they should fail (to comply) then we are left with only the option that the U.S. exercised to deal with terrorism." Asked if it meant the military option, he said "That's right." On January 14 he amplified: "Any effort at de-escalation can come only, and I repeat only, if and when cross-border terrorism is effectively stopped."

This ran counter to Jaswant Singh's response on January 13 to Musharraf's speech and his statements since, which were in a conciliatory vein. His emphasis was on "cross-border terrorism", not the list. Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged talks and desisted from insisting on a pull-back of the forces. India's demarche of December 14 has been all but complied with. It is the list of 20 and the demand for end to "cross-border terrorism" which are the sticking points. Musharraf has pledged that Pakistan's territory would not be allowed to be used for terrorist activities.

NEITHER the hype nor the confrontation along the borders can last long in this ambience of de-escalation of rhetoric. Designed to make Pakistan lose face, the crisis is petering out with the BJP regime struggling to save its face since the two issues involved do not warrant a confrontation, let alone war. How the impasse is resolved remains to be seen.

Pakistan has paid for the sins of its past rulers, including Benazir Bhutto. India has paid a high price for the BJP regime. Verily, as Talleyrand exclaimed, "Nations would have been horrified if they knew what petty people rule them."

That Jaswant Singh should call him "the Harkat activist" tells us more about Jaswant than about Syed Salahuddin (The Asian Age, January 22).

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