Print edition : June 20, 1998

The strategic fallout from Pokhran, and the BJP's provocative attempt to link India's new 'nuclear weapon' status with the Kashmir dispute, have turned out to be self-defeating. These have resulted in the internationalisation of the Kashmir issue, which India has resisted all along.

THE real question is not what the Bharatiya Janata Party's security doctrine with regard to Kashmir is: it is whether it has one at all. "Hot pursuit", "pro-active engagement", "making proxy war costly" and "retaking Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir" have been just some of the slogans put out by BJP leaders ranging from Union Home Minister L.K. Advani to Parliamentary Affairs and Tourism Minister Madan Lal Khurana, and duly repeated by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. On what the actual content of these slogans is, neither the security establishment in Srinagar nor the Home Ministry appears to be clear. At the 15 Corps headquarters, responsible for the Army's defence of the Line of Control (LoC) in and counter-terrorist operations through Kashmir, senior officials make no secret of the problems the BJP's nuclear tests, and the polemic that followed them, have created in the region. Intelligence officials, the Central police organisations and the State police are equally dismayed by the strategic fallout from Pokhran and the BJP's aggressive polemic.

It has become abundantly clear that, despite the Panglossian belief of some analysts that Pakistan's new broad strategic parity with India will lead to that country scaling down infiltration into Kashmir, nothing of the kind has in fact happened. What enthusiasm there was for the Pokhran tests in BJP-dominated Jammu evaporated on June 1, when a massive explosion on Tilak Raj road killed three people, including a five-year-old girl, and injured 30 others. This blast made clear to ordinary people that, whatever the BJP's rhetoric might be, fighting terrorism in Kashmir had nothing to do with India's nuclear abilities. In the Rajouri-Poonch belt, now the forward line of the battle with foreign insurgents, mass killings continue. The victims include Hindus and Muslims. On June 11, Ghulam Hussain, his wife Munshi Bai, brother Mir Hussain and Mir Hussain's son Sadiq Hussain were beheaded by terrorists at Sangla village in Poonch. The level of infiltration into the State is believed to be somewhat lower than in 1997, but it is still adequate to maintain the number of terrorists in Kashmir at over 700, despite the killing of over 250 of them last year.


THE report of the five-member group set up by Advani on May 18 to conduct a comprehensive review of counter-terrorist strategy in Jammu and Kashmir illustrates that the BJP-led coalition Government is at least, if not more, devoid of ideas on engaging with violence in the State. Led by Special Secretary M.B. Kaushal, and made up of Jammu and Kashmir Director-General of Police Gurbachan Jagat, Border Security Force Director-General E.N. Rammohan, Director-General of Military Operations Lieutenant-General Inder Verma and the Intelligence Bureau's A.S. Dulat, the group was given just seven days to present its report. The officials chose to put in some thought into their work, and by the middle of June the first complete draft of the report was nearing completion. Broadly, it called for the sanctioning of some Rs.400 crores to upgrade force strengths and equipment, including the purchase of a helicopter for a new Jammu and Kashmir Police rapid-response team and the acquisition of new arms and communications systems. The second major thrust of the report is the upgrading of force strengths along the LoC, through the redeployment of troops and induction of paramilitary units.

Just how much of the final report will in fact be honoured by the BJP-led Government is far from clear: officials involved told Frontline that it was unlikely that the Union Home Ministry would sanction more than Rs.100 crores. But what is even more interesting is that Kaushal, the Union Government representative on the team, appears to have brought with him no clear understanding of what Pakistan's objectives in Kashmir might be, and what ought to be done to address them.

An Indian artillery gun booms in the Siachen Glacier on June 11. The recent aggressive posturing on Kashmir by senior Union Ministers in the wake of the nuclear blasts has led to the internationalisation of the Kashmir issue and it may serve to undermine the security forces' ability to undertake anti-terrorist operations.-AIJAZ RAHI / AP

In this sense, the report is not in fact a review of security policy in Jammu and Kashmir, but a collection of short-term demands by security organisations involved in counter-terrorist work. "The whole point of the exercise," says a respected official involved in writing the report, "ought to have been to arrive at a shared understanding of just what Pakistan wanted in Kashmir, and what it sought to achieve through its commitment to terrorist groups." "From this analysis, we should have drawn up plans to engage with those objectives, anticipating situations that might arise. Past governments sought to hold ground, and wear down the enemy through numbers. That was a poor doctrine, but it was better than having none at all, especially in the post-Pokhran situation, where we are deeply vulnerable to external pressure."

PART of the answers lie in the BJP's understanding of what Pakistan's objectives are. Party leaders have variously linked its support of terrorist groups with some sort of inherent fundamentalist mindset, Pakistan's desire to generate communal tension elsewhere in India, and thus legitimise its core two-nation ideology, or simply to carry out an ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims through Jammu and Kashmir. Although each of these propositions may sound plausibile, given the sponsorship of fascist groups such as the Harkat ul-Ansar and the Markaz Dawa wal'Irshad-backed Lashkar-e-Toiba by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), none of them is a coherent strategic explanation. Some officials believe that the origins of Pakistan's Kashmir policy lie in its agreement to act as a proxy of the United States against Soviet-backed Afghanistan in the early 1980s. Shortly afterwards, key figures in military despot Zia-ul-Haq's central strategy circles demanded guarantees against the possibility of India opening a second front against Pakistan, which in turn led to quiet U.S. acquiescence for the beginnings of its sponsorship of terrorism in Indian Punjab.

At Chakoti post, near Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, a Pakistani soldier keeps an eye on Indian troop movements across the Line of Control on June 3.-B.K. BANGASH / AP

The success of Pakistan's Punjab campaign drove the creation of Operation Topac, widely acknowledged in the intelligence community to have been put in place in the mid-1980s by the ISI. Operation Topac envisaged the arming of insurgent groups in Jammu and Kashmir, and the use of both pro-independence groups like the now-defunct Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and traditional allies of Pakistan such as the Jamaat-e-Islami to generate mass rebellion. The armed groups were, in Topac's broad framework, put in place to aid Pakistan's troops when rebellion forced a conventional Indian military offensive against Pakistan.

For a variety of reasons, including the assumed nuclear capabilities of both states, that conventional conflict never came about. The mass uprising of 1989 rapidly fractured between competing terrorist groups, and its internal ideological contradictions saw secessionist formations marginalised by 1995. Operation Topac had failed, and the possibility of Pakistan gaining Jammu and Kashmir by force, which Advani continues to insist is its objective, was abandoned by the ISI as a strategic goal.

In May, Indian troops mount an operation in the mountainous stretches near Gaibas village in Rajouri sector, which was once a stronghold of militants.-SANDEEP SAXENA

What, if territorial gain is not among them, are Pakistan's real objectives in Kashmir? One simple explanation might be that proxy war is cheap. One Intelligence Bureau report suggests that the costs of maintaining an estimated 1,500 terrorists through the State, and funding a political support structure, could be some Rs.20 crores a month, or Rs. 240 crores a year - which is the turnover of a mid-sized corporation. By contrast, some estimates of India's expenditure in Jammu and Kashmir on counter-terrorist measures, inclusive of wages and infrastructure, are as high as Rs.5,500 crores. Although these figures are speculative, and can at best be termed indicative, they do illustrate that Pakistan has succeeded in imposing a huge financial cost on India, and in tying down large numbers of its troops at minimal costs.

It is in this context that it is possible to argue that Pakistan's assertion that Kashmir is the core issue in its bilateral relations with India is in fact something of a hoax. Given that the "core issue" emerged in Pakistan's diplomatic lexicon only in the mid-1980s, Pakistan's territorial claims on Kashmir appear more to serve its strategic interests, including maintaining military, diplomatic and political pressure on India.

An Indian Army vehicle bearing supplies for soldiers in Siachen lumbers uphill at Khardungla Pass, the world's highest motorable road, on June 11.-AIJAZ RAHI / AP

For all of Advani's verbiage on "hot pursuit" of terrorists, there appears to be no clear understanding of what India's responses should constitute. "Frankly," says one Army official, "I'm amazed." "We could, for example, take out the five major launching posts for terrorists in the Lipa-Jura arc just across the LoC, but it wouldn't take Pakistan very long to set up a few tents and get going again. We could raid the Muzaffarabad training camps but there would be large-scale casualties, including civilian deaths, and that would be diplomatically unacceptable."

Other options, including reprisals against Pakistan, also appear ill thought-out. The April 27 massacre of 21 villagers in Binda Mohri Sehri, metres across the LoC inside Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, and the bombing in June of a Lahore-bound train, shortly after the explosion in Jammu, are both believed by Pakistan to have been carried out by Indian security agencies. "If your intelligence apparatus," argues one official, "encourages anti-Pakistan forces in Gilgit and Hunza, which it is not doing, that has a strategic purpose. Mindless retaliatory killing simply fuels domestic legitimacy for what Pakistan is doing over here, and gives no returns."

Could such retaliatory actions lead to a full-scale war? With the BJP heading towards an abject capitulation to the Western powers in the wake of its post-Pokhran displays of machismo, that appears unlikely. Indeed, in some senses, incidents like those at Binda Mohri Sehri are not entirely new. "In 1994," recalls one senior Army official, "a brigade in the Akhnoor area had lost a lot of men when terrorists planted a land mine that exploded under a truck." "They hit back by tunnelling several hundred metres towards a Pakistan sentry post, shooting the guard, and using the gap created to blow up two of their Army trucks. The Pakistani casualties were very heavy, and included a Major-rank officer." Significantly, the border has if anything been quieter than last year, when massive exchanges of fire in Kargil claimed several civilian lives. Although exchange of artillery fire has been routine this year, notably in the Macchal and Kunzalwan sectors since mid-April, these are typical of the summer incidents that take place as the Pakistan Army provides cover to groups of infiltrating terrorists.

Union Home Minister L.K. Advani. For all his talk of "hot pursuit", there appears to be no clear understanding of what India's response in Kashmir should constitute.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Nor are there significant signs of a military build-up, bar the movement of some artillery by both India and Pakistan, and the movement of small numbers of troops, both developments routine at this time of the year and a trickle given the massive military presence along the LoC.

The real danger is that the BJP's wholly immature broadcasting of India's covert and overt abilities, and its aggressive posturing, have in fact served to undermine security forces' ability to act in Jammu and Kashmir. The de facto internationalisation of Kashmir could close several covert operations possibilities, and force India to foreclose options for more vigorous counter-terrorist operations in the State. Above all, the substitution of ultra-nationalist polemic for a coherent strategic understanding of the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir is certain to have crippling consequences. Given the revitalisation of secessionist political groupings in the State (see separate story), these limitations of India's security options could prove dangerous. State intelligence officials are already deeply concerned over the fact that foreign insurgents now occupy forested heights overlooking the three principal routes into the valley, into Leh, Jammu, and from Beerwah into Poonch, as well as the Kupwara mountains which is a key military route into Kashmir from Pakistan. The recoveries of heavy weaponry, including anti-aircraft guns, by the Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group in Kupwara also illustrate the emergence of a new offensive strategy. "This year," says the 15 Corps' Brigadier-General Staff A.K. Chopra, "we've already recovered 80 rocket-propelled grenades and rocket launchers, more than we got hold of in all of 1997. Recoveries of land mines show a similar pattern."

The Union Government's posturing, comforting as it might be to its Hindu-chauvinist constituency, threatens to subvert the autonomy of security operations and make counter-terrorist work subject to international pressure. In its understanding of Pakistan's strategic objectives, the BJP is near-bankrupt, and its plans to deal with the emerging security situation in Jammu and Kashmir are almost entirely devoid of content. Bar the report of the five-member group, restricted as it is in scope, no effort has been made to address long-standing issues of coordination between security forces, or to forge a coherent counter-terrorist doctrine.

The blast of hot air that emanated from Pokhran, it is evident, has done more damage in Jammu and Kashmir than in any other part of the country. From announcing that the BJP will work for the liberation of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir four weeks ago, the party's luminaries have now been reduced to complaining about the unfairness of threats of international intervention in Kashmir. The long-term consequence of the BJP's adventure could well be the undoing of much of the work done by the United Front Governments, and that of the P.V. Narasimha Rao Government before it, to restore peace and democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.

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