Kargil and beyond

Print edition : July 03, 1999

The strategic perception of the Vajpayee Government that the nuclear tests had made India a great power and the Lahore visit was a peace dividend from this policy was at the root of its complacency, which led to the Kargil fiasco.

AFTER more than a month of intense military operations to clear the Pakistani intrusion across the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kargil area, the battle continues. The Indian armed forces are fighting on extremely difficult mountainous terrain and in icy climatic conditions to dislodge the entrenched Pakistani soldiers and armed intruders. Every day, Indian casualties are mounting; every day, bodies of soldiers are reaching their homes in the far corners of the country. The whole country is anxiously watching the course of the battle in Kargil and there is widespread sympathy and solidarity with the soldiers and the bereaved families who are facing the grim situation bravely.

There is all-round support for the immediate task of ensuring that the systematic and well-planned violation of the LoC by Pakistan is rolled back and the legitimate right of India to defend the LoC is exercised fully. It is this position which has helped India to convince world opinion that the present round of hostilities have been provoked by Pakistan. The diplomatic efforts made towards mobilising international public opinion on this point are a necessary part of the overall drive to foil the Pakistan regime's plan to change the jurisdiction of the LoC.

Internationalising Kashmir

The Vajpayee Government, however, has not confined itself to diplomatic efforts to mobilise international public opinion. It has gone considerably further in efforts to enlist the help of the United States to end the present conflict. The Vajpayee Government has been hailing the U.S. position as a vindication of its stand on the Kargil issue. Prime Minister Vajpayee wrote a letter to President Bill Clinton which was handed over to the U.S. National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, in Geneva on June 16. The contents of the letter have not been published; it is reported that India requested the U.S., prior to the G-8 summit in Cologne, to stop Pakistan from getting loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral agencies. The Government and BJP spokesmen have appealed to the U.S. to follow up its stand that the LoC should not be violated, with concrete steps to make Pakistan withdraw its forces from the infiltrated areas. These moves by the Vajpayee Government have the potential to help internationalise the Kashmir issue.

The Government has cited the G-8 communique on the Kashmir issue as a big victory for India. The statement by the G-8 pointed out that the infiltration of armed intruders violating the LoC was the source of the current military confrontation in Kashmir. While the G-8 criticised any military action to change the status quo, it also called for an immediate cessation of the fighting. Implicit in this stand is the plea that the continuation of hostilities has to be stopped. This can be used against India for continuing the operations against the intruders.

At the Srinagar airfield on June 25, MI-17 helicopters ready for sorties to the Drass sector.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Alongside the statement on Kashmir, there is another resolution on the missile and nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, reiterating the G-8 position taken one year ago and calling upon both the countries to join non-proliferation measures as set out in the U.N. Security Council resolution. While it is valid to state that the G-8 has recognised the source of the current provocation as the armed intrusion across the LoC, it is equally important to note that the stance of the G-8 lays the basis for future intervention, particularly since the question of Kashmir and the issue of nuclearisation of India and Pakistan have been taken together. British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated on June 17 that while Britain urged both India and Pakistan to resolve their differences, "we know that the source of this difference is Kashmir". If India persists in petitioning the G-8 on the question of infiltration, it will be difficult to prevent the entire Kashmir issue being taken up by the U.N. Security Council in future.

The U.S. administration has clearly indicated that there is sufficient evidence to establish that armed intruders backed by the Pakistan Army have crossed the LoC and entrenched themselves. It is illusory to deduce from this that the U.S. will rein in Pakistan and that its earlier tilt towards Pakistan will be transformed into a tilt towards India. The U.S. has its own agenda for Kashmir. In the present world situation, the U.S. is prepared to support the demand for national self-determination by any ethnic group provided it serves its interests. This is the new doctrine enunciated by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on behalf of the Clinton administration and which has been put into practice in the Balkans.

Reality of the Pakistani regime

What the Vajpayee Government overlooked in the crucial period between September 1998 and February 1999, when it was deeply engaged in strategic talks with the U.S., was the reality of what the Pakistan regime is today. In Pakistan, Islamic fundamentalist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba have increasingly infiltrated the higher echelons of the armed forces, including the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). After Nawaz Sharif removed the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, his choice for the post was Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who, according to the American South Asia expert Selig Harrison, "has long-standing links with several Islamic fundamentalist groups." The rise of Islamic fundamentalist forces and their influence in the Pakistani establishment runs parallel to the U.S.-Pakistan nexus with the Islamic fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan and their joint military support to them. The ISI has an all-pervasive influence on Pakistan society, and despite the formal trappings of democracy, Pakistan continues to be a military-dominated society with the armed forces increasingly developing Islamic fundamentalist linkages. This state of affairs has been ludicrously depicted by George Fernandes as one of the Pakistani Army acting independently of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The U.S., with its great influence over the Vajpayee Government, led it to believe that Nawaz Sharif and his civilian government should be helped to counter the more fundamentalist forces represented by the Army. But the consequences of the years of American nurturing of the military in Pakistan and helping the ISI in Afghanistan are now apparent. Contrary to what the Vajpayee Government believes, there is no guarantee that the U.S. can rein in the Pakistan establishment, even if it wishes to do so.

INSTEAD of falling into the trap of invoking U.S. intervention and thereby helping to internationalise the Kashmir issue, the only correct approach at present is to push ahead with the military operations designed to clear the area on the Indian side of the LoC of all Pakistani encroachment. This must be pursued steadfastly by taking the people of the country fully into confidence about the progress of the military operations and allied diplomatic efforts. Any move to widen the conflict by opening up new fronts for military operations will only end up in helping Pakistan to internationalise the Kashmir issue and inviting immediate Western intervention.

The Vajpayee Government has to be firmly told that any course that relies on the U.S. and the Western powers in the name of getting international support is not helpful to the Indian cause. This warning is necessary, since the record of the Vajpayee Government in dealing with the Kargil crisis has been dismal. The lack of vigilance in tracking down the large-scale intrusion, the failure to realise the enormity of the encroachment and its military threat, and the deceptive and contradictory positions taken to cover up this failure, have all been widely noted and commented upon. The causes for this debacle and the explanation for the failure of the Vajpayee Government to tackle such a major crisis will definitely be on the agenda after the military operations end.

However, before any examination of the unfolding of events and the bungling by Vajpayee, Fernandes and Company, it is essential to understand that Kargil represents the complete failure of the BJP-RSS strategic outlook at a more fundamental level. The BJP had earlier decided that the three 'B's would be its major election planks: the Bomb, the Bus (to Lahore) and the Budget. Of these, the myths of the Bomb and the Bus have already exploded. Advani had added another B after the fall of the BJP government: 'Betrayal' by the Opposition (not by his own allies!), which allegedly toppled the Government. Advani is right. Betrayal will certainly be an issue in the coming elections. But it will not be the 'betrayal' by the Opposition; rather, it will be the Kargil bungling.

Nuclear deterrence and the Lahore trip: Two illusions

What is at the root of the complacency and the false sense of confidence which prevailed in the ruling establishment which led to the Kargil fiasco? In May 1998, when the BJP-led government conducted the Pokhran tests, it adopted a nuclear doctrine which stated that India has now acquired the strength to ensure peace and stability and protect its security interests. It was argued that nuclear weaponisation by India and Pakistan would guarantee peace, since it would maintain a 'balance of terror' as during the period of the Cold War. Vajpayee, in his statement on March 15, 1999, expounded this new doctrine:

"Now both India and Pakistan are in possession of nuclear weapons. There is no alternative but to live in mutual harmony. The nuclear weapon is not an offensive weapon. It is a weapon of self-defence. It is the kind of weapon that helps in preserving the peace. If in the days of the Cold War there was no use of force, it was because of the balance of terror."

The Left, on the other hand, has been arguing that nuclear tests will start an arms race between the two countries leading to a spiral of tension and confrontation. Nuclear weapons will not end armed conflicts but provide the opportunity for low-intensity conflicts as happened during the Cold War. Pakistan could utilise the nuclear shadow to provoke incidents in Kashmir to facilitate international intervention. The Vajpayee Government's linkage of Kashmir to India's nuclear weapons status through Advani's statement on May 18, 1998 was the first blunder exemplified by this outlook. Now Pakistan, by deliberately provoking an armed conflict on the LoC, has pointedly drawn attention to this linkage. Pakistan knows that India cannot utilise all forms of conventional warfare against it, as it did in 1965 and 1971, without nuclear confrontation becoming a reality and provoking international intervention.

Convinced that nuclear deterrence (the balance struck by both countries which have nuclear weapons) will ensure a stable equilibrium, Vajpayee had proclaimed that we have ensured peace from a position of strength (by conducting nuclear tests). When Pakistan retaliated with its nuclear tests and India found itself isolated internationally, the Vajpayee Government began its journey of seeking U.S. recognition and approval as seen in the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks. Faced with a difficult situation and under U.S. pressure, Vajpayee offered to visit Lahore and the bus trip followed. The visit to Pakistan and the Lahore Declaration were then depicted as great achievements and a breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations. Not only the BJP but also the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) joined in the chorus of praise. The Lahore visit was portrayed as a logical result of the Pokhran tests. As the editor of Organiser (the RSS mouthpiece) put it: "Barely eleven months in office, Vajpayee has earned a distinct place in the nation's history. First by conducting the Pokhran tests and now by the bold bus initiative... Both the nuclear tests and the Lahore visit have shown that it requires inner strength and political will to act, not mere military might or parliamentary democracy" (Organiser, March 7, 1999).

It is these two ideas - that the nuclear tests had made India a great power and the Lahore visit was a peace dividend from this policy - that led the Vajpayee Government to overlook or disregard any possibility of Pakistan turning the new nuclear situation to its advantage on Kashmir. Praveen Swami, in his well-informed article (Frontline, June 18), has spelt out the military consequences of this dubious doctrine of the BJP.

Resort to chauvinism

The blazing guns in Kargil have demolished the fanciful and artificial outlook of the BJP. It is now groping for a new posture; it has fallen back on the traditional RSS stand of national chauvinism. Desperate to cover up its monumental failure, the BJP is now resorting to aggressive rhetoric. K.N. Govindacharya has demanded that the military operations should lead to the capture of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). The same editor of Organiser, who had earlier lauded "inner strength and political will" over military might, has now declared that "the present government has to complete the task" (of acquiring POK). Senior RSS leader H.V. Seshadri has demanded that India should now "dump the language of Panchsheel and speak in the language of Prithvi (power)." He reiterated the old RSS stance that "only a rejuvenated and powerful Hindu nation could defeat the nasty designs of Pakistan" (Organiser, June 20, 1999). From here, it is only one step further to the insane demand that Pakistan should be subjected to a nuclear attack as demanded by Panchajanya, the RSS' Hindi paper. The observation of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee's death anniversary on June 23 as Kashmir Day at the call of the BJP was marked by chauvinistic and communal rhetoric. The BJP, it is claimed in newspaper advertisements, is more committed to the cause of Kashmir than any other party. The BJP claims S.P. Mukherjee to be the first martyr for Kashmir, thus grossly distorting history. The BJP does not consider the hundreds of Kashmiris who laid down their lives fighting the Pakistani intruders in 1948 as martyrs.

Defend LoC: Do not widen the war

The BJP, by this dangerous rhetoric and chauvinism, will be susceptible to pressure to open new areas for military operations in order to circumvent the difficult task of clearing the intruders from the Drass-Kargil-Batalik sector. Widening the conflict is a danger that can be precipitated by hawks on both sides of the border. This escalation will undermine whatever India has achieved in the past six weeks. Defending the LoC and clearing the intruders from the Indian side has stood India in good stead and united the country. War with Pakistan will only mean bracketing both countries as threats to world peace - with Kashmir as the central focus. Further, such a war will provide no guarantee of a successful conclusion for India; what it will bring is ruin and suffering for peoples of both countries and the facilitation of direct imperialist intervention, as in the Balkans.

The BJP must remember that the Vajpayee Government is a defeated government. It is a caretaker government which has no legitimacy except as an interim arrangement till elections. It should not take any step which will be seen as partisan and politically suspect.

The Vajpayee Government has so far confined itself to a single meeting of Opposition leaders with the Prime Minister after Sartaj Aziz's visit. It has refused to call a session of the Rajya Sabha to discuss the Kargil conflict despite the demand of the entire Opposition. This refusal highlights its partisan approach to a vital national question and its anxiety to hide the facts from the people. The BJP needs to be told firmly that any effort to defend national sovereignty requires active efforts from a caretaker government to involve all national political parties. There has to be a consultative mechanism instituted for this purpose on a regular basis.

Patriotism, not chauvinism

Patriotism requires full support to ensure the success of the military operations to clear the intruders from across the LoC. As against this, national chauvinism is meant to cover up the Government's failures and with an eye on electoral profits. This cynical posture has to be firmly rebuffed. The people of India are capable and mature enough to distinguish between genuine patriotism and spurious national chauvinism.

Prakash Karat is a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

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