by Aman Singh
American Reporter India Correspondent
New Delhi, India
July 15, 2002
U.S. HELPED COOL INDIA-PAKISTAN WAR FEVER
NEW DELHI, July 15, 2002 -- Just when it seemed that India and Pakistan had quietly agreed to ratchet down a tense, dangerous and potentially nuclear confrontation over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the Vajpayee government was once again rocked by an incident near Jammu Saturday, where three Islamic militants dressed in the garb of sadhus, or holy men, struck in the slum colony of Kasim Nagar on Saturday night, killing 28 Hindus, including 13 women and a three-year-old boy.
The heavily armed militants lobbed grenades and fired indiscriminately into the densely populated colony in a massacre that is said to be the worst since an attack in the Kashmiri city of Kaluchak on May 14. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Sunday morning summoned the Cabinet Committee on Security and was briefed on the situation, which was apparently planned to disrupt the schedule for upcoming state legislative elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Islamic terrorists native to Kashmir but long tied to al-Qaida, the international terrorist organization formed by Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden; have claimed credit for the attack.
But world leaders took heart when the incident did not provoke another round of harsh name-calling, troop movements and borderline artillery barrages. The United States played a key role in achieving this latest step away from war by laying a foundation for an Indo-Pak dialogue during more than two years of intensive discussions backed by visits from high-ranking Bush administration diplomats and former President Bill Clinton, The American Reporter has learned. But those efforts took a long time, and Indians experts say too many opportunities were lost before U.S. efforts finally bore fruit.
And backing away from the brink has meant backing into a political minefield for Indian leaders. The Indian cabinet has strongly condemned Saturday's massacre, but stopped short of blaming Pakistan directly for the incident. "The Government will take a view of the situation after making a detailed assessment and take Parliament into confidence," Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani reportedly said after the two-hour long meeting.
S.K. Singh, the former Indian foreign secretary and former Indian Commissioner to Pakistan, told The American Reporter that although "this incident would not create war hysteria Part II," it would definitely mean yet another opportunity for the Indian government to barrage Pakistan with blame.
"The ball lies in the court of those who have the authority but not the willpower to use it. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advanihas visited the place of the firing but is not in a position to use unilateral dialogue to solve the situation," Singh said. Advani, ailing Prime Minister Vajpayee's heir apparent, is limited by his role in stirring up strong antipathy among Hindus towards other Indian religions, Singh suggests.
On May 27 of this year, Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf's landmark address to his nation brought the two Asian neighbors close to war. The world screamed itself hoarse at the prospect of two nations newly admitted to the nuclear club suddenly going to war, but after a tense two months, the standoff ended as both countries stepped back from the nuclear brink.
The military confrontation began in the wake of a similar terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, which was followed by a Musharraf speech on January 12, 2002 in which he promised to take his country on the road to moderate Islam. That statement seems also to have led to the pledge on June 6 to U.S. officials visiting the region that cross-border terrorism would be stopped permanently and visibly, and that the terrorist "infrastructure" - training camps in the region - would be dismantled.
Meanwhile, the war of rhetoric between New Delhi and Islamabad was decidedly aggressive, with many predictions that a large-scale war between India and Pakistan was imminent. So why did the tense standoff that had most of the world's press focused on the subcontinent for two months suddenly cool off?
Fortunately, a coalition of factors and forces had rendered full-fledged military engagement between the two neighboring nuclear powers a distant possibility right from the beginning, according to senior experts and analysts. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's statement that "We are heading towards a terminal war. And victory is assured," now seems to hang limply in the air, defeated and without purpose.
The experts say the decisive factor was obviously pressure from the United States calculated not only towards reducing tensions between India and Pakistan, but also to furthering American President George W. Bush's promise to wage a global war against International terrorism. Additionally, the western media went into overdrive, condemning the subcontinent for having crossed an invisible and yet highly significant diplomatic lines, while making the threat of nuclearization seem extraordinarily real.
With American and allied troops fighting a protracted, difficult war in a very delicate theater of operations in Afghanistan, Washington pulled all the weight it had to prevent the recent limited confrontations along the borders from exploding into larger military operations. The United States has one war too many in South Asia and was quite aware of the dangerous repercussions a new military confrontation would have on its operations in Afghanistan.
The extra danger such a development could present to its troops in Pakistan could not have been ignored. India's response to the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, its threat of retaliatory strikes against Pakistan, and the massing of troops on the Indo-Pak border made America and its allies in Afghanistan nervous.
They definitely did not want India to take precipitous action on Pakistan's eastern flank, because that would mean Pakistan would be compelled to re-deploy its troops from its Western border with Afghanistan. That would have undermined the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, leader of the terrorist al-Qaida group, and fugitive leaders of the Taliban. As they did after the 1972 Simla agreement that established the independence of Bangladesh and ended the 1972 Indo-Pak War, the Pakistanis tried to wiggle out of their commitments through vigorous verbal aErobics.
The United States, however, has managed to hold Pakistan firmly to its commitments - if for no other reason than that the nation integral to its own war on terrorism. Another factor contributing to the tapering-off of the war threat was the possibility of accidentally triggering a nuclear incident; that acted as a restraining factor for the leaders of both the countries. The balance of fear and the power of deterrence were at work decisively in South Asia as India and Pakistan after two months of intense tension returned to normalcy, Indian analysts say.
New Delhi felt that the America's obsession with fighting terrorism has created an environment under which it can act decisively against groups fighting for independence in Kashmir, and so it wanted to move in on its own interests. On the other side, Islamabad also knew that the United States needs its support and cannot afford more tensions that are certain to infuriate Pakistani public opinion. Pressure from the United States and the western media, along with the entire international community, which went into a tizzy - frequently recalling their officials in India and taking steps to restrict movement of their nationals in South Asia - together managed to pull back the dogs of war before they consumed South Asia in nuclear fire.
On background, some analysts did want to discuss the number of missed opportunities, as they view them, for the current National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition government, now at the center of government in India, to turn Washington towards Indian interests, and ostensibly, against Pakistan with respect to Kashmir.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the largest ally at the center, perceived Pakistan as an adversary right from its formation as the Jan Sangh, a religious organization of militant Hindus. Since it came to power at the center in 1998, most of its policies have been aimed at containing Pakistan. These policies were enhanced by the Pokharan nuclear tests that proclaimed India as a nuclear nation. The underlying calculation was that if India performed nuclear tests, Pakistan would undoubtedly retaliate - inviting sanctions from the United States.
The BJP wrongly perceived that while India's buoyant post-1991 Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization economy would survive those sanctions; Pakistan, heavily dependent on doses of Western economic aid, would collapse. But America responded by favoring Pakistan as its strategic ally, an outcome not foreseen by the party.
That was followed by an intense diplomatic battle in 1998 in which India fought to get Pakistan labeled as a "rogue state." But again the international community did not cooperate, and Indian diplomats had to face failure.
Then, in May 1999, as a high-ranking American diplomat was visiting New Delhi, came a sudden wave of new fighting in the mountainous, ice-capped Kargil Sector of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Crack Pakistani mountain infantry shed their military uniforms for the garb of Islamic mujahideen and seized a series of then-unmanned, inhospitable rocky promontories and ridges overlooking the Line of Control in Kashmir. It gave them a briefly unassailable advantage over the Indian Army forces below, and more than 400 Indian Army soldiers lost their lives.
Over the next month, in some of the most difficult terrain on earth and temperatures that sometimes hovered around 15 degrees, the Indians fought back with mortar and mountain teams of their own, recapturing the key ridges at great cost. The battle is still fought on Websites today, and for Indians was a Sept. 11 of their own. Again, India hoped that something would finally happen to shift sentiments in the U.S.
But when the Americans did move after months of fighting, all that happened was that Pakistan leader Nawaz Sharif ordered a pullback of his troops from the Indian border. The worst was yet to come. In the twilight of December 13, 2001 six militants armed with AK-47s and grenades blasted their way through the VIP gate into the Indian Parliament, where 300 Members of Parliament found themselves huddled together, trapped in a central hall.
The fight to repel the invaders killed 12 Indians and lasted only 40 minutes, but it resonates with horror for Indians still. Soon after on March end, 2002, then American President Bill Clinton arrived in the Indian capital - coinciding with the massacre of more than 35 Sikhs at Chhittisinghpora in Kashmir, followed by the killing of Hindu pilgrims traveling to Amarnath, a religious shrine, in July of the same year. With these developments the Indian government was fast becoming restless, and when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred Indian officials felt that the United States would finally see things their way.
Instead, they suffered another setback. America chose Pakistan as its front-line ally against the Taliban regime and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, while simultaneously trying to satisfy India with a perfunctory nod of appreciation for its offer of help - or so it seemed. But the December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament positively clinched India's appeal against Pakistan, and finally steps with both diplomatic and military implications were undertaken.
Foremost, then-Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, now India's deputy prime minister, visited the United States and handed over a second list of the 20 most wanted Pakistani nationals, shortened from the original list of 42 given earlier to Secretary of State Colin Powell. But despite high expectations from Advani, who was being praised by the party for his hardline approach, India again did not gain much. Still, the analysts say the long series of missed opportunities to persuade the international community to rein in Pakistan was finally achieved after Sept. 11.
What followed, and consequently helped to reduce the tension, was a succession of visits by foreign dignitaries. British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the two countries in a bid to solve tensions, and what he started was carried forward by a string of British and American diplomats including Secretary Powell, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (whose straightforward manner delighted Indians), and followed by the more placid U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
For India, the standoff arose from internal security needs that acquired external dimensions, with the thin line between the two having faded out. But now Pakistan has become for Indian the centerpiece of its arguments for rejecting the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), in which it would have agreed to develop only peaceful uses of nuclear energy; instead, it continues on the expensive and dangerous path to full nuclearization.
In doing so, analysts fear, India has very frivolously jettisoned its traditionally benign foreign policy towards Palestine and its solidarity with the Arab League by instead choosing to go full steam in containing any threat from Pakistan. But when these calculated measures did not yield the wanted result, the combined incidents still provided U.S. policy-makers with enough ammunition to force a second look at its difficult relationship with Pakistan.
A U.S. military official serving on the General Staff of the U.S. war command remarked to The American Reporter last December that U.S. forces were ready to act if Pakistan moved its finger towards the nuclear button. But it was clear from the beginning to both India and Pakistan that war was not a viable option, even when memories of massacres in Kashmir were still fresh. They well know that military confrontation will not resolve the conflict over Kashmir, nor lead to a decisive victory for either nation.
If the war that seemed imminent between the South Asian neighbors has been averted, it is due to both domestic and foreign compulsions, and in a larger way to the pressure exerted by the United States. In fact, if Advani's carefully neutral, well-considered statement after yesterday's cabinet meeting conveys a ray of hope, it is one that it took six frenzied months of diplomatic activity and visits by the entire U.S. and British foreign relations establishment to achieve.
India now needs a truly forward-looking policy towards Pakistan to dispel the fog of war that continues to exist. India's enlightened interest will not be served by retribution war against Pakistan, for reasons that go beyond the apocalyptic images conjured by the media. Musharraf is saying he wants to pull Pakistan from the brink of a Talibanized future, his Herculean challenges ought to be seen in a properly encouraging perspective by India.
If Musharraf can keep India's concerns in focus by seeking to steadily moving to rid Pakistan of a virtual theology of terrorism, he will be taking a step towards an eventual peace dividend on the bilateral front. But more terrorist attacks will still rake up Indian furor, especially on the scale of Kaluchak or Chhittisinghpora. Indians have hoped that as the hunt for Osama bin Laden is threatened by militants who weaken the Musharraf's government, which they see as inevitable, that America would swing decisively in favor of India.
That hope seems also to have gone awry. But what is worse, at least from the Indian diplomatic perspective, is that there have been a string of high-profile visits from across the globe that have forced the Vajpayee establishment to "stand on its back foot," as Indians say. The Vajpayee government has had to embark on a course of diplomatic and military de-escalation. Kashmir was internationalized as never before. Yet, the militants continue to strike, despite the high level of Indian force mobilization. After a string of such attacks, the Vajpayee government may be forced to rethink.
The tentative peace-making by both governments and now the latest bomb attack has so unnerved Indian leaders that more than a dozen usually voluble sources declined to comment on the situation when contacted by The American Reporter in recent days. Even the Opposition party, the Congress and Communist Party of India (CPI) seemed to choose the silent way, declining any response to this correspondent. It is as though an entire nation - no, an entire subcontinent - is holding its breath.