Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why India does not have the hot pursuit option

To those outside south Asia, the intense rivalry of India and Pakistan will appear at best to be amusing, at worst to be irritating. Certainly, there are more important issues facing the world than the irreconcilable differences between the nuclear weapon states and neighbors. Security experts consider south Asia to be a potential nuclear flash-point, and the rest of the world is duly worried about the bleak prospect of an atomic conflagration.

But we in south Asia consider it to be a remote possibility. We cannot hope to be friends with each other though the liberal elite in the two countries are quite keen on rapprochement. The irritants on both sides are too real to be wished away, and there is popular demand on both sides to show the mailed fist to the neighbour.

And then there is the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s foreign policy since Independence in 1947 has been predicated on the Kashmir question. During the Cold War era, the United States and Britain chose to vote for Pakistan in the United Nations Security Council, and the then Soviet Union used its veto in support of India. There is a subtle shift in the US stance over the Kashmir issue. Washington is now willing to accept that the dispute can only be solved only through bilateral talks, with a friendly help from Washington through back channel diplomatic pressure on New Delhi and Islamabad.

The new strategy was put to test in the 1999 skirmish in Kargil, when American president Bill Clinton had to prevail on Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to let the militants withdraw, and on Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif to back off. American mediation was activated once again after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, and prime minister Vajpayee mobilized troops on the border. The alarm bells went off in Western capitals of a possible nuclear confrontation. US Defense Secretary Donal Rumsfeld, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair flew to Delhi and Islamabad to defuse the highly charged situation.

It was not surprising that Indian hawks, inside and outside the government, are pressurising the Manmohan Singh government, to take a tough stance against Pakistan in the aftermath of the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai’s suburban trains, which killed more than 170 people and injured more than 700. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did rthe right thing in expressing India’s resolve to fight terrorism, and refusing to name Pakistan in his first response to the Mumbai blasts. But later he gave way, and talked about Pakistan ought to do something if the peace process was to gon. He did another somersault when he said that the peace process would not be drastically affected. That is politics in the short term!.

It is quite clear, however, that radical Islamist groups based in Pakistan are abetting terrorism in India, and that the Musharraf government is not averse to the idea of using the extremist groups as a pressure lobby to force India to negotiate the Kashmir dispute. The Indian hope that in the context of closer India-US relations, the Americans would pressure Pakistan to rein in the terrorist groups has proved to be futile.

It is also unfair on the part of Indian policymakers to expect Washington to push Islamabad to be more friendly towards Delhi. International relations do not work that way. Even as India cannot pressure Iran in any way in the standoff between the Western countries and Iran over Teheran’s uranium enrichment program, Washington cannot do much to arm-twist Pakistan.

India will have to fight its battle against the terrorists operating from Pakistan. And it cannot hope to go to war on the issue either. Hot pursuit is not a feasible plan. Israel is not able to achieve much through its incursions into the Gaza Strip and Lebanon despite the Jewish state’s overwhelming military superiority. India does enjoy an advantage over Pakistan in conventional war, but it is not sufficient to clinch a decisive victory.

That leaves India with no other option but to engage in along-term low intensity war against the terrorists operating from across the border in Pakistan, and wait for the day when the Pakistan Establishment would recognize the folly of providing a base to terrorists. If Pakistan fails to edge out the terrorists at home, it will pay a heavy price.

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