PEACE IN THE SUBCONTINENT: CHANGE IN INDIAN PERCEPTIONS

By

Anil Athale.

The attack by Pakistani terrorists on the Indian parliament on 13 December and subsequent mobilisation of its total forces by India, has radically changed the rules of the game in the Indian subcontinent. For close to two decades, beginning with the terrorism in Punjab, Pakistan has been fighting a proxy war against India. The Indian response to this was essentially passive and defensive. I beg to differ with those who credit Pakistan with successful blackmail of India all these years, we deterred ourselves for which the country’s only certified think tank was mainly responsible. The August Director of that Institute ruled out a conventional conflict, unilaterally, since 1987 laboratory tests of nuclear weapon by Pakistan. Our failure to construct an overt ‘escalation ladder’ and drawing a clear ‘Laxman Rekha’ has been mainly responsible for our current plight. This failure was also result of compartmentalised thinking that broke up war in water tight compartments of low intensity, conventional and nuclear, without establishing clear linkages. Thus all these years saw Indian giant hamstrung by wooly thinking, a result of Delhi ’s monopoly and also absence of a structured decision making body at the top.

Two major changes have taken place in India. First, it appears that India has finally reached a conclusion that there is a need to change its basic approach to Pakistan. All these years, through many government changes, India maintained that a ‘FRIENDLY, STABLE AND PROSPEROUS PAKISTAN WAS IN INIDIAN INTEREST.’ But it seems that it has finally dawned on the Indians that a Pakistan that is impoverished, unstable and hostile is NOT in Indian interest. Due to the deep rooted socio-religious factors, there seems no possibility of an early positive change in Pakistan. In these circumstances, it appears that India has made up its mind to adopt a strategy of ‘isolate, contain and destroy’ to deal with Pakistan question. It is obviously a long term goal, but nevertheless marks a radical shift from the past.

Second: after a sustained lobbying by many (including Inpad) India has finally got a structured and functional national security set up. It will be fair to say that the handling of current crisis by India has been excellent. If such structures had existed in 1962, 1972 and even 1987, then the military disasters of 1962 ( Sino Indian war) and 1987 ( foray into Sri Lanka) could have had a better ending. India could well have escaped the diplomatic disaster at Simla in 1972. It is to the credit of Shri Vajpayee and his government that they have carried out this major reform in security set up. The results are already visible and India’s handling of the present crisis has been nothing short of brilliant. Contrasting this with one man show being run in Pakistan, the Indian dominance is bound to get larger than real image. One comment on the abysmal strategic direction in the 1965 Indo-Pak war ( called by many as ‘communal riot using tanks’) often heard was that while the Indians were fools, the Pakistanis were bloody fools! Situation seems to persist on similar lines.

There are also signs that the military balance is finally tilting in favour of India. India that is ten times the size of Pakistan always enjoyed numerical superiority. But since the US-Pak treaties of 1958, Pakistan had a marked qualitative edge. It is a tribute to the skills of Indian soldiers, sailors and airmen, that despite this factor, India prevailed in most conflicts. It is worth noting that a similar clash between Soviet Union supplied arms with the American arms in Middle East, ended in favour of the later. With her own satellites, electronics and better arms, that situation has now changed. No amount of supply of arms by China to Pakistan can really alter this tilt in balance on the scale that US could and did.

MIS- READING OF NUCLEAR DETERRENCE.

Kargil adventure of 1999 showed clearly that Pakistan intended to use the threat of nuclear war as a shield to forcibly change the territorial status quo in Kashmir. Indian response of not crossing LOC seemed to confirm Pakistan in that belief. It was a dangerous notion that needed to be altered. Nuclear weapons by their very nature do provide an insurance against aggression Deterrence is essentially a defensive doctrine with offensive strategy. By reacting aggressively to the incident of 13 December, India has attempted to wipe out the memories of Kargil. In this India has certainly benefited by the current climate of opinion in the world that is not prepared to accept terroristic means to achieve political goals.

By making its Army Chief give a clear threat of total annihilation India has made it clear that should there be continued proxy war, it is prepared to up the ante to nuclear level.

CONCLUSION.

The basic change in Indian approach is not necessarily the result of any directive by the government of the day. The feeling of having had enough wide spread and cuts across political and regional divide. It would be a mistake to attribute it to a hardline BJP or Mr Vajpayee.

Indian cultural ethos have a peculiar notion of ‘right time’ for retribution. The most popular story doing rounds in India is action by Lord Krishna against his nephew Shishupal. His aunt had begged off the Lord to spare his life. Krishna promised her that he would forgive him one hundred times. Shishupal went about his wayward actions being emboldened by the apparent passivity of Krishna. But when he committed his 100th crime, the Lord himself destroyed him with a ‘chakra’. ( wheel like weapon, not dissimilar to the one found on the Indian national flag.)

Some analysts, specially in Pakistan have been attributing the Indian hard line to upcoming elections in the province of Uttar Pradesh. Some have characterised it as sabre rattling. The ruling party will undoubtedly try to take electoral advantage of the situation, as did Ronald Reagan of the Greneda invasion and Mrgarett Thacher of the Falkland war. But it will be a tragic mistake to under-estimate the seriousness of Indian anger and resolve.

For the moment the American military presence in Pakistan seems the best security guarantee for that country.