CAN  INDIA AVOID  A  MILITARY CONFLICT WITH  PAKISTAN ?

By

Lt.Gen. Eric A. Vas [Retd]

 

The current prolonged Indo-Pak confrontation illustrates the axiom that wars are fought on five fronts: the diplomatic, social, economic, psychological and military fronts.  Since 1947 a diplomatic battle has been taking place between Indian and Pakistani representatives at every possible international forum.  This confrontation escalated into military hostilities three times, in 1947, 1956 and 1971, each military conflict resulting in a set back for Pakistan. 

 In any war, the military front receives wide attention.  What is less evident is that the battle is also being fought on the social and psychological fronts; the aim is to win the hearts and minds of the people of the opponent.  This aspect will be clear if one analyses the root cause of the prolonged Indo-Pak confrontation. India and Pakistan have conflicting political aims.  Pakistanis claim that Muslim majority areas have an inherent right to secede from areas ruled by non-Islamic governments.  This was the rationale for the creation of Pakistan.  They therefore believe that the same principle should logically have been applied to the Muslim majority state of Jammu & Kashmir [J&K].  They are convinced that India is cheating them. 

India does not accept this argument. In 1947, Indian leaders succumbed to Muslim League bullying tactics and grudgingly accepted the partition of India in the mistaken hope that this would save blood shed.  There is no question of Pakistan having the right to J&K merely because it is a Muslim majority state. The State acceded to India under the popular Muslim leader Sheikh Abdullah.  Anyway, all mixed societies, everywhere in the world, accept the concept of unity in diversity.  Citizens must be tolerant of other faiths, languages and customs, and learn to cooperate with one another in a spirit of give and take.  Good governance ensures freedom of religion and human rights, and justice for all citizens. Any attempt to alter the status quo in J&K will entail ethnic cleansing that would result in mass population migrations and a recurrence of killings all over India which would be worse than what occurred during the Partition in 1947.

To begin with, Pakistani military leaders were confident that the J&K issue could be resolved by force. After three wars they came to realise that they cannot achieve their aim through war.  They therefore adopted a strategy of infiltrating militant terrorists into J&K and calling them freedom fighters. Their aim was to win international support and bleed India into submission. At the same time, they adopted the slogan "Islam in danger" in order to progressively Islamicise the armed forces and society in the hope that religion would be a binding factor in nation building.  Standard Pakistani textbooks were rewritten and filled with anti-India falsehoods; this would be laughable if the minds of millions of young Pakistanis were not being poisoned over the past three decades.  However, these negative tactics had reverse long-term effects and has resulted in a growth of internal sectarian violence and fundamentalism within Pakistan and a slow decline in its economy.  Today, Pakistan is in financial trouble and would collapse were it not for US aid.  Propaganda cannot conceal the fact that Pakistan is losing the war on the economic front.

Meanwhile, the international media displays India's booming life style.  More importantly it shows how Indian Muslims are playing an equal and sometime more dominant role in every sphere of national activity.  Many Pakistanis have begun questioning the relevance of Partition.  Some recall that Jinnah on his deathbed had regretted the creation of Pakistan and called it "the greatest blunder of my life." Thus Pakistan is also losing the war on the psychological and social fronts.

Perceptive people in Pakistan are conscious of these facts.  They want a rapprochement with India.  Pakistani hard-liners and fundamentalists are determined to prevent this.  Every time there is a visible move towards friendship, the military carries out a coup, deposes the elected Prime Minister declares martial law and justifies this action on the grounds of national security.  Successive military dictators have proclaimed that India is trying make Pakistan a client state.  They use the fear of Indian domination too unify the country. India repeatedly proclaims that it has no desire to undermine Pakistan's territorial integrity. 

USA has a long-term interest in the modernization of Pakistan.  This will further their on-going war against international terrorism, facilitate the reconstruction of Afghanistan and permit the eventual flow of the immense oil wealth of Central Asia via American oil companies through Afghanistan and Pakistan.  India has no disagreement with those long-term interests.  However, it is not prepared to accept that Pakistan should be propped up at the cost of India's national interests.  If Pakistan is serious about modernizing itself and fighting international terrorism, it must stop sponsoring cross border terrorism in J&K.  

At this moment in time, India has a military edge over Pakistan.  This tempts some hot heads to imagine that India can conduct an all out war, crush Pakistan and resolve this issue once and for all.  Others counter this by declaring that "wars resolve nothing". In fact that dictum is historically false.  World War 2 destroyed Hitler and his gang.  More recently, the Afghan War up-rooted the Taliban government and Al Qaida.  However in both those instances, the victor, USA, had the power and resources to ensure that the defeated countries were given economic and political support to ensure their revival.  Even if India was able to "defeat" Pakistan decisively in a future war, [and this is arguable,] it lacks the power to thereafter win the peace and enforce economic, social and political stability in Pakistan. An all out hot war would therefore be a waste of manpower and resources, and be a disaster for both countries.

Many grudgingly admit this and ask, "So must we sit back helplessly and do nothing while innocent citizens are being killed by terrorists in J&K?  Why not at least show some guts and attack the militant bases across the Line of Control [LOC]?"   Our armed forces certainly have the capability to launch a swift night attack across the LOC, destroy militant bases in Pak Occupied Kashmir [POK] and return the same night.  However, since the 60s, India has been insisting that the borders within J&K be treated as a sacrosanct border.    In 1965, Prime Minister Shastri warned Pakistan that if it sent guerrillas across the cease fire line, that would be treated as an attack on India.  When Pakistan ignored this warning the PM ordered Indian Armed Forces to attack Pakistan across the international border.  This resulted in the Indo-Pak War of 1965.

Though both sides kept lobbing artillery and mortar shells across the LOC.  Apparently this is not being treated as a serious violation of the LOC.   However, in the 90s when Pakistani soldiers crossed the LOC and occupied the heights overlooking Kargil, the PM resisted public and military pressure to cross the LOC in order to facilitate the ejection of Pakistani intruders.  Thanks to valiant attacks by the army supported by the air force, the intruders were forced to accept defeat and withdraw. India's display of mature restraint by its refusal to escalate the war across the LOC earned wide international approval.  Today, though India insists that the sanctity of the LOC be preserved and that Pakistan stops sponsoring the infiltration of terrorists across the LOC, it reserves to itself the right to raid terrorist camps across the LOC if compelled to do so.

 President Musharraf knows that the Indian Armed forces have the capability to do this at any time and place of their choosing.   In order to counter this threat, Pakistani "military experts" warn that any Indian raid across the LOC will evoke a strong military response and may even result in a nuclear strike.  Some consider this is a bluff designed to blackmail India.  Others advise that it would be imprudent take these threats lightly, especially when Pakistan is being cornered.

   Americans are worried that if India carries out a raid across the LOC, then the military confrontation might escalate.  Musharraf has been told that infiltration must stop and that Pakistani terrorists operating in J&K cannot be termed freedom fighters.  Musharraf has promised the Americans that he will stop cross border terrorism.  But even if he is sincere about doing this, there are indications that an estimated 30,000 fundamentalists located in Pakistan are refusing to obey his orders.  These renegades have been joined by remnants of the Al Qaida who have gone underground. It is this element that kidnapped and slaughtered the American journalist Daniel Pearl, killed a number of French naval personnel working in Pakistan and later attempted to blast the American Consulate officers in Karachi.  If the President cannot control the jehadis within his country, can one expect him to control those operating in POK?  What will be US  reactions if India is compelled to take appropriate action against bases in POK which are fostering terrorism?

President Musharraf has said the he wants to be the Kemal Attaturk of Pakistan and make it a modern Islamic state.  Indians wish him well but waits to see how he deals with renegade fundamentalists within Pakistan who accuse him of abandoning the Taliban and Al Qaida in Afghanistan and the jehadis in J&K. Security around the General has been tightened up. All this has enormous implications in the context of the "true democracy" that the military says it wants to usher in next October when a general election is scheduled.  Constitutional amendments have already been decreed to grant a key role to the armed forces in politics.  It looks as if the military wants to stay in power for another five years.

General Musharaf says, "J&K is in the blood of every Pakistani."  He claims that if Pakistan is given the Valley, there will be love and peace between the two countries. He is reminded that the current confrontation is not a territorial one. The conflict is one of ideology as outlined above. Some day the General will have the unenviable task of telling the nation to rid itself of misconceptions and grievances, which Pakistan's propaganda machinery and false textbooks have been feeding to the people for the past fifty years. Meanwhile Pakistan's TV continues its barrage of virulent anti-India propaganda. There are no signs that steps are being taken to stop and undo the damage being done by these tactics.

Many urge India to stand down in order to decrease the tension between the two countries. As long as freedom remains a distant dream in Pakistan and its official media continues to preach hatred against India, our security forces must continue to remain alert. India's responses to Pakistan's current moves on the five fronts are on the right lines.    India has declared that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but that it is prepared to give a befitting response to any Pakistani nuclear threat.  India has stressed that it is prepared to discuss any issue, including J&K with Pakistan, but only when it stops its support of cross border terrorism.  Meanwhile our security forces continue to intercept intruders and deal with armed terrorists within the State, while the government attempts to improve the administration and encourage dissidents to join the political system. J&K State elections are due in September. These will be fair and open elections, which may be witnessed by foreign observers in their individual capacities. Dissidents have been invited to take part in the elections to prove that they have public support. However, official Pakistani media continues its barrage of virulent anti-India propaganda. There are no visible signs that steps are being taken to stop and undo the damage being done by these tactics.

Thus, to answer the question posed at the head of this article, while the Indo-Pak cold war continues, the military front is unlikely to escalate into a nuclear exchange or a full-fledged military conflict.  It would be imprudent for Pakistan to do this, and it would not be cost effective for India to initiate an all out war. If cross border infiltration and terrorist attacks against innocent citizens continue the Government may order the armed forces to take appropriate action against terrorist bases within POK. The danger of an Indian raid across the LOC against a terrorist camp escalating into a major battle cannot be overruled.