WAR ON TERRORISM & THE INDIAN DILEMMA
Maj. Gen. K S Pendse (Retd)
1. India, the world’s largest democracy with the fourth largest army, appears rather helpless in its fight against terrorism. The US is busy playing the new Great Game in Central & South Asia centred around the oil and gas reserves of the Caspian basin. Hence its even-handed treatment of India victimised by a terrorist state like Pakistan. The US needs client states like Afghanistan and Pakistan for reaching this liquid gold to the global market by laying pipe-lines through their territory. India has nothing to offer except a market that it has already thrown open to the world under the WTO regime.
2. If anything, India’s space and nuclear research programmes are a potential threat to the affluent West, if turned against them. The US game-plan, to use India as a counterweight against a resurgent China means having a strong India in the long run, but not so strong as to thwart any immediate US designs in Asia. Therefore, the US is keen to micro-manage the Kashmir issue that has turned out to be a bleeding ulcer for India over the last fifty – five years, without letting it escalate into a nuclear war with Pakistan. China benefits from this US strategy automatically, while it continues to help Pakistan grow strong militarily. India, therefore, has to combat Pak-sponsored terrorism on its own.
3. Historically, a Hindu-predominant India has been undergoing a growing Islamisation, followed now by a rapid Westernisation of its ‘privilegentsia’. The British partitioned India to serve their strategic interest; the US which took over the imperial mantle from the British, is reaping its benefit, while playing a biased referee in South Asia. This has created several constraints that hamper the conduct of India’s war on terrorism.
4. Immediately after the terrorist attacks against US targets in September 2001, India declared its support to the US in its war against global terrorism. Thereafter, it waited for a strong US support in its own war on Pak-sponsored terrorism. As a self- proclaimed ally of the US, India had to have the US ‘nod’ for any proactive step vis a vis Pakistan. Its full-scale mobilisation along the Indo-Pak border was a case in point. But India could not take the final step since the US ‘nod’ never came !
5. Even if it had, the presence of a very large Muslim population in India and a plethora of political parties wooing such a large Muslim vote-bank would have made India think many times before attacking terrorist camps across the border, or even the LOC.
6. And the US, busy manipulating a balance of power in South Asia since the Eisenhower era, would not have taken kindly to any unilateral Indian action that could have resulted in Pakistan’s dissolution.
7. Finally, under a coalition government, Indian decision- makers do not enjoy the privilege of assuming a logical decision in this war against terrorism would automatically be a unanimous one. Additionally, with little guarantee of security of information, such decisions need to be taken and transmitted on a need to know basis, which is anathema to the present-day Indian politician bent upon preserving democratic norms and his right to all information. For there is little unanimity about India’s long term interest within the nation
8. 8. The Indian Prime Minister has repeatedly pointed out the need to forget history and accept the geographical fact of India and Pakistan being neighbours who have to co-exist peacefully. Shri Vajpayee has also identified India’s long term interest vis a vis Paksitan which is to change its anti –India mind-set. General Wesley Clark of the US said in October 2001 much the same thing when he stressed that it was for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to decide whether Islam was a religion of tolerance or terrorism.
9. 9. To date, there is very little evidence of such a mind change in Pakistan, if one goes by the repeated massacres of innocent Indians in J&K. Nor is there any concrete evidence of the US having taken any steps to bring about such a mind change in Pakistan. In fact, it is quixotic on India’s part to expect such a change in a nation that was born out of a hatred for a Hindu-predominant India. It is India’s secular nature that is under attack through Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir. And even if Kashmir was handed over to Pakistan on a plate, it will not cease to project itself as the protector of Muslim interest in India, because Pakistan cannot accept a subordinate status in South Asia. Therefore, a further Islamisation of a secular India is more likely than any change in Pakistan’s anti-India mentality. In fact, it is India that has to change its mind-set of behaving as a ‘soft state’ and depending on the US to control Pakistan and put an end to the proxy war in J&K.
10. India has not evolved a consensus on what is its long-term interest. Those pious platitudes in its Constitution have been honoured more in the breach by India’s self-serving political class. Its current efforts to integrate its economy with the global one, side by side with posturing as a strong nation-state armed with nuclear weapons, while indulging in mass politics based on patronage in the best tradition of a bygone feudal era, is a recipe for disaster. India must internalise a basic truth that without an economic surplus, it can neither invest in its development nor in its defence. Should this truth guide its policies, India would realise that it is to its economic resurgence that it must give top priority, without entering a debt trap while doing so. Such economic transformation could be achieved by the Pacific Rim Tigers , albeit under a measure of autocratic rule. India can do so democratically, if it changes its electoral practices, domestic policies, and persuades its people to accept a common educational programme, a common civil code and an equality of opportunity for those citizens who would keep religion out of politics. But such a liberal ethos presupposes an all-round economic progress in a casteless, educated society that has balanced the needs of an agricultural, an industrial and an informational mode of creating wealth in a globalised economy. While adopting this approach to good governance, the Indian ruling elite will have to find some way to wean all religious extremists from putting their religion before India’s national interest. A criminalised Indian polity finds this task too daunting, and, therefore, finds itself stymied by Pakistan’s onslaught on its secularism.
11. So far, the Indian politicians have displayed the same short-sightedness as their kind do in any democracy, by worrying more about getting re-elected than about securing India’s national interest. India’s apparent lack of meaningful options, independent of what the US does or accepts, to compel Pakistan to stop its proxy war in the J&K ought to make its ruling elite introspect as to how it has reached this impasse. It must think through its next set of steps before taking any action to resolve the situation.
12. There are many points over which India can ponder, including its constraints mentioned already. Most importantly, it has to come to terms with its own plurality. Juxtaposed as it is to a theocratic Pakistan , India has to turn this plurality to its advantage in a world that looks more and more like a global village. The Golden Age of a purely Hindu India is over. What the world can benefit from Hindu thought is its holistic approach that considers the whole world as one family. Can India set an example of how to ‘live’ a religious life based on a universal humanism, instead of demanding an eye for an eye in order to set right all historical wrongs? At the same time, there must be ready justice meted out to all those who transgress the code of cultured behaviour, without any political interference in its administration. Unless a secular and just Indian society emerges from this trial by fire implicit in this war on terrorism, India may win the war but lose the subsequent peace!
13. Simultaneously, India must stop daydreaming that Pakistan will ever give up its ‘Hate India’ policy, as that is its very raison d’etre. For a theocratic Pakistan, it is a Jehad in which one’s ‘Shahadat’ opens the doors of Heaven. Religious wars in Europe lasted a hundred years. India must develop the stamina to fight that long.
14. What can India do to win this war ? As a civilized nation it cannot ‘nuke’ Pakistan pre-emptively, nor can it remain a mute witness to the repeated massacres of its citizens on its own soil. In between lie many options. A diplomatic offensive to continue to expose Pakistan’s perfidy in all international fora, imposing a costly arms race on Pakistan, revoking the Indus water treaty, use of long range artillery and missiles to destroy Pakistani targets in depth, have all been suggested from time to time. But none of these can assure a change in Pakistan’s anti-India mentality. Nor do they inflict such pain on Pakistan, except possibly the denial of water to its people, as would restore sanity to their policy-making.
15. The answer may lie in adopting a strategy of indirect approach. While India mans its borders to reduce infiltration and continues to eliminate all intruders, militants, terrorists and Jehadis, and steps up its diplomatic efforts to highlight Pakistan’s continuing proxy war in the J&K, India must ensure that state’s economic transformation once the elections in October 2OO2 are over. Integrating the people of J&K with the mainstream life in India will offer a splendid opportunity to the Indian people to prove that their heart is in the right place. Project Hope for village uplift launched by INPAD in the Rajauri district some years back, has pointed the way ahead with prescience.