Cry Wolf to Secure US
newly discovered ally, India,
cry wolf (that is, deliberately exaggerate tentative indications
of the presence of Al-Qaeda in Kashmir) to
get the United States
to intervene sympathetically on its behalf and secure a commitment
President Pervez Musharraf to end "cross-border infiltration" of
there is no irrefutable proof of this, many pointers suggest that
this happened in the last week of May. It paved the way for the
visit to Pakistan
and India of US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage in the
first week of June, and later of defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The alacrity with which the US acted in late May is more easily
explained by the "Al-Qaeda scare" hypothesis than by any other circumstance
in the six-months-long eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between
India and Pakistan, involving more than one million troops.
the hypothesis is valid, then there is a special obligation on New
Delhi to abide by its part of the deal that
and the UK
helped broker: it should quickly de-escalate the military mobilisation,
normalise diplomatic relations with Pakistan,
and begin a dialogue with it on the vexed issue of Kashmir.
There is an equally onerous obligation on Pakistan
to abide by its commitment to put a permanent and verifiable end
to "cross-border infiltration".
is a recounting of the relevant sequence of events, based on briefings
by diplomatic sources, and on the public statements of some of the
officials involved. When India
threatened to punish Pakistan
militarily following a "terrorist" attack on its Parliament building
on December 13 last, it fully kept the United
States in the picture. It persuaded
that it was only acting in "self-defence" and against "terrorism"
– just as America
had done vis-ŕ-vis Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
too mobilised its forces in reply to India's
700,000 troops at the border. By early January, a million troops
were in position across the 740-kilometre Line of Control and the
2,300 km-long-international border. This was, potentially, an extremely
dangerous confrontation, with possible escalation to the nuclear
this year, the US
sent emissaries, including secretary of state Colin Powell and deputy
secretary Richard Armitage, to South Asia,
to counsel restraint on both India
But it did not apply pressure upon either state to lower the level
of alert or demobilise/reduce troops – right until the end of May.
Nor did it ask Pakistan
to take action on a list of 20 "terrorists" living in that country,
handed over to it. The US
was in constant touch with high officials in both countries through
their foreign ministers, Gen Pervez Musharraf, less frequently Prime
Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, his national security adviser Brajesh
Mishra, as well as its ambassadors in their capitals.
impelled the US to shift gear to energetic intervention was partly
heightened tension between India and Pakistan after a terrorist
attack on May 14 at Kaluchak near Jammu, in which 34 people were
killed. But a large part was also played by an event exactly one
week later: the assassination of Abdul Gani Lone, a moderate member
of the executive of the 23-party All-Party Hurriyat Conference in
Kashmir, which demands autonomy/ separation from India, but does
not practise violence.
after Lone's killing – for which no group has so far claimed responsibility,
unlike in most such cases – Mishra rang US national security adviser
Condoleezza Rice to say there were indications that Al-Qaeda elements
were responsible, and that India's patience was "running out"; a
war would be not weeks or days away, but only hours away. This set
the alarm bells ringing in Washington; a series of telephone calls
followed, including calls to Musharraf and Vajpayee.
all, Al-Qaeda is not some Kashmiri militant group, however fanatical.
It is America's main direct enemy.
this point, India not only put its forces on the highest alert,
but also ordered heavy shelling of Pakistani posts across the border,
nine of which were reportedly destroyed. It also made a series of
demands upon Pakistan as conditions for staying its hand.
included commitments to end cross-border infiltration permanently,
to close down terrorist training camps in what India calls Pakistan-occupied
Kashmir (PoK), to cease hostile propaganda and threats to Indian
Kashmiri leaders from within PoK, and stop fomenting trouble through
clandestine agencies within Kashmir. The earlier "list" of 20 terrorists
was effectively dropped, although not officially withdrawn.
US duly communicated these demands to Musharraf and secured his
acceptance of the first two conditions – probably with some tough
talking, threats and more. In the last week of May, it also made
it plain to him that the cessation of support for cross-border activity
would be forever – a part of its commitment to fight against the
menace of "terrorism", by whatever name called. (Pakistan made a
similar declaration at the Almaty summit of the Conference on Interaction
and Confidence Building Measures in Asia which binds all member-states
"not to support on the territory of another Member-State any separatist
movements and entities", not to "establish political, economic and
other relations with them", nor "to render them any kind of economic,
financial and other assistance…")
visited Pakistan on June 6 on condition that Islamabad would have
already (prior to his visit) put in place measures to stop
cross-border movement of militants. The Washington Post reported
on the "Armitage-Musharraf agreement", quoting officials: "Once
Musharraf agreed to the term 'permanent', Armitage reconfirmed several
times over the two-hour conversation that Musharraf was comfortable
with it, and that he could relay this commitment to India."
visited India on June 12. At his press conference that day he said:
"I have seen indications that Al-Qaeda is in fact operating in areas
near the LoC." "(But) I don't have any hard evidence of who, how
many or where, " he replied when asked whether Osama bin Laden's
outfit was influencing events in Jammu and Kashmir. Indian officials
confirmed that India had provided information on this issue to Rumsfeld.
the following day, in Islamabad, he modified his statement: "…the
United States does not have evidence of Al-Qaida in Kashmir. We
do have a good deal of scraps of intelligence that come in from
people saying that they believe Al-Qaida are in Kashmir or in various
locations. It tends to be speculative; it is not actionable; it
is not verifiable…"
registered a strong protest against the suggestion, saying it was
"absolutely incorrect", and without substance.
June 14, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer further "clarified"
that Rumsfeld had spoken only in a "generalised and vague sense"
about Al-Qaeda in Kashmir. "I don't think it was a declaration of
anything. I think what he said was that – no hard evidence that
they're there, they may be there, we can't rule it out; but he said
that he didn't have any actionable evidence, any intelligence information
of a hard type …"
Times of India
had reported that "officials in Washington and Delhi have concluded
that it is only the war on Al-Qaeda that can provide a politically
safe rationale for the Vajpayee government to allow American troops
in, given India's traditional aversion to outside mediation in Kashmir".
added: "It is possible that recent official Indian claims of Al-Qaeda
being active in the Valley and of 'Arab-looking terrorists' being
shot dead by the security forces in J&K are part of the government's
efforts to prepare the ground for 'joint Indo-US military action'",
probably with US Special Operations troops. This, the paper speculated,
was part of a larger proposal for expanding the ambit of Indo-US
reliable administrative sources in Jammu and Kashmir say that there
was no evidence of Al-Qaeda presence or activity in Kashmir. India's
Border Security Force too denies there is any solid proof or even
indications of this.
Army too has discounted such reports to maintain that, operationally,
it makes little difference if Al-Qaeda elements are present or not.
Indian and US officials appear to have exaggerated the Al-Qaeda
involvement in Kashmir. They must not use any speculation about
this as an argument for intrusive US surveillance, leave alone special
military operations. Such speculation might fructify in the future
as Al-Qaeda elements trickle into PoK – and then into Indian Kashmir.
This distinct possibility has little to do with the events of May
which led to the India-Pakistan half-thaw.
owes it to the world to come clean on the Al-Qaeda issue. It must
reduce its troops at the border, reciprocate Pakistan's gestures
and normalise relations. Above all, it must agree to a dialogue
on Kashmir with Pakistan. It has promised such a bilateral dialogue
for 30 years, but never once held talks. If the Kashmir dispute
is allowed to fester, it will fuel extreme discontent and resentment
in Pakistan – to the detriment of the security of the whole subcontinent,
Vajpayee government has shown no inclination to take reconciliatory
steps towards Pakistan. In his interview
with Newsweek, Musharraf has tried to wriggle out of
the commitment and said he cannot give "an assurance that for years
nothing will happen" across the Line of Control.
only highlights the role that the international community in general,
and the peace movement in particular, can play in nudging the South
Asian rivals towards mutual reconciliation.
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