But No Thaw Yet
Indian government has announced the de-escalation and demobilisation or,
as it prefers to call it "re-deployment" of over half
a million troops which it amassed at the border with Pakistan ten
months ago. Pakistan has decided to reciprocate this move.
the next six weeks or so, this will bring to an end the world's
biggest military mobilisation in a half a century, with a dangerous
potential for the outbreak of a nuclear conflict. It also terminates
India's greatest foray into coercive diplomacy and its attempt at
strategic compellence, as well as the sub-continent's second episode
of nuclear brinkmanship.
less happily, this still does not mean that a thaw in India-Pakistan
relations, now at their lowest point since Independence in 1947,
October 16 decision was made under pressure, hesitantly, and with
many reservations and caveats. For one, it confines the de-mobilisation
to the settled International Border alone, and does not extend it
to the ultra-sensitive 740-kilometre-long Line of Control passing
through Jammu and Kashmir. For another, it is not part of a larger
package or game-plan for normalising relations with Pakistan, including
most important, resuming air and surface transportation links and
re-establishing ambassador-level diplomatic contacts severed earlier
for a third, it is not the result of the achievement of most of
the stated objectives New Delhi had specified for the huge military
build-up after the terrorist attack on its Parliament building on
December 13 last.
wonder the decision has (at least temporarily) widened rifts within
New Delhi's ruling coalition, led by the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya
Janata Party, whose right wing loathes it and regards it as India's
"capitulation" to, or "appeasement" of Pakistan,
the "enemy" state. An embattled Atal Behari Vajpayee now
finds he has to struggle to "explain" the demobilisation
to his critics from the fanatical Hindu right.
this also offers him an opportunity to confront and outmanoeuvre
them by firmly pursuing a policy of reconciliation, dialogue and
détente with Pakistan, for which there exists a substantial
popular constituency in the country. The international public, in
particular the peace movement, can significantly contribute to the
Indian decision to demobilise was the result of a complex set of
factors, including external pressure, the Indian army's exhaustion
with the strategy of compellence (to coerce Pakistan to behave in
a particular way), its unwillingness to prolong a state of high
alert, and the absence of a clear link between the military action
and political objectives.
Vajpayee government has been under considerable pressure from the
major powers, especially the United States, to reduce the troop
concentration at the border totalling about 700,000 soldiers. The
pressure intensified after the conclusion of the relatively successful
and not particularly violent elections to the Jammu and Kashmir
Legislative Assembly on October 10.
was apprehensive that Pakistan-backed militants would disrupt the
elections, which they, like Islamabad, declared a "sham"
and a "farce". But mid-way through the four-phase election
process, it became apparent that Islamabad would not encourage the
jehadi guerrillas it backs to launch an all-out attack on
Indian security forces and election candidates and rallies.
this, the US stepped up pressure in favour of de-escalation. The
American ambassador lobbied a number of BJP leaders, and also members
of the National Security Advisory Board, itself linked to the recently
formed but functionally ill-defined National Security Council.
armed forces have been increasingly unhappy at the disutility of
the build-up and the deployment code-named "Operation Parakram",
involving the maintenance of large numbers of troops on high alert,
often under harsh conditions near the border. This took a toll of
the troops' morale and their lives.
between 300 and 400 soldiers are estimated to have died in accidents
such as landmine explosions, and other mishaps. In some instances,
soldiers, under extreme psychological stress, went berserk and shot
their own colleagues.
Indian government was always ambivalent about the precise political
objective of the build-up. Was it to threaten Islamabad with "retaliation"
attack for December 13? Was it to secure the release of the 20 terrorists
named in the list handed over to Pakistan in January this year?
Was it to extract from it a verifiable commitment to put a "permanent"
end to "cross-border" infiltration of terrorists, as was
explicitly stated for example, repeatedly between February and July?
Or, more outlandish, was it to "hurt" and "punish"
Pakistan so that the costs imposed on it by troop deployment are
"many times" higher than those borne by India, as some
Indian strategic "experts" suggest?
the event, none of these goals was achieved. According to Indian
official claims, reiterated in the past couple of months with numerical
estimates, the level of cross-border infiltration and militant violence
in J&K has increased. Pakistan scoffed at the hastily
prepared list of 20 (some of whom may no longer be in that country)
and has taken no action on them.
for the costs, General Pervez Musharraf has himself boasted that
these were much lower for Pakistan (300,000 troops in the build-up)
than for India (700,000). Besides, there were "credible"
reports, according to a former senior Indian diplomat, that "Washington
was reimbursing the cost of mobilisation to Pakistan".
India's plans to launch surgical strikes and wage "limited
war" had to be abandoned when Washington actively intervened
between January and June, through repeated visits of Colin Powell
and Richard Armitage to New Delhi and Islamabad.
only tangible gains for India in the past 10 months have been diplomatic Musharraf's
January 12 promise to put down religious extremism and terrorism,
including the type masquerading as "freedom struggle"
(in Kashmir) and his promise at the end of May to put a "permanent"
and "verifiable" end to cross-border infiltration.
these were achieved through US mediation and pressure. It is open
to question if non-military means, including multilateral ones,
such as involving the UN Security Council, could not have been more
productive, and far less expensive and risky.
official statement puts a gloss on all this and declares: "The
Cabinet Committee on Security after deliberation upon and examination
of all aspects of the continued deployment of our forces along the
border, has decided that as the Armed Forces have, with great distinction,
achieved the objectives assigned to them, thus upholding all the
traditions of the Indian military, they now be asked to redeploy
from positions on the international border with Pakistan …"
minister George Fernandes also stated: "The successful conclusion
of the elections in Jammu and Kashmir was one of the objectives"
of the deployment. However, completing the J&K elections was
never declared to be an "objective" of Operation Parakram.
On the contrary, the government repeatedly said the elections and
the troop deployment were "separate issues".
Vajpayee cabinet made this move with the utmost awkwardness, and
only after going through the motions of convening meetings of the
National Security Advisory Board and the National Security Council on
the same day as the cabinet decision. The NSAB was duly "prepared"
for the outcome through briefings by officials and others.
NSAB, which has non-official "expert" representation on
it, has proved itself to be a virtual rubber-stamp for the government.
Its earlier avatar too was no better. Its sole contribution
was the production of India's "Draft Nuclear Doctrine"
in August 1999. The government promised to have this debated in
Parliament and to adopt it after due consideration and modification.
The US was annoyed with the DND's extremely ambitious and aggressive
character. It has been put in cold storage ever since.
Indian government has no obligation to accept, adopt or reject any
recommendations of any "advisory" body. In the fashion
characteristic of the colonial state, it maintains total opacity
about its policy decisions and their rationale.
any rate, the demobilisation will soon be completed at an
enormous cost to the Indian public. Given official secrecy, there
are no hard numbers of Operation Parakram's financial costs. But
two estimates are doing the rounds. One is that it cost anything
between Rs. 2,000 and 4,000 crores (US$400 and 800 million) just
to put the troops in place in late December/early January. Since
then, the costs of maintaining them on high alert have been of the
order of Rs. 200 to 300 crores a month which adds up to another
$2 to 3 billion.
Indian government has thus probably blown up about $3 billion, perhaps
even $4 billion, or about a quarter of its annual military budget
on Operation Parakram. This might not seem huge by international
or US standards, but it is large by South Asia's and India's own
expenditure exceeds all federal spending on elementary education
and represents more than one-half of the entire country's total
expenditure on higher education. This is a terrible indulgence by
South Asia, such indulgences inevitably involve cuts in social sector
spending. Over the past five years, India's spending on health,
education, food security and social welfare has declined. However,
military spending has doubled over the same period the highest such
increase in any five-year period since Independence.
spending will rise sharply as India proceeds to build a nuclear
arsenal to match not Pakistan, but China's capacity. That spells
grave trouble for India's impoverished population.
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