Op-Ed in Pioneer, 4 March 2009
EDITS | Wednesday, March 4, 2009 | Email | Print |
Just diplomacy won’t do
Ashok K Mehta
With the general election announced, the Government will try to extract the best concessions from Islamabad for its admission that the attack on Mumbai was planned partially in Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba was responsible for it. This feat is being hailed as a diplomatic victory achieved ‘without deployment of troops’ — an obvious reference to the previous Government’s mobilisation of troops for Operation Parakram following the attack on Parliament House in December 2001. The terrorist attacks and Government’s responses were qualitatively different, shaped by the objective conditions of the time.
In India the establishment does not study the past which frequently becomes the present. Even as other countries have drawn copious lessons from Operation Parakram and now the attack on Mumbai, ours has shut its mind. One obvious lesson is that Operation Parakram, in whatever variant — even with a ‘cold start’ — cannot be repeated. Mobilisation of troops was, therefore, not an option this time, but other means of coercion were available.
Diplomacy is the art of bargaining and posturing with the implied power to hurt the adversary. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and others have said that diplomacy works best when backed by force. Pakistan has been forced to admit the launch of the attack on Mumbai, contrary to pledges made by President Pervez Musharraf that its soil would not be used for terrorism after Operation Parakram. Strategic coercion this time came from the US and the international community whose nationals were killed. Ajmal Kasab, one of the 10 terrorists captured alive, made denial impossible for Pakistan. Surprisingly, Delhi has not yet crafted a usable mix of options to protect its citizens from terrorism as that responsibility has to rest with India and not the US or a third country.
But first it would be instructive to compare the 26/11 events with Operation Parakram. In 2001, India-Pakistan relations were at a nadir. The Kargil intrusion had already happened, followed by the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar. On October 1, the attack on the Jammu & Kashmir Legislature nearly killed the Kashmiri leadership and three months later, the assault was repeated on Parliament House. Five terrorists could have wiped out India’s political leadership and democracy.
The situation in Jammu & Kashmir was explosive with levels of violence highest since the start of the proxy war in 1990. Two officers, one JCO and 20 soldiers were being killed in counter-terrorism operations every month in that State. Then Army Chief, Gen S Padmanabhan, had described it as “fighting a Kargil every 16 months”. The Army was seething with anger, demanding retribution. An Army wife told her husband going for Operation Parakram not to return without finishing the job.
The last straw snapped in May 2002. Even as Operation Parakram was on, 13 terrorists in military uniform rushed inside the Army camp in Kaluchak near Jammu and shot dead 34 and wounded 50 wives and children of our soldiers. Even Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost his cool when he told soldiers in Srinagar that it would be an “aar-paar ki ladai” — an all out war. It would have been so but for the strategic restraint imposed by the US and the UK, switching the focus from terrorism to a nuclear exchange, literally nuclear scare-mongering. War clouds receded beyond the horizon.
Operation Parakram permitted the political leadership the flexibility to exercise the full range of military and diplomatic actions. Coercive diplomacy was aimed not just against Pakistan but the US also, which was then, as now, engaged in Afghanistan. Operation Parakram ensured events moved fast and purposefully. On January 12, after the attack on Parliament House, Gen Musharraf appeared on television to condemn it as a ‘terrorist act’, adding that no organisation would be allowed to indulge in terrorism in the name of Kashmir. He banned five terrorist groups.
On May 27, after Kaluchak, he made another pledge forswearing cross-border terrorism, but it was not until June 6 that he gave an unqualified commitment through the US to end terrorism permanently, irreversibly, visibly and to the satisfaction of India. Soon, infiltration had dropped by 50 per cent, violence levels declined appreciably and a very free and fair election was held in Jammu & Kashmir. Overall, Operation Parakram paved the way to the resumption of the peace process but on India’s terms.
In contrast to 2001, the geo-strategic environment during the attack on Mumbai favoured India. An India-US strategic partnership is in place. The security situation in Jammu & Kashmir has never been better: Terrorist numbers have declined from 2,500 to 800; infiltration is down to a trickle; and, the violence is the lowest since insurgency began, thanks to the fencing and layered counter-insurgency grid.
Seventy-eight days after the attack on Mumbai, Islamabad made a qualified admission for the attack while disowning state complicity. The admission of non-state involvement came not through Delhi’s coercive diplomacy but pressure and FBI investigation warranted by American law whenever American nationals are killed abroad. As the names of the 35 culprits listed by Pakistan are mostly in code, their prosecution could take months and years consistent with its strategy of buying time.
Securing an admission from Pakistan that its soil was used by non-state actors in clear violation of solemn commitments made by its leaders at least five times between 2002 and 2008 cannot be hailed as a success of Indian diplomacy. The attack on Mumbai has already been forgotten by the new Obama Administration as it tries to find and fix its Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. Pakistan is embroiled in an internal power struggle which this time has a new contestant: The Taliban, as Tuesday’s attack in Lahore shows.
There are limits to what Pakistan can get away with or what we have to put up with. Equally, there are limits to what the US can get done by Pakistan. The US follows two sets of standards: One when its national interests are involved and the other when India is confronted by the challenge of cross-border terrorism. We can cry ourselves hoarse about Pakistan dismantling terrorist infrastructure and disowning jihad. But diplomacy alone will get no joy from Islamabad. A recent study by the Rand Corporation says there will be more Mumbai-type attacks.
During Operation Parakram, at least on two occasions in January and June 2002 we came very close to war. It was no play-acting but coercive diplomacy which had the Americans really worried. Of the several books former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh has written, the two most relevant to the continuing impasse over cross-border terrorism are A Call to Honour and Defending India. In the first he notes that coercive diplomacy cannot work against the irrational, meaning Pakistan. Yet Operation Parakram was stretched to the limit. Seven years after Operation Parakram, Mumbai has shown that defending India requires more than diplomacy.