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Sunday, 29 November 1998

The Ostrich Option - Ignoring Jabs at Indian Security


(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


In school, it is common for those hounded by bullies to seek to
escape the problem by pretending that the offenders do not exist.
Ignoring them, it is hoped, will turn their attentions elsewhere.
Usually, however, the bully gets encouraged by this ostrich
strategy, and continues the harassment till retaliatory action is
taken. Observing the developments in Indo-Pakistan relations
since 1989, it is clear that those who are masterminding—if one
may use such a word—our strategy towards Pakistan have not
learnt any lessons from school. For each assault on India’s
security interests, the response from this country's side is to
reiterate the faded mantra of dialogue.

The reason why 1989 is significant is that it was in that year
that stable majorities disappeared from the Indian political
lexicon. V.P. Singh's tenure, followed by Chandra Shekhar’s
interregnum, and the assumption of office by the minority
government of P.V. Narasimha Rao, have convinced observers
that the era of single party majorities has ended, and is unlikely
to be resurrected. It is no accident that 1989 was also the year in
which the Pakistan—sponsored insurgency in the Kashmir valley
accelerated.

Curbing Insurgency
In every war fought with Pakistan over Kashmir, it has been
clear to Indian commanders that it is crucial that operations not
be confined to that state, but extended along the entire Indo-
Pakistan border. In the same way, it is clear to analysts—
including those within the government—that success in curbing
the fundamentalist insurgency in that state can be achieved only
if the root of the problem—the involvement of Pakistan—is
addressed. So long as Pakistan feels that it will be allowed to get
away with aiding terrorists in the Valley, the problem will
remain. It is only if the costs to Pakistan of such support are
made intolerably high will its assistance to fundamentalists in
the Valley cease. However, at present every escalation in Pakistani
rhetoric and action is met by the (presumably fearsome) expedient
of an official 'protest'. Even the closing down of an entire
consulate has not been sufficient to jolt the MEA.

Within the international community, Pakistan’s attempt at
annexing Kashmir has its most vocal supporter in Turkey. After
that country's repeated expressions of concern over 'human
rights' violations in parts of India, surely it will not be taken
amiss were India to help generate international attention on the
treatment of Kurds by the Ciller regime. India could also host a
delegation of Kurdish leaders from Turkey, who would no doubt
have much to say about the attention being paid to human rights
in that country. Pakistan too needs to be reminded about its
obligations to its religious minorities, its Mohajirs, and its
Ahmediyas. Careful documentation of the discrimination meted
out to these sections could be carried out and made the subject
of an international campaign. India needs to be at least as active
in ’preventing human rights violations’ in Turkey and Pakistan
as these countries are in India.

Turning the other cheek may be the recommended strategy
for religious reformers eager to establish their moral ascendancy.
International relations, however, is not a contest in public school
manners, but a battle of wills and interests. By refusing to
counter the active Pakistani strategy with a similar initiative, this
country is only encouraging Islamabad to continue with its
covert war in Kashmir. The danger in such passivity is that it
may encourage Pakistan's policymakers to intervene not just in
one Indian state but in several. Such a shift may already be
underway, if reports of ISI activity in Thiruvanathapuram,
Hyderabad and Lucknow are correct. Even an open society
needs to defend itself against those who seek to subvert it
through violence. Not taking precautions against such individuals
would be akin to allowing cancer cells to spread. Despite the
evidence in its possession about subversive activities in India,
the Union home ministry has been coy about sharing this
knowledge, whereas it should be made freely available to the
public. The Indian administration’s long association with the
former Soviet Union has evidently resulted in several key
ministries functioning as though they were in Brezhnevite
Moscow rather than in democratic New Delhi.

Subversive Activities
Popular support is essential for public policy to succeed, and
such support can come only if the public is briefed about
secessionist activities. In this, the government has failed, almost
as much as it has in the international sphere, where it is more
India's economic potential rather than an appreciation of the
justice of its position that has prevented most countries from
supporting the Ankara-Islamabad line. During the time of the
Pakistan army’s war against the population of the then East
Pakistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent envoys around the
word with full details of the genocide. In comparison, present
efforts to educate world opinion about Pakistani support to
terrorism in Kashmir are anaemic. Not, of course, that much
more can be expected of an establishment which permits its
foreign secretary to greet the expelled staff from the closed
Karachi consulate with the familiar hope that there will soon be
talks with Pakistan.

Indeed, the low-key stance adopted by the Indian government
about major technological achievements such as Prithvi and
Agni fuel suspicions that these may be sacrificed. A country has
no need to feel shy about defending its vital security interests,
and yet the manner in which the PMO and the MEA have been
reacting to Agni and Prithvi suggests almost a feeling of apology,
rather than pride. While supporting any steps to prevent cross
border dissemination of strategic technologies, India should
resist efforts to stifle technological development within. In the
coming millennium, India, Japan and China will compete with
the United States and Russia in developing and deploying
strategic technologies, provided there is no sabotage at home.
India which has suffered numerous invasions and enslavements
in its long history, has particular need to be self-sufficient in
defence. The development of Agni and the deployment of
Prithvi will improve the security environment significantly and
act as a deterrent to Pakistani adventurism.

Separatist Impulses
What is even more disconcerting—viewed from the standpoint
of international security—is that influential circles in the United
States and the European Union are flirting with a policy of
’accommodating’ fundamentalist trends. Such an approach was
first tried out in Afghanistan, where the Reagan administration
created an army of religious extremists, who (after having
effectively demolished the Afghan state) are posing threats to
unity in India, Egypt, Algeria and other countries. Within the
U.S. and the EU foreign policy establishments, various formulae
for 'peace' in Kashmir are regularly churned out, almost all of
which presuppose that the state will detach itself from the Indian
Union. The underlying rationale for this presupposition is that
a 'Muslim’ state has no business being in India. This implicit
fragmentation of a polity on the grounds of religion can pose a
threat to stability not just in this country, but eventually in the
West as well. There are significant Muslim populations in
Germany, Britain, France and even the United States, who
would, by the logic being followed by some western analysts in
Kashmir, be justified in demanding autonomy, if not
independence. The fact is that the detachment of Kashmir from
India would trigger an intensification of religion linked separatist
impulses in many other parts of the globe, a step that would also
affect the security interests of the West.

Rather than be abject and apologetic, India needs to make
clear that its security interests will be vigorously safeguarded. In
particular, that its integrity as a multi-religious state will be
maintained. By its muffled response to jabs at Indian security—
whether in the form of intervention in Kashmir or demands that
crucial strategic programmes be aborted—the political leadership
in this country is encouraging fresh assaults on Indian sovereignty.



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