February 22, 2020
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Clouded By Distrust

Will Pakistan fulfil its commitment to persuade the intruders to withdraw from Indian territory?

Clouded By Distrust
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let's see what happens on the ground. There can't be a let-up in the operations. What else can we do?" That's the reaction of a senior Indian official to the promise made by Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to President Bill Clinton that he would withdraw Pakistani forces from Kargil. That sums up the Indian dilemma and also reflects the deep suspicion of Pakistani behaviour-nothing the Pakistanis say can be trusted until it reveals itself on the ground. That's the bottomline.

At end of the week, the bottomline was far from being met. Days after Sharif's Washington commitment, the Pakistanis were still sending in reinforcements. If anything, they seemed to have upped the ante, attacking all along the 160-km Dras-Kargil-Batalik stretch, desperate to reclaim territory only just retaken by the Indian forces. Alarmingly, Indian casualties had jumped dramatically, with young soldiers and officers dying in pitched battles. Between July 6 and 8, the army was officially reporting at least twice the number of dead per day than it had reported at any time earlier. For the dead Pakistani soldiers, it was even more tragic: the expediency of war dictated that their country refused to even claim their bodies.

As much as India, they were victims of Islamabad's notoriously forked tongue. In classic dissimulation, Islamabad was busy talking peace while waging war. Confusion reigned as different Pakistanis asserted different things. There were the vociferous militant voices, fattened on government largesse, who were calling for carrying on 'jehad', warning an embattled Sharif that his "sellout" in Washington was not acceptable to them. Sharif's cabinet colleagues added to the din by adding their own caveats to the joint statement. And foreign minister Sartaj Aziz warned there would "be a hundred more Kargils" if Kashmir was not settled.

The surprised Americans, meanwhile, were making reassuring noises that Sharif would certainly deliver on his commitment. They were reiterating that the Washington parleys were Kargil-specific; that the larger issue of Kashmir was not involved. Late in the week, reports from Islamabad suggested that Sharif was working on a broad framework for a possible withdrawal. One report said the withdrawal was to begin in 72 hours, while another spoke of a schedule that stretched to August. Later Pakistan's defence committee of the cabinet announced that it would appeal to the "mujahideen" to "help resolve the Kargil situation".

There are other doubts that obfuscate the picture for India. Are the talks with Clinton merely designed to calm world opinion while carrying on the Kargil offensive? Does Sharif have the clout to enforce what he's promised? And will India in all this end up giving the US a foot in the Kashmir door?

The choices before prime minister Vajpayee are limited. Stabbed in the back on his Lahore initiative, he can't take any chances. No wonder the official Indian reaction to the Sharif-Clinton statement has been cautious. The logic is simple: India has nothing to do with it. It has to throw out the intruders and so the army operations will continue.

US intervention may have humbled Pakistan, but it's not come without strings for India. Will it result in back-door diplomacy with it, a la Niaz Naik? Kargil's legacy, though, could be the internationalising of Kashmir. Clinton's "personal interest" is a double-edged sword. It could extend to future Indo-Pak dialogue.










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