Home »  Magazine »  National  »  Cynical Gambit

Cynical Gambit

For all the song and dance, the BJP has made zero headway on terrorism—save for rhetoric that yields electoral profits, like in Gujarat

Cynical Gambit
Cynical Gambit
Barely one-and-a-half months after the BJP-led government in New Delhi announced it was pulling back troops from the Indo-Pak border, deputy prime minister L.K. Advani jump-started the Gujarat election campaign from Bhuj on November 30. He began by throwing an open challenge to Pakistan. "Let us fight it out face-to-face," he thundered. "We've fought three times. Let there be a fourth war. But killing of innocent civilians by attacking temples like Akshardham and Raghunath is unacceptable." It was a moment pregnant with political irony, given the fact that three attacks (Raghunath, Akshardham as well as Kaluchak) had occurred during the year the entire Indian army had been massed on our borders, with the avowed purpose of preventing cross-border terrorism.

But such setbacks didn't deter the BJP from sticking campaign posters all over Gujarat showing Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Narendra Modi in adversarial roles. It was almost as if Musharraf was contesting the polls. Modi, while rounding off his campaign, had declared: "If the Congress wins in Gujarat they will burst firecrackers in Pakistan and if the BJP wins, the entire India will celebrate Diwali.... It is for you to decide where the crackers will burst."

Given the thumping majority the BJP mustered in the elections, it wouldn't be inappropriate to conclude that the electorate is satisfied with the way the government has fought terrorism. This was its obsessive focus—globally, regionally and domestically—through the year, the predominant factor that impacted on foreign, military, internal security as well as political policies.

Ironically, the ruling class—from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee downwards—has been articulating its dissatisfaction at the results of its obsession with terrorism. On November 1, external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha complained to The Guardian that the international community had lost the "right to lecture India" because of its double standards—tracking down bombers in Pakistan "but letting them operate freely in Kashmir". He expressed unhappiness over the world's failure to extract compliance from Musharraf on his pledge to curb infiltration into India. "There's tremendous anger among the people of India," he said. "They are angry even with us. They feel we have taken a very soft line with Pakistan."

Sinha's statement points to the inescapable conclusion that diplomatic efforts to put Pakistan in the doghouse haven't succeeded. Whatever India has achieved is notional. For instance, Musharraf's pledges are to individual US officials and have no sanctity in international law. Nor has India thought it fit to extract Pakistani compliance through UN Resolution No. 1373 that aims, among other things, to curb states from sponsoring terrorism. The possibility of rallying the international community against Pakistan will diminish further in January 2003, when it joins the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member.

Diplomacy apart, efforts to militarily compel Pakistan to curb infiltration too have not yielded the desired results. Sources clarify that one year after mobilisation:

  • Infiltration continues with a consistency more or less comparable to the last year;

  • Camps inside Pakistan and PoK are back in operation;

  • The war against terrorism has rendered India vulnerable to terrorist attacks.For instance, the attack on the US consulate in Calcutta is linked to New Delhi's support to Washington; there has been an alert that Goa could witness a Kenya-like attack;

  • Domestic political compulsions have inspired parties to exploit the terrorism issue to communally polarise the population;

  • US proclivity to accommodate Pakistan's strategic interests is growing;

  • Pakistan-sponsored covert activities in neighbouring countries aimed at India have increased;

  • The threshold for tolerance of terrorist attacks has gone up;

  • The border mobilisation didn't undermine Pakistan's reach and access to targets.

  • Nor has India's capability and infrastructure to deal with terrorism been enhanced.

What is particularly worrying is the fallout of the communal riots in Gujarat. A senior government official says security agencies have come across instances of Gujarati Muslims going across to Kashmir to acquire arms and ammunition and that Kashmiris who studied in madrassas in Gujarat are acting as "coordinators" in this activity. Says the official: "The ISI will now find 'readymade' volunteers in Gujarat." Pre-Godhra, government sources claim, there was no instance of a Kashmiri or an Indian Muslim being apprehended in, say, Afghanistan or Bosnia or elsewhere. Nor has there been any recorded instance of a non-Kashmiri Indian Muslim fighting in Kashmir. The new development consequently could fan the fire of terrorism into spreading to new areas.

It isn't only Pakistan where militants are given sanctuary—and help. At the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal declared on December 17: "India is a country wounded by terrorism. Virtually all our neighbours, by choice or default, by acts of commission or omission, compulsions of geography and the terrain, have been or are involved in receiving, sheltering, overlooking or tolerating terrorist activities from their soil directed against India." He further added: "Already, the US is showing receptivity to Pakistan's interests and ambitions in south and eastern Afghanistan."

The growing dependence of the US on Pakistan in the war against terror is of immense worry to the home ministry as well. Senior officials fear there could be a high probability of the US "tilting in favour of Musharraf on Kashmir as well". Another senior official argues that the US hasn't ordered Musharraf to end cross-border terrorism, that it has, in effect, only "advised Pakistan to operate in Kashmir at a level with a higher deniability quotient".

They point to the mushrooming of new launching camps along the LoC in PoK (Naukot, Mandakulu, Beli camp, near Reshian), new infiltration routes, new holding camps (Haripur) and new training camps both in Pakistan as well as in PoK. For instance, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) runs camps at Abdullah bin Massood, Ummal Kura, Aksa, Devlian, Badhali; Hizbul Mujahideen at Khalid bin Walid, Sehensa, Gulpur, Balakote; Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) at Balakote; Harkat in Butrasi; and Al Badr in Oogi. The ISI directly runs camps at Ilaqa-e-Gair (in PoK) and Sankyari.

Officials further point out that after a gap of two years the LeT held its annual conference at Patoki, 80 km from Lahore; infiltration continues at levels nearly comparable to those of last year (see chart); ditto communications traffic. Both LeT's Prof Hafiz Saeed and JeM's Maulana Masood Azhar have been set free—the latter, ironically, on December 14, exactly one year after the Indian government accused him of planning the attack on Parliament. Officials say cross-border infiltration dipped between January and February (after Musharraf's January 12 speech) and in June and July (after Musharraf's May 29 speech). Obviously, the only way infiltration will stop is if Pakistan wills it.The matter is out of New Delhi's hand.

Argues Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid: "With the army set to dominate Pakistan's security and foreign policies under the veneer of an elected government, it will continue to pursue its dream of securing Kashmir. This will ensure a permanent state of tension with India. The Pakistani army will never wholly curb the militant Islamic groups who have acted as proxies in fighting the army's war in Afghanistan and Kashmir." He points out that the "larger Islamic parties that have been involved in fighting in Kashmir, and have large networks there, have been barely touched by the army's crackdown".

Sources in the ISI add that although there has been a reorganisation involving 40 per cent of the 10,000-strong intelligence outfit, "supporting the freedom struggle in Kashmir continues to be our prime interest". Members of militant groups also concede that infiltration has resumed "after India's refusal to open dialogue with Pakistan". Says Ershad Mahmud, an expert on Kashmir at the Institute of Policy Studies, a research organisation in Islamabad: "In June and July Musharraf made a major concession to India by halting infiltrations. But he received nothing in return. Musharraf has gradually changed his position."

Diplomatic sources in Delhi feel the US has stopped reminding Musharraf publicly to honour his commitment to end cross-border terrorism. Although Washington no longer insists that dialogue with Pakistan should resume, policymakers aver that the rapport between the Musharraf-led dispensation and the US has improved.

Part of India's problem is the absence of a cohesive strategy to fight terrorism. Coordination between different agencies and states remain poor. "Can you point out even a single counter-terrorist force that has come into being after the year-long political song and dance about terrorism? All that has happened is that we are back to those days when Indira Gandhi used to blame everything between Kashmir and Kanya Kumari on the 'foreign hand', a shorthand for cia. The cia has now been substituted by the ISI," remarks a senior source.

Says an old intelligence hand: "It's fashionable to blame the US. But the US has created an Office of Homeland Security to deal effectively with its own problem. Have we done anything comparable? All we have done is to blame Pakistan. The fact remains that most of the people who get killed because of Pakistan-inspired terrorism in J&K are Muslims. Making Pakistan a scapegoat is the easy way out. You blame Musharraf, but you don't do anything to deter him. We talk so much about the LoC. One-third of our army has been deployed in Kashmir, but what have you got? Do we have any means of stopping flow of terrorists through Nepal? We simply lack the infrastructure."

This is surprising considering that four years ago, on August 27, 1998, Advani had said: "The US has been time and again telling us what to do and what not to do on containing terrorism. For you, American citizens anywhere are not expendable. Are Indians expendable? Are we not expected to take any step for the security of the nation and its citizens? How is it that you can do something and we cannot do that. Is it not double standards?"

Rhetoric rarely substitutes for action. Indeed, India's fight against terror has floundered. Neither coercive diplomacy nor appeal to the international community has yielded satisfactory results. Unable to triumph over terrorism, it appears the BJP has cynically decided to milk the issue for electoral gains. With a string of states going to polls in 2003, and the BJP's intention to "replicate the Gujarat experience", terrorism and Pakistan will continue to dominate its agenda. This in itself could fan terrorism in 2003.

V. Sudarshan With Amir Mir in Lahore
Subscribe to Outlook’s Newsletter

Next Story : Spice Route
Download the Outlook ​Magazines App. Six magazines, wherever you go! Play Store and App Store
Online Casino Betway Banner