Thirteen Pakistani troops were reported killed on December 26, as a result of Indian shelling across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. It was the latest aggressive Indian move in a period of heightened tension since India blamed Pakistan for the the December 13 attack on the Indian parliament, in which 14 people, including the five assailants, died.
India also said the same day that it had moved missiles and fighter aircraft closer to its border with Pakistan, and had vacated villages near the border in preparation for possible war. Pakistan said that it had responded to the Indian’s aggressive moves, by redploying its own troops in the border region.
The US tacitly supported India’s version of events and encouraged its war-mongering by adding the Kashmiri groups that India aays carried out the attack in New Delhi on Pakistan’s orders to its list of banned terrorist organizations.
The circumstances surrounding the attack are highly suspicious, but Delhi seems determined to blame Pakistan. L K Advani, Indian home affairs minister, a “superhawk”, even went so far as to allege that Pakistan wanted to wipe out the entire political leadership of India. What he thinks Pakistan would achieve by doing so he has not said. Yet a Delhi police commissioner said at a press conference that the assailants had first gone to the airport but found the security there too tight; it was then that they decided to attack the parliament building instead.
Undeterred, India recalled its high commissioner from Pakistan and terminated the Delhi-Lahore bus service and the Samjhauta Express rail link, with effect from this month. On December 23 Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh also announced that a “fitting response” would be given to Pakistan “after Christmas”, with hints that the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 would also be terminated. These threats were made despite general Pervez Musharraf’s condemnation of the attack and his call for an impartial inquiry — immediately dismissed by Delhi — into the incident. Troops have gathered on both sides of the border in Punjab and Sind, as well as along the Line of Control in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. Artillery duels and exchanges of fire have also become much more frequent and forces on both sides are on heightened alert. India has accused two groups, Lashkar-e Tayyeba and Jaish-e Muhammad, of the December 13 incident, and has also threatened to attack “terrorist” training camps in Pakistan from where the assailants allegedly came, unless Pakistan immediately arrests the leaders of both groups. Indian military officials have warned against such moves, pointing out not only that the training camps are no more than drill grounds and firing ranges, attacking which will achieve little militarily, but also that such moves could provoke a larger conflict whose consequences would be catastrophic. India’s political leadership, however, is motivated by different considerations: by acting tough it is projecting a macho image to appease Hindu fundamentalists before the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition is facing a tough challenge. But India also wants to take advantage of the atmosphere of hysteria deliberately created since the attacks on September 11 against the Pentagon and WTC.
India’s rulers believe that they can tarnish Pakistan’s reputation by linking it with terrorism, and hence secure propaganda and political mileage for use in Kashmir. US president George W. Bush has announced that Lashkar-e Tayyeba and another Pakistani organisation, Ummah Ta’meer-e Nau, are being put on its terrorist list: this can only encourage Indian jingoism. Bush has also said that anyone dealing with either organisation will not be allowed to deal with the US, and announced the freezing of their assets and bank accounts.
India’s heightened belligerence is based on two factors: first, it has tried relentlessly to link the struggle in Kashmir with terrorism, thereby making a pretext to use even greater force to crush it without incurring international opprobrium; second, like the US, it feels it need not adhere to the usual accepted and expected norms of behaviour. As a military power, it can act with impunity against anyone it does not like: in this case Pakistan, against whom it is trying to build a coalition with the US and Israel. In fact India is modelling its behaviour on the pattern of the US and Israel; the former deliberately and routinely bypasses the UN security council even when it would cooperate; the later disregards security council resolutions with impunity in its dealings with the Palestinians. So India is doing the same over Kashmir.
India’s behaviour over the December 13 incident mirrors closely America’s attitude since the September 11 attacks. Just as Washington dismissed the Taliban’s demand for proof of Usama bin Ladin’s wrongdoing and rejected any offer of negotiations, India has rejected the call for an impartial inquiry. It claims such an inquiry would compromise its sovereignty, yet demands that Pakistan arrest leaders of the groups it accuses of the attack and punish them. All five attackers were killed and “proof” of the Pakistan-based organisations’ involvement came from two Indian citizens and two Kashmiris. How much confidence can be placed on such evidence without an impartial inquiry?
But while Indian politicians beat the drums of war, Indian newspapers have been more circumspect in their pronouncements. They have cautioned against any military adventurism which might prove costly, especially against a nuclear-armed Pakistan. It is not likely, however, that such advice will be heeded by a government dominated by fire-breathing Hindu fundamentalists like Advani. Delhi feels that the tide of international opinion is turning its way and that, if it exerts enough pressure, it can force Pakistan to give in in Kashmir, just as it did over the Taliban as a result of US pressure. There is some logic in the argument that, by going along with the US, Pakistan undermined its own position in Kashmir, yet there is a marked difference between the two situations. India is not America, after all.
Policy-makers in Pakistan will have to think through the decisions they made on the fateful night of December 12, when US secretary of state Colin Powell phoned General Musharraf. While the US’s wrath was averted then, it would be interesting to see whether Washington will acknowledge the help Musharraf rendered, or whether it will now begin to tighten the screws on Islamabad under Indian and Israeli pressure. The fear that Washington’s target is also Pakistan’s nuclear capability — something that irks both India and Israel — may well be borne out. For the promise of some dollars Pakistan may have got a very raw deal indeed, especially now that its western borders are also no longer secure.