Peace in South Asia

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PATRON Lt Gen (Retd) SARDAR F.S. LODI discusses the parameters of peace in the region

The Indian Prime Minister Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee told a French newspaper 'Le Figaro' that France had now to 'make a strategic decision between India, a great democratic power and Pakistan, a little country under military dictatorship'. Mr Vajpayee said this when the French Foreign Minister Mr Hubert Vedrine had arrived in New Delhi for a two-day official visit on February 17, 2000. This was a strange statement by the Prime Minister of India which was a virtual ultimatum to a leading European country to openly choose between the two South Asian countries.

It seems India has come to the conclusion in her own perception that the United States has already chosen India over Pakistan. As it is probably apparent, by the US overtures to India in forging a new strategic understanding, growing economic potential and finally the long awaited visit of the US President to South Asia. The visit would further strengthen US-India ties as President Clinton visits India for a week with a stop-over in Bangladesh while ignoring Pakistan.

The US President's visit to South-Asia was expected to reduce tension between India and Pakistan and help in the resolution of the long outstanding Kashmir problem, by reinitiating a dialogue between the two countries maybe under US auspices. President Clinton having already offered to mediate, in solving the core issue of Kashmir which is the basic cause of tension and strife in South Asia.

But in case the US President does not visit Pakistan during his South Asian tour, the tensions in the region are likely to increase. Firstly India will consider the US President's visit a formal endorsement of her Kashmir policy, including the human rights violations and the brutal suppression of the civil population there. This will harden India's attitude and sharpen her belligerent posture. Even before the visit, while only the programme had been announced, India's attitude had already undergone a marked change.

Inspite of the US Presidential visit and the ultimatum to France, India must appreciate that there are two major players in South Asia, on whom the destiny and future of the region depends. These two are India and Pakistan, irrespective of their relative size and what Mr Vajpayee's own perception may be. Peace has eluded the South Asian sub-continent owing to the antagonism prevalent for over half a century between the two. India has made every effort since the last 52 years to weaken Pakistan even going to the extent of dismembering it, but peace in the region has not been achieved.

India's efforts to weaken Pakistan continue in the international field, by a diplomatic and media offensive to isolate Pakistan and to have her declared a terrorist state. In the defence field, India's aim is to prevent the Western countries and Russia from selling arms to Pakistan. She does this in an effective manner by offering economic incentives in a potentially large home market and involving these countries in joint ventures, and finally importing arms on a much larger scale than is necessary which provides extra jobs in the developed world. These, Pakistan cannot hope to match, thereby losing out on Western support.

Recently India has also been holding large scale training exercises in the vicinity of our sea coast and land borders which were not militarily essential. These could be termed provocative as an aggressive tone was detected in them. In December 1999 when the new Pakistani Agosta B-90 submarine sailed into Karachi harbour India was holding a large-scale sea exercise in the Arabian Sea to demonstrate India's ability and determination to dominate the Sea approaches to Pakistan. It was a large exercise where 35 ships, four submarines and 30 aircraft took part and where surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles were also tested. This exercise was 'basically to validate concepts devised in the post-Kargil conflict scenario and in a high alert situation', said Vice Admiral J.S. Bedi, Chief of Staff of India's Western Naval Command. These were obviously against Pakistan and her maritime interests.

The large Naval exercises were also meant to show Indian naval presence in the Arabian Sea and her intentions to dominate the Sea lanes leading to Pakistan. Particularly when India had already threatened to blockade the coast line of Pakistan during the fighting near Kargil between the Indian Army and the Kashmiri Mujahideen. The Indian Naval exercise close to Pakistan's important Sea lanes was certainly a provocative gesture coming soon after the shooting down of an unarmed Pakistan Naval aircraft by Indian fighters well inside Pakistan air space, and were certainly unfriendly acts not conducive to good relations between the two South Asian neighbours.

Recently India has been holding large scale army and Air Force training manoeuvres close to the Pakistan border to test their battle preparedness. The joint training exercises were held over a large area covering the northern Indian states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab. The exercise code-named 'Operation Vijay Chakra' consisted of armoured and mechanised forces 'practising lightning deep penetration tactics in almost real battle conditions' said an Indian army spokesman. Aside from the formations of Western Command, India's strike Corps were also taking part. India has invested billions of dollars in the strike Corps which can operate with considerable speed in the desert areas. The exercises were witnessed by the Indian Defence Minister Mr George Fernandes, the army chief General Ved Prakash Malik and Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis.

It is surprising to note that India chose to assemble over 150,000 troops including the well equipped strike Corps near the Pakistan border at a time when tension along the Line of Control in Kashmir was on the increase. Particularly after Indian troops crossed the Line of Control to attack two Pakistani posts which caused casualties on both sides. India also violated a 1991 agreement by not informing Pakistan about the exercises, their scope and the number of troops involved. Although the Indian troops were ostensibly operating close to the Pakistan border on training manoeuvres yet they were carrying their full compliment of war scales of ammunition. They could therefore be switched immediately to a strike roll against Pakistan.

Responsible civil and military leaders in India have recently been talking of a limited war option. The Indian Army Chief General V.P. Malik went to the extent of assuring the government and public in open statements, that India had the capability of launching and winning a limited war. This is a highly dangerous statement and therefore should have been avoided, if future peace in South Asia is India's objective. Surely the government of India and the Indian Army's high Command would be aware of the fact that they certainly have the option to initiate a limited war. Having done so, to keep it limited thereafter, ceases to be their option. It will pass on to the other party in the conflict.

Having started a limited war, as India seems to be contemplating would rapidly escalate and be difficult to control. Its future course and scope would also be impossible to predict considering the nuclear weapons capability possessed by both sides to the conflict. It would therefore be prudent for Indian leaders to give serious thought to avoiding any conflict in the region, be it limited or otherwise. As the results of a conflict initiated by design or a miscalculation are likely to be hazardous in the extreme for both the antagonists.

Inspite of the Indian Prime Minister's ultimatum to France to choose between India and Pakistan, the French Foreign Minister Mr Hubert Vedrine who was in New Delhi on an official visit at the time completely ignored this statement. During his press conference in Indian Mr Vedrine urged India and Pakistan to resume a dialogue to ease 'dangerous' tensions in South Asia. He went on to say 'we wish for a dialogue between India and Pakistan to resume. We feel we need to have confidence-building measures', and said that it would be 'very happy' for the United States to play a conciliatory role in the region. It certainly was a mild rebuke to the Indian government for its aggressive stance.

President Clinton of the United States has on more than one occasion offered to mediate between India and Pakistan provided both countries request him to do so. Pakistan is keen on outside mediation but India rejects it out of hand. In this refusal many observers detect undertones of India's 'sphere of influence' policy, which was a relic of the outdated gun-boar diplomacy era which India may be trying to advocate and revive, to her economic and strategic advantage and the detriment of her small neighbours. India should appreciate that her aims of dominating the region will not be acceptable to the countries bordering her and those interested in South Asia and the focal points around it.

Eventually mediation by an outsider or a group of countries seems to be the only answer. This has been resorted to in the past as well, during the Rann of Kutch conflict between India and Pakistan in 1965 and the Indo-Pak War of the same year. There is a body of opinion at home and abroad that seems to be gaining momentum, that India refuses to submit to international arbitration or mediation to settle the disputes with Pakistan or to hold a plebiscite in the state of Jammu and Kashmir under UN auspices because India knows that the results would not be in her favour. Talks between the two countries have not produced any worthwhile results during the past 52 years. At present the Indian Prime Minister has laid down impossible conditions for the resumption of talks, like vacation by Pakistan of Azad (free) Kashmir territory held by her. This is a clear indication that the present government in India is not interested in any talks and is probably considering other military options to decide the issue.

Finally it must be stated that the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory, recognized as such by the United Nations and the World at large. There are four parties to this dispute, India, Pakistan, the United Nations and above all the people of Jammu and Kashmir themselves. As long as this dispute continues, peace will not be established in South Asia. India has been trying to bulldoze the issue owing to her size and now growing economic importance to the trading nations of the West. India is the only country in the World today which has been allowed to keep in bondage the Kashmiri people against their wishes. She does so by military force. To achieve peace in South Asia it is imperative that a dialogue is initiated between all the four parties to the Kashmir dispute through the good offices of an international mediator.