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Opinion - Leader Page Articles

Options on the Pak. border

By C. Raja Mohan

The only credible option for India is to simultaneously signal its readiness to go to war to end cross-border terrorism and a willingness to seriously negotiate on Kashmir.

WHETHER OR not the nation can find a way in the next few weeks to ensure that normalcy returns to Gujarat, it will soon have to turn its attention to Pakistan and decide what to do with its massive military mobilisation on its western borders. In deploying much of the country's armed forces on the Pakistan border after the December 13 attack on Parliament, New Delhi was issuing an explicit threat to Islamabad. Stop cross-border terrorism once and for all or face the consequences.

The Indian threat to go to war and the American diplomatic pressure on Pakistan extracted the unprecedented verbal commitment from Pervez Musharraf on January 12 that he would crack down on the jehadis at home and would not allow terrorism on Pakistani soil in the name of Kashmir. India has chosen to wait until the summer months, traditionally the period of maximum militant infiltration from across the border, to see whether Gen. Musharraf's deeds match his words.

Over the next few weeks, India will have to evaluate whether Gen. Musharraf has kept his word on ending terrorism in Kashmir. If the General abides by his words, India's objections to engaging Pakistan will no longer be valid and New Delhi should prepare for getting back to the process of dialogue that started at Agra last year. If the assessment, however, is that there is no significant reduction in cross-border infiltration, India will have to consider its options on escalating the military confrontation with Pakistan.

As we come to that fork in the road over the next few weeks, the reasons behind India's largest-ever military mobilisation need to be recalled.

The Indian political establishment decided that the December 13 attack was the last straw on the camel's back. For more than a decade New Delhi just chose to absorb the pain from Islamabad's strategy of bleeding it through a thousand cuts. Convinced that India would not be able to retaliate against it for supporting cross-border terrorism, Pakistan believed it had a free hand in fomenting violence across the border in Jammu and Kashmir and take it to high value targets in the rest of the nation as well. The attack on its Parliament forced India into confronting the source of the threat once and for all.

The December 13 attack, coming as it did in the middle of the American war against international terrorism, provided India with unprecedented external circumstances to deal with the challenge of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. If the U.S. could go half way round the globe to deal with its national security threats, why could India not go across its border and confront a problem that has troubled it for more than a decade? India's threat to go to war succeeded in getting the Bush Administration to apply pressure on Gen. Musharraf. Despite the hopes in Pakistan that the U.S. would allow Islamabad to insulate its Kashmir policy from the logic of the global war on terrorism, Washington insisted that there could be no double standards in combating terrorism.

In short, India will never find the external conditions as propitious for dealing with the challenge of cross-border terrorism. India's decision in the coming weeks to either escalate or de-escalate the confrontation with Pakistan depends on the final assessment it makes on the current trend lines in cross-border infiltration. But the first indications on the infiltration are not encouraging. Government sources are suggesting a regrouping of the militants across the border and a re-appearance of training camps. It is also evident that Pakistan has a strong motivation to disrupt the coming Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. While Indian assessments on the prospects for cross-border infiltration might be suspected as bias, it is being confirmed by other sources.

The American media in recent weeks has reported that Pakistan's crackdown against the jehadis at home has virtually fizzled out. If it turns out that Gen. Musharraf does not have either the will or the capacity to crush the sources of extremism at home and end cross-border infiltration, India will have to make up its own mind on what do with its military mobilisation.

To put it simply, India has three options. The first is to conclude that its coercive diplomacy against Pakistan after December 13 has achieved the maximum possible results and begin to demobilise bit by bit either through an explicit decision or by stealth over a period of time. Adopting such a course would be disastrous for India. Tamely demobilising would demonstrate to Gen. Musharraf that India has no stomach for a decisive confrontation and that it is prepared to bleed from cross-border terrorism than risk the escalation of military tensions with Pakistan. It would demoralise the armed forces and open India to a perpetual threat of cross-border terrorism.

The second option is to maintain the military mobilisation in a passive manner. This typically Indian "do-nothing-for-the-moment" strategy will have many attractions for the policy makers in New Delhi. It would postpone the decision to confront Pakistan on cross-border terrorism and avoid diplomatic complications abroad and would put India in tune with the major powers which would call for restraint.

The orientation of Indian forces would be defensive and aimed at giving limited protection to the political process in Kashmir. The Indian threat to go to war would steadily diminish and the Indian strategy after December 13 would end in a whimper. By stretching out the process of demobilisation it could limit the political costs at home but would have achieved none of the political objectives that led to the military mobilisation in the first place.

The only credible option for India is to simultaneously signal its readiness to go to war to end cross-border terrorism and a willingness to seriously negotiate on Kashmir in an atmosphere free from violence. On the military side, it would involve moving the forces towards a more offensive posture that would demonstrate the capacity to escalate the confrontation at a moment of its choosing. On the diplomatic front, it would involve an intense effort to mobilise international support behind its demand that Gen. Musharraf implement the promises he made on January 12.

India also needs to point to the prospects for a reviving the dialogue with Pakistan that ended inconclusively at Agra the moment there is evidence on the ground that cross-border terrorism has ended. It should convey its willingness to engage Pakistan in a substantive, time-bound dialogue on resolving the Kashmir dispute in an atmosphere free from terrorism.

The creation of credible arrangements — such as a joint patrolling by the two militaries — to monitor and prevent cross-border infiltration would provide the assurance that Pakistan would not use cross-border terrorism to influence negotiations when they begin. But without a credible threat to go to war, it is unlikely that Indian diplomacy will succeed. And if Pakistan does respond by ending cross-border terrorism, the current dismal situation in the subcontinent could turn out to be a huge opportunity for transforming India-Pakistan relations.

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