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Sinha flies a kite


"Pre-emptive strikes" against Pakistan ... scoring a few points?

"IT was a casual, off-the-cuff remark," is the explanation given by the Government for Yashwant Sinha's "Pre-emptive Strike" speech. In other words, the government thinks that we shouldn't take our External Affairs Minister seriously. This isn't very flattering to Sinha besides being a public rap on the knuckles for our foreign minister.

Surely Yashwant Sinha deserves better. Because what appears to be an off-the-record, after-dinner, thinking-aloud aside which one would make in the presence of friends, may be a well thought-out trial balloon, floated to start a debate and score a few points.

To recap, Sinha said that the rationale for the United States' "pre-emptive strike" against Iraq applied equally to an Indian pre-emptive strike against Pakistan. Pakistan, like Iraq, is a sponsor of cross-border terrorism and also possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMD). As it happens, the war's rapid end has shown that Iraq did not have WMDs, besides which there is no real evidence that it supported terrorism on a large scale. Which would mean that the case for a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan is actually stronger than the case against Iraq.

That, surely, was the point Yashwant Sinha wanted to place before the U.S. and the rest of the world, rather than any real thought about an actual attack against our neighbours.

To start with, if you intend a pre-emptive strike, the first principle to observe is you don't talk about it; a pre-emptive strike must catch the enemy by surprise, and there's no surprise element if you are going to publicly debate the issue.

Then, of course, there are huge differences between the U.S.-Iraq situation and the India-Pakistan one. The U.S., as the world's only surviving super power, had an overwhelming superiority over Iraq in conventional forces, technology, armaments, weapons of mass destruction and anything else you can think of. India's superiority to Pakistan's conventional forces is only of the order of 1.2 to 1.0, whereas the nuclear stockpile of both countries is about the same. Pakistan may even have a better delivery system (missiles, etc) than ours.

There are other, rather large, differences. The U.S. can march into Iraq disregarding the United Nations without any fear of retribution or even censure. We won't be able to get away that easily in defying the U.N. charter.

Then there is the rather obvious lack of similarity between Saddam Hussein and Parvez Musharraf. Both may be dictators, but Saddam was a tyrant, and not even Pakistan's worst detractors can say that of its leader. The U.S. may not be very popular around the world for its aggression, but no one is mourning Saddam's ouster.

That's not all: Pakistan is an acknowledged American ally. It has been useful to the U.S. in the Afghanistan war and in the Iraq war, which is why the U.S. has given that country $1 billion debt relief and another $2.3 billion in rescheduled payments on favourable terms in spite of its known support of the North Korean nuclear programme and in spite of the fact that America's Enemy Number One, Osama bin Laden, may well be hiding in Pakistan.

Lastly, there is Pakistan's loudly proclaimed intention of using nuclear weapons at the slightest provocation. As we saw a few months ago when the world reacted adversely to an India-Pakistan stand-off, other countries do take these intentions seriously. Seriously enough to evacuate their nationals from here and advise all tourism to stop.

Was Yashwant Sinha not aware of all this? Of course he was. If he still talked about pre-emptive action, it was surely to provoke a reaction around the world and particularly in the U.S. State Department.

The reaction he wanted to provoke was simple: Pakistan is a near-terrorist state, he was saying between the lines, and the world — particularly the U.S. — better find a way of dealing with it.

That being the objective, Yashwant Sinha's sabre-rattling speech needs to be repeated at judicial intervals at different forums all over the world. Let people be shocked; the idea is to shock them into thinking the hitherto unthinkable: Iraq is not the only country which needs to be kept in check.

Anil Dharker is a noted journalist, media critic and writer.

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