Diplomacy Columns

Shy of fighting causes

An Army jawan stationed outside a camp in Baramulla district in north Kashmir. Photo: Nissar Ahmad   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD -

Our foreign policy is entering an age of neologisms. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar recently introduced a new wrinkle in our strategic posture by reportedly telling members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs that there was a “politico-military” message in the September 29 surgical strikes. It appears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has amplified that message by comparing the strike with Israel’s military exploits which have gained the status of myth, such as the country’s bombing of Osirak in 1981 when eight F-16s dropped 16 two-tonne bombs on the nuclear reactor located south-east of Baghdad. The reactor had been provided by France and was barely three days away from going on stream.

The mission to scuttle Osirak had been planned for over a year — and was cleared by Menachem Begin, the Nobel Peace Prize nestled comfortably in his pocket — when Israel’s attempt to destroy the core of the reactor before it left the shores of France succeeded only partially, and after espionage, sabotage, and targeted killings of nearly a dozen nuclear scientists working on the programme failed to stop the construction and development of Osirak. Israel’s single-point agenda was to surgically destroy Iraq’s nuclear capability, thereby preventing it from ever becoming a threat. It was the mother of all surgical strikes, with a deterrent message. Folklore has it that so precise was the strike that the adjacent nuclear fuel complex was untouched after the attack, and so there was no risk of radiation deaths. And of the 11 dead, there was only one French casualty. So stunned were the Iraqis, at that time embroiled in an intermittent war with Iran, by the strike that not once on the flight back did their radars lock on to the F-16s, let alone fire at them. It was a Sunday, June 7, 1981. Twenty three days later was the election to the Knesset. No prizes for guessing who won. It was Begin Doctrine at work.

The host and the guest

The mention of Israel may have only been a passing reference to an audience of the Bharatiya Janata Party acolytes on whom the significance must have been largely lost. But there is no mistaking the import, aimed at the world at large, coming as it did snapping at the heels of China’s panegyric after the BRICS summit in Goa on Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. It was the equivalent of a host having to suffer the mortification of being lectured at the dinner table by a privileged guest. The throwaway nature of the remarks brings into question how much of this is innuendo, how much bluster, and how much doctrine. Will Mr. Modi order a covert operation to take out Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Masood Azhar, make bolder on pulling the Baloch chestnut out of the fire? What about Hafiz Saeed? How do we square this with the orchestrated campaign of the Hurriyat somehow being mollycoddled with government largesse?

Consider the trouble Prime Minister Modi had taken to set the scene even as China refused to budge on naming Azhar as a terrorist at the UN, and remained resolute on its opposition to India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In all his international engagements before the Goa summit, Mr. Modi had not only raised the flag of Pakistan’s role in terrorism but waved it furiously: at ASEAN, during his address to the G20, and at the UN, where India’s foreign minister raised it to a fever pitch. Chinese President Xi Jinping was no doubt taking notes when Mr. Modi spoke of the need to isolate and sanction Pakistan. At the UN, India described Pakistan as being in “the Ivy League of terrorism”; in Goa, Mr. Modi had promoted Pakistan up the evolutionary ladder of terrorism by calling it the “mother ship of terrorism”. As a concerned neighbour, should Mr. Modi be allowing Pakistan to evolve further? At this rate, we might run out of adjectives and copywriter’s phrases pretty soon. And what then? But it was evident when Mr. Xi arrived for the BRICS summit that New Delhi’s views on China’s all-weather friend had found no purchase with the “bitter neighbour” (Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s reference in a letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton) to the north which helped Pakistan become a covert nuclear weapon state and at the hands (cat’s paw would be more apt) of which India had suffered three aggressions in 50 years.

Consider, too, Mr. Modi’s strident declamations at Goa: “The time for condemning state-sponsored terrorism is long gone. It is time to stand up and act, and act decisively. It is, therefore, imperative for BRICS and BIMSTEC to create a comprehensive response to secure our societies against the perpetrators of terror.” Thus when Mr. Modi declared that “those who nurture, shelter and sponsor forces of violence and terror are as much a threat to us as terrorists themselves”, was he not killing two birds with one stone? It was as applicable to the Chinese as it was to the Pakistanis. There was not a squeak from New Delhi’s erstwhile friend, Russia, when all this was going on. What good is a declaration wherein BRICS nations arrange summit after summit where pledges are made to “consistently strengthen our co-operation in preventing and countering international terrorism” and yet stand so far apart from each other?

Claim and reality

The quality of strategic cooperation and dialogue on international security will be wobbly if key members of a grouping that have come together precisely because they feel that existing international groupings/mechanisms are incapable of addressing new realities are seen to be fighting shy of the very causes they say they are espousing.

There was no doubt that Israelis destroyed the reactor in Baghdad, even though they kept quiet about it for years afterwards. There were pictures, there were casualties that were acknowledged. There was condemnation of the act. It happened. That much is established. Just imagine what would have been the outcome, analysts wonder even today, had Saddam Hussein managed to go nuclear and then marched into Kuwait a decade later and hurled nuclear-tipped projectiles at Israel? Where our surgical strike is concerned, Pakistan denies it even happened. Between the claim and the reality falls a heavy shadow. The rest is political fog.

sudarshan.v@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 11:58:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Shy-of-fighting-causes/article16083444.ece

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