August 1999 News


A fatal miscalculation

6 August 1999
The Hindu
By: Amrik Singh

Two questions arise from the misadventure called Kargil. Why did Pakistan opt for it and what would be the long-range impact on its polity? The questions are somewhat interlinked, but, it is the latter which is more important. But the first question first. That Pakistan made a serious miscalculation in respect of Kargil and Dras are the underbelly of Jammu and Kashmir and what Pakistan did was to take advantage of India's lack of vigil. That our policy-makers at the military level did not take the vulnerability of the borders into account adequately enough speaks for itself.

The entire area where fighting has taken place is so uninhabited and so inaccessible that in the years to come there will be no choice except having a comprehensive system of satellite surveillance. Manpower is totally insufficient to keep guard over those high mountain hideouts. This means, like North Korea and Isreal, India will have to invest heavily in research on scientific surveillance.

Coming to the second issue, the focus will have to be on what happens in Pakistan. By repulsing the Kargil attack, India has helped release certain forces in Pakistan which can be put to effective use by those who wish to see Pakistan remain a South Asian country, rather than as an extension of the Middle East. That the democratic movement has been exceedingly weak in Pakistan is generally acknowledged. If feudalism continued to hold sway and if the army was in control for approximately half the period of its existence, it only goes to underline how difficult the democratic fight has been and how even more difficult it is going to be in the next few years. The only redeeming factor as of today is that the prestige of the army is not what it used to be. While the Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, accepted the proposal to do something in Kargil, the planning as also the initiative had come from the army but the political support was indubitably there. The whole thing, however, went haywire and there is both anger and discontent in that country.

The real issue, however, is whether this discontent can be given the right kind of thrust of not. The Opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Ms. Benazir Bhutto, during her two tenures, performed so poorly and is so thoroughly marginalised that perhaps what she stands for is neither on the main agenda of political action nor within the realm of possibility. This, therefore means that it is within the Pakistan Muslim League group which is behind Mr. Sharif that there will be rifts and convulsions. He may go out of office or may manage to stay on. If he stays on, the current confused state of affairs will prolong. Mr. Sharif was keen on the introduction of the Shariat law. It is he who accepted the proposition to intervene in Kargil and surrounding areas without having thought through the matter. However, it does not follow that Mr. Sharif will continue to function as he has been doing for some time. On the face of it, what has happened is a serious setback to him and the party which he leads. Some shifts in attitude and strategic adjustments are, therefore, unavoidable.

Some people, more in India than in Pakistan, are talking of a return to the Lahore spirit. But most of them will be unable to forget the loss of hundreds of lives in this totally avoidable confrontation. Despite all his claims, Mr. Sharif's international standing is far from favorable. Like several predecessors, he made a bid for Jammu and Kashmir in his bungling way. But it came unstuck. Therefore, he cannot escape the odium of being on the losing side. This will inhibit him from doing some of the things that he would have liked to do. In other words, the longer he stays in office, the more a liability he will become for Pakistan.

The basic issue, however, is whether the two-nation theory on the basis of which Pakistan was claimed to have been established will continue to hold or not. This theory led t two unfortunate consequence. The first is the repeated bids by a whole series of political leaders to somehow annex Jammu and Kashmir. President Ishaq Khan coined the phrase: "Kashmir represents the unfinished business of Partition."

This business is likely to remain unfinished. Kargil may wind up as a compromise, along the Line of Control (LoC). This is something that almost every single party in Pakistan has refused to accept. But events, as they are unfolding, might lead to that outcome.

The second unavoidable consequence of the two-nation theory is the growing Talibanisation of Pakistan. In the first phase, innocent youth were trained in 'madrasas' (religious schools) and given weapon training and let loose on Afghanistan when the erstwhile USSR invaded that country. Imbued with the 'jihad' spirit, they had a job to do and they did it well, Soon after, however, and this was the second phase, their attention was deflected towards the capture of power in Afghanistan. Talibanisation proved a lever of political mobilisation and they have now captured Afghanistan. Jammu and Kashmir, however, is a different proposition. The Taliban and other mujahideen cannot have their way there because the Indian army will not permit them to cross the LoC. The general feeling in Pakistan remains incomplete. This is a dilemma that country has to face.

The choice before Pakistan is simple. If things continue as they were before the attack on Kargil and it Talibanisation grows apace, Pakistan will be in deeper trouble than it is at present.

Three things have served to change the situation somewhat qualitatively. When the erstwhile Soviet Union was super-power, it in a moment of unalloyed stupidity, got embroiled in Afghanistan. Pakistan was central to the fight against the former. No wonder, it took full advantage of the situation.

Secondly, since the death of Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan has had a series of elections. Each of them has consolidated democracy. Feudalism, however, still continues to be strong. Nor can the situation in the Sind be described as fully under control. These negative factors have weakened the polity but the commitment to democracy has nonetheless continued to prevail. The army, however powerful, will find it difficult to play the kind of role it played in the past.

It is the third factor which has changed the parameters of the game. With both India and Pakistan having become nuclear powers, other countries cannot remain unconcerned when things hot up in the subcontinent. This factor made the G-8 take urgent notice of what was happening. Any breach of peace between India and Pakistan will unavoidably and immediately bring the international community into the picture.

This being so, a dispute which has remained unsettled for half a century will begin to simmer down further. Even in Pakistan where every political party swears by the unfinished business, parties will now begin to see merit in changing gear. This process will take time but the direction is clear - though not unmistakable.

No one in India can do anything to influence any of these factors. It is only for the people of Pakistan to recognise that they have got into a bind. Unless some rethinking is done in the matter, crises and confrontations will erupt every few years. That is not the way for these two poor countries to develop, if they are to take care of poverty, ignorance and disease.

India too will have to remodel its polity to quite an extent. One sees some evidence of the BJP coming to terms with the changing realities, painful though the learning process has been. In Pakistan, however, the problem is much more daunting. It has to acknowledge that the two-nation theory, which led to its establishment, might have been persuasive under one set of circumstances. By now, however, the whole thing has become a trap. Unless the Pakistan people get out of this trap, Talibanisation alone will grow.

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