How A Matured Democracy Responds

How A Matured Democracy Responds
December 2001

The ‘Attack’, as the British Foreign Secretary was quick to say was “on the ‘Heart’ of Indian Democracy.” It was also an attack against democracy itself and the lofty principles that it sets out to defend. For there can not be a better test for the endurance of democratic traditions as the perpetrators of this dastardly and daring crime thought it out to be. The sentiment was echoed in the commiserations that followed from the British Prime Minister, “this attack on the heart of Indian democracy is to be totally deplored. My sympathies go to the victims and their families and to Prime Minister Vajpayee as he leads his country at this difficult time. Terrorism achieves nothing. It only causes pain and heartache for everyone involved. Indian democracy has shown its strength and resilience over the years, and I am confident it will do so again despite this appalling attack1.” Similar messages of outright condemnation poured in from across the globe, notably from President Bush and President Putin2. The modern age’s symbol of solidarity, the European Union condemned the attack and pledged its support to India’s fight against terrorism which threatens democracy and human rights. “The European Parliament vehemently condemns the violent terrorist attack against the Parliament of the Republic of India. It expresses indignation that this attack was directed against the very institution that represents democracy and the rule of law, the 15-nation grouping said in a declaration. It deplored the loss of human lives and expressed “solidarity and support to the Republic of India in its fight against terrorism, which constitutes a threat to mutually shared values of democracy and respect for human rights.”3 The sympathy also came with words of caution. The Russian President sought to discourage New Delhi from launching any retaliatory strikes at Pakistan in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament4. The World wisdom was equally quick to sense in the implications of the act and any lack of patience specially on the part of New Delhi. The government has a duty to respond, make itself accountable to its constituency and take steps to ensure that such acts are never repeated again. All these fall well within the realms of a country’s right of self defence and there can not be any denying that right to India, especially as the international community is in war against terror in India’s immediate neighborhood. But the equations were different here, even distorted, the logistics vastly changed and players are almost faceless. The war against the Taliban and Osama’s Al Qaeda having reached a decisive phase, there was much reluctance to openly castigate Islamabad as New Delhi might have expected. Any engagement with India would force Pakistan to withdraw its troops that it stationed on its Afghan border to prevent the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces escaping into Pakistan. The sub-continental engagements have also the potential to blow out as full scale wars and may even result in a nuclear flash-point given the depth of hatred the adversaries have nurtured against each other. Besides an armed engagement would have served the purpose of the terrorist well. Under pressure, due to the world attention and demolition of supply lines- monetary as well as logistics, training camps and networks, there is now a sense of desperation in the rank and file. If nothing else, they would succeed in internationalizing the Kashmir issue if a full-scale war breaks out which is bound to attract world intervention in some form or other. Thus what was expected of India was a sense of resolution with a fair dose of pragmatism shorn of equivocation and nostalgia5.

How does a country reacts to the suggestion that the attack could have been stage-managed by the Indian government to divert attention from “internal problems” and to defame the “freedom struggle” in Kashmir with the Press Secretary to the Pakistan President telling a section of the media (the ‘News Night’ program on the State-run Pakistan Television) that Islamabad was expecting some “such drama by the Indian Government after its total isolation from the international community” in the wake of the September 11 attacks in America6? New Delhi, of-course was quick to dismiss the allegations. “We do not want to dignify these wild allegations with a reaction,” official sources said, adding that “it is time Pakistan stopped tilting at the windmills.7” Thus it made tremendous sense for New Delhi to embark on a course of diplomatic offensive. The global community still lacks the sensitivity for India’s enormous concerns about the terrorist threats to its democratic and secular culture. India lags far behind Pakistan for the propaganda stakes (in a robust sense of the term) on the international stage. The world needs to know that the Kashmir issue, which has a definitive history peculiar to the ethos of India and Pakistan, cannot be equated with the Palestine question which, in a basic sense, is related to the political displacement of an entire civil society. … a substantive element of strategic restraint is already inherent in the nuclear deterrence that both India and Pakistan possess. And it can not be ignored that a heightened terror-specific war with “hot pursuit” and cross border attacks carries with it the danger of turning into a full-scale war with Pakistan8.

An example of how a proactive diplomacy can be more potent would for India to argue that if Pakistan cannot control terrorist infiltrators crossing over the line of control, it should not stop India from attacking them even if that entails action across that line. Having supported the US right to bomb Afghanistan in pursuit of terrorists, Pakistan will now be in a difficult position to deal with India’s reaction. Just as the US rejected demands for evidence against Osama bin Laden, saying its intelligence reports were enough, India will identify its target of retaliation on the basis of its own intelligence. Both India and Pakistan could avoid a confrontation by cooperating in the anti-terrorist effort9. It is just not enough for Pakistan to stop at telling India that it is prepared to take steps if given sufficient proof or demanding that it must be involved in a joint probe. “If any evidence is found in the inquiry about the involvement of any individual or group from our soil, Pakistan will initiate action10,” India on its own can keep on with a sustained diplomatic offensive without making much ado about Kashmir being an integral part of India. India can be honest with itself by admitting that Kashmir is the central issue both for India and Pakistan. India then can ask Pakistan to vacate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and withdraw its forces from the region before any initiative, plebiscite, self-determination or otherwise can be thought about11. It must be remembered that since Pokhran and Chagai Hills, the strategic compulsions of waging a conventional war between the two neighbors have changed considerably. This makes it more incumbent upon the respective governments to work out a plan for safe and secure custody of these weapons of mass destruction, devise failsafe command and control systems to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used12.

India Prime Minister wanted to keep all options open asserting that India had exercised much restraint and that diplomatic initiatives were being explored. “Other options are also open. Whatever course of action we decide upon, it will be well-considered and thought-out. It will not be the decision of the ruling party alone, it will reflect national consensus. It will be the national decision13.” The Indo-Pak relations having stood sandwiched between war and peace, Pakistan’s response is what keeps the key, use of force or negotiation on all outstanding issues – including on Jammu and Kashmir and nuclear confidence and peace14.

Nuclear wars can’t be won and mustn’t be fought. India committed a grave blunder by crossing the Nuclear Rubicon in 1998. It further compounded the mistake by indulging in reckless nuclear threat-mongering during and after Kargil. It must now reverse the damage it inflicted on its own security in going down the slippery nuclear slope. Why war is no option15. Thus there is no option for both except taking the diplomatic route, an option which India has always been better at than Pakistan, and break the familiar clutching at each other’s throats16. Even the opposition in India, while pledging to stand by the government also sounded a word of caution urging the government to “hasten slowly” in chalking out a retaliatory response17.

Besides, there appeared to be no scope for either country’s foreign policy to carve an eminently possible middle ground. Pakistan’s congenital paranoia prevents it from engaging India in a constructive language, and New Delhi find itself paralyzed in an impotent rage. It is time for India to act on the premise that hard decisions need not travel to the battlefield, that there are ways of hitting Pakistan where it hurts most18. One point military option comes with risks and costs. There are also whole range of other options and leverages available to India in the economic, political and societal arenas that are potentially as and perhaps more effective than the military ones19. For example India can breach Indus water Treaty and open the slush gates located at the bottom of the 690 MW Salal Hydel Project on the Chenab river. Located some 20 km from the Indo-Pakistan border, this would result in the release of water and silt collected behind the dam, damage crops and flood thousands of hectares downstream of the Chenab in Pakistani territory20. Then India can also withdraw the ‘most favored nation’ (MFN) status from Pakistan. This will give India the flexibility to impose both quantitative restrictions and penal tariff on imports from Pakistan which will have adverse impact on bilateral trade relations21. By every reckoning, the political-diplomatic or the military-economic parameters, it is in India’s self-interest to explore ways of resolving the present crisis without allowing an adventurist outlook or even a siege mentality to dictate the policy options needed to counter the terrorist threat from outside. New Delhi must fully jettison its historical baggage of backward-looking perceptions about Pakistan, its genesis and evolution and try to capture the clarity and creativity required to address the real issue, terrorism. It is to be understood that neither Islamabad nor New Delhi can realistically force a decisive military victory at this time, the better it will be for India’s future that must not be trifled with22.

In this context the role of civil society organizations, citizen’s groups, people committed to strengthening people-to-people relations across South Asian borders network of women against war etc assumes significance. As the mobilization and muscle flexing on the border grows in intensity each hour. the initiative need to be wrested from the state through counter-mobilization of sorts23. The seemingly incremental diplomatic offensive has threatened the already fragile system of people-to-people contacts across the India-Pakistan psychological divide. The potential tragedy goes beyond the conspicuous disruption of all direct transportation links between India and Pakistan. These are at best retrograde steps and obviously counterproductive24. Indian Home Minister however did not see the diplomatic offensive as a precursor to a war with that country, rather it was a part of India’s decisive war with terrorism, and it is not against one person, one organization or country, but was against the mindset which crops up from fundamentalism and spread by those who do not hesitate in killing innocents25.

If war breaks out, the considered opinion is that India has more to loose than Pakistan because of both the vulnerability of targets and the setback its economy is bound to suffer. Besides, world opinion led inevitably by the US, will be overwhelmingly against India. And this is not counting the possibilities and consequences of a nuclear engagement. With India enjoying a strong advantage over Pakistan in both conventional and nuclear weapons, giving it an edge in its current confrontation it becomes more destabilizing for Islamabad which then could retaliate with a nuclear strike26.

International Response:

US Secretary of State Colin Powell urged New Delhi on Sunday to be cautious in using its “right of self-defence” urging both sides to cooperate in seeking to defuse what could otherwise become a very dangerous situation27. India clearly had a legitimate right to self-defence “but I think we have to be very careful on this because, if in the exercise of that right of self-defence, states are going to be at each other, it might create a much more difficult situation which could spiral out of control28.” The Bush administration said it expected India to take “appropriate action” in response to the terrorist attack on Parliament after determining responsibility for the “horrible acts”. Though it stopped short of endorsing retaliatory military strikes, it indicated that Washington will have no problem with New Delhi acting on results of its investigations29. The United States expected India and Pakistan to make common cause against the scourge of terrorism and not fight each other. Bush was of the view that both India and Pakistan should fight the terrorists who are trying to destabilize the region. “They have a common cause against terrorist enemies. This is not a reason for India and Pakistan to take action against each other. This is a time for India and Pakistan to take action against the terrorists30.” It urged both sides “to share information, work with each other, and take no action that would in any way hinder the war against terrorism, to which both India and Pakistan have committed themselves… “The President counsels that this is a very difficult situation in the region and one that could spiral out of control31.”
This line of counseling though sound acts of real politics can also border on the verge of being hypocratic, if Washington is to continue to accord moral equivalence to Musharraf and his counterparts in India. Washington’s betrayal: It’s blurring the line between realpolitics and hypocrisy32. Thus there was a legitimate expectation from New Delhi that the US administration would do something more than asking Islamabad to control terrorist activities in the country. Islamabad, Washington expected has an obligation to work against extremist groups operating out of its soil. “United States opposes terrorism everywhere. And, as the global campaign continues, all those who support that effort (should) assist India as India deals with that problem33.”

But by deciding to personally announce the decision to freeze the terrorists assets in a speech on the 100th day of his country’s war against terror, President Bush clearly intended to convey his appreciation of India’s outrage over the spate of terrorist attacks that culminated in the attack on Parliament House. For all the semantic somersaults in his statement, he indicated that an American administration has finally got a grip on the dynamics of the terrorist violence34. This followed the US’s call to Pakistan to take action against the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT) and other terrorist organisations operating from its soil35.

France was satisfied with evidence provided by India about the involvement of two Pakistan-backed terror groups in the attack. “We have no doubts that the people involved (in the December 13 strike) were from the two movements (identified by the Indian government),” Bernard de Montferrand, the French envoy to India, told. His reference was to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which were blamed by New Delhi for the terrorist strike that killed 14 people including all five attackers36. The G-8 Foreign Ministers also strongly condemned the December 13 attack and called on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist outfits operating from its soil. Stepping up diplomatic efforts to drum up support for India’s stance, Russia has got the Foreign Ministers of the Group of Eight countries to adopt a joint statement which urged Pakistan “to arrest, try and severely punish” the terrorist leaders. The Ministers voiced “serious concern” over the buildup of tension between India and Pakistan and voiced the hope that the two countries “avoid escalation, resume political dialogue in the spirit of the Lahore Declaration and join their efforts in combating the global threat of terrorism37.” The American media, while being largely supportive of the Indian position on Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism, wanted the United States to play a more active role in defusing the current tension in the subcontinent. Islamabad’s nexus with the anti-terror groups is now being sufficiently recognized in opinion pieces in influential journals. As The New York Times put it on Wednesday, there is “every reason to believe that Pakistani military and intelligence forces encourage and even direct these (terrorist) groups, just as Pakistan aided the Taliban and Osama bin Laden before September 11.”A series of opinion pieces in recent days have exposed the Pakistani connivance with the terror groups and generally cautioned the US policymakers not to miss the big picture38.

China was for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute and favored direct talks between India and Pakistan. “The best way to solve the issue is for the two sides to discuss the issue themselves” and “China will help relaxation of tensions and improvement of relations between India and Pakistan, “but the key to the question is for the two countries to solve their dispute in a peaceful manner39.”

Under tremendous international pressure, particularly the United States, Gen. Musharraf started giving sufficient indications that his Government was moving against the militant elements with an intention to eradicate terrorism from Pakistan40.

This makes a very big case for India to tread the path of peace, and seek to acquire a moral stature by adopting a level-headed stance of statesmanship. It can then leverage it to its advantage to bring round Afghanistan and the global coalition to asking Pakistan to lay off41.

1The Asian Age 14 December 2001

2The Hindu 14 December 2001

3PTI Hindustan Times 15 December 2001

4Vladimir Radyuhin The Hindu 16 December 2001.

5Ajoy Bagchi The Pioneer 21 December 2001

6The Hindu 15 December 2001

7The Hindu 16 December 2001

8Editorial The Hindu 17 December 2001

9Husain Haqqani The Indian Express 15 December 2001

10The Hindu 17 December 2001

11Rasheeda Bhagat Business Line 19 December 2001

12Ashok Kapur; Hindustan Times 19 December 2001

13The Hindu 20 December 2001

14C. Raja Mohan; The Hindu 20 December 2001

15Praful Bidwai ; Hindustan Times 20 December 2001

16Husain Huqqani ; The Indian Express 20 December 2001

17The Hindu 19 December 2001

18The tough, not the rough, road; Shobori Ganguli; The Pioneer 23 December 2001

19V. R. Raghavan; The Hindu 25 December 2001

20Parul Chandra; The Times of India 27 December 2001

21Sushma Ramachandran; The Hindu 27 December 2001

22Editorial; The Hindu 27 December 2001

23Shail Mayaram; The Hindu 27 December 2001

24Editorial; The Hindu 29 December 2001

25The Hindu; 29 December 2001

26The Asian Age 30 December 2001

27AFP. Hindustan Times 17 December 2001

28PTI The Hindu 17 December 2001

29Chidanand Rajghatta; The Times of India 16 December 2001

30PTI: Hindustan Times 19 December 2001

31PTI : The Hindu 19 December 2001

32Editorial; The Indian Express 19 December 2001

33White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer reported in The Hindu 20 December 2001

34Editorial; The Indian Express 24 December 2001

35AFP, PTI: The Hindu 23 December 2001

36IANS: Hindustan Times 23 December 2001

37Vladimir Radyuhin; The Hindu 29 December 2001

38S Rajagopalan; Hindustan Times 27 December 2001

39PTI: The Hindu 22 December 2001

40The Hindu 31 December 2001

41B. S. Raghavan Business Line 28 December 2001
Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya