August 1999 News


Kargil was Pakistan's biggest blunder

5 August 1999
The Asian Age
By: Benazir Bhutto

For nearly three months the Kargil conflict threatened South Asia with the prospect of the first nuclear war since Hiroshima. The Nawaz regime in Pakistan had made it clear that, if necessary, it would not hesitate to use its recently acquired nuclear power in the vent of an all-out war.

Such a dangerous conflict ended as it began: shrouded in confusion. While the Pakistani premier announced in Washington that he would ensure the withdrawal of Pakistanis from across the Line of Control, his official spokesman had another story to tell in the country's capital. But nothing could conceal the truth: Kargil had been Pakistan's biggest blunder. The country had lost its eastern wing in 1971 in the face of Indian aggression. That defeat could be passed onto the Indians. But the regime in Pakistan alone was responsible for the Kargil blunder.

In the snow-clad mountains, Pakistani-backed men took up positions they had no hope to keep. Pakistan was made to retreat from the mountain tops in disgrace when it found itself internationally isolated and blamed for the conflict. Instead of announcing the withdrawal from Islamabad in an attempt to keep the country's dignity, the Prime Minister trotted off to see the US President and "take dictation" from Washington.

The Indian government, which outsmarted, outmanoeuvred and outflanked the Pakistani leadership at every level, is crowing from the rooftops. The election prospects of the BJP have received an enormous boost. The Pakistani people, who were told they were winning the war, are bewildered an humiliated. The Indians are basking in the accolades the international community is bestowing upon them. They are hoping that "the maturity and restraint," which earned them world praise, will also mitigate opposition to their bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

Shock makes it difficult for the Pakistani people to accept that the regime so thoroughly eroded the credibility of the Kashmiri struggle and Pakistan's backing of it. Pakistan's vehement denials of involvement, beyond moral support to the mujahideen, in the Kargil conflict, has been torn to shreds internationally. There are some who believe that the Kashmiri cause has been irreparably damaged.

The Pakistan regime has claimed victory. It claims to have established that it values peace and has won the respect of the international community by having the courage to finally withdraw. It interprets the Washington agreement as evidence of the internationalisation of the Kashmir issue. Securing the interest of President Clinton is no "small thing," maintains Nawaz Sharif.

This interpretation is widely perceived as an attempt to "spin-doctor" a disaster into a triumph.

However, no matter how monumental the Kargil blunder, the euphoria in India and the humiliation in Pakistan, the reality of the Kashmiri struggle remains. The hard fact is that the alienation of the Kashmiri people has triggered three conflicts, including a potential nuclear conflict. Despite the Washington agreement,the Pakistani withdrawal and the Indian triumph, the Kashmir dispute poses a threat to peace and stability in South Asia.

The cost for suppressing the Kashmiri people continues to rise for India. Politically, it damages the country's standing in the international community. Militarily, it calls for repeated increases in levels of force, to contain the Kashmiri people. After Kargil, the Indian Armed Forces need for permanent deployment of forces along the Line of Control rises. Financially, the burden increases. Each piece of bread for an Indian soldier costs between Rs 50 and Rs 60 in the high snow-bound mountains. Deaths from frostbite and cold exceed those in actual combat by a ratio of five to one. The Indian Army will be strained in guarding the Line of Control,coping with "insurgency" in Indian occupied Kashmir and fulfilling its anti-insurgency responsibilities in northeastern India.

In the current euphoria, the additional resources demanded by the armed forces will be readily available; the difficulties will come later. Without the Cold War largesse provided by the former Soviet Union, the Indian economy will find it increasingly difficult to bear the cost - as difficult as the Pakistani economy is finding itself in the absence of billion of dollars from the West when it was an ally of the free world.

No matter how much praise Indian "restraint" may have received, in the ultimate analysis, denying self-determination to the Kashmiri people can back-fire. Can a world that effectively took stern action against Serb atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo remain indifferent to Kashmir? Reality dictates otherwise.

The Indians will say that insurgency is entirely Kargil has proved their point. Yet reports in the Western press about the fervor of the Kashmiris and the in Azad Kashmir and the frustration of villagers in Indian occupied Kashmir give a different picture. Some analysts discard the comparisons with Kosovo because Kashmir is in a Asia, not in Europe. Perhaps so. But there can be no diminution of attention when there is a problem in a newly nuclearised South Asia. When concerns about global peace and security combine with concerns about gross violations of human rights, they demand attention.

True progress in South Asia will depend largely on the ability of the two nations to build a harmonious relationship based on satisfying the sentiments of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference which represents the Kashmiri people. This may be difficult in the present circumstances. The Indian people, who warmly greeted their Prime Minister when he went on a bus journey to Pakistan extending the olive branch, feel deeply disillusioned. Their sense of betrayal has been compounded by the long line of coffins returning from the frontline during the Kargil operation. The policy of the Nawaz regime to make money through trade with India while preparing a military action against it has hurt Pakistan's negotiating position. It has also played into the hands of Indian hardliners who never wanted peace.

But peace is necessary for the Kashmiris, the people of South Asia and for the larger world community. India and Pakistan will find it difficult to benefit from the many opportunities offered by the new world of global finance unless the region can promise stability. That stability and the promise of a better future have, in the short term, been lost.

But while the credibility of the present Pakistani regime has been undermined by its duplicitous policies, the prospects of sub-continental peace will pick up under a new leadership. Indian maturity, lauded during the Kargil blunder, will meet its true test in the quest for a permanent and just peace.

Benazir Bhutto is a former Prime Minister of Pakistan and is the leader of the Pakistan People's Party.
By arrangement with Dawn

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