25 January 2000
To say that the Pakistani bid to seize an Indian post on the Line of Control on Saturday has come as a surprise would be overstating matters. It can safely be declared, however, that the brazen aggression in Jammu's Akhnoor sector confirms the worst fears harboured in India about Pakistan's post-Kandahar intent to modulate tension in the region to an ever-dangerous high. Admittedly, this is just the latest in half-a-dozen attempted incursions by Pakistani troops after their retreat from the Kargil sector last summer. Yet, given the confrontationist statements by Pakistan's chief executive Pervez Musharraf published in The Nation just a day later, it assumes ominous significance. Interestingly, Akhnoor is merely a hop, skip and a jump away from the international border, on which the general had so famously sworn to pull back his troops after he overthrew the Nawaz Sharif government in October.
Musharraf has of late made it a point to reiterate his desire that the two countries address the Kashmir issue, a very wise and very noble sentiment. But if only he would initiate a gesture to evidence his sincerity. If only he would offer some proof that these statements are not just meant to placate an indulgent US administration seeking such token reassurances to rationalise a continued strategic partnership with Islamabad. For, instead of following up this demand with progress towards fostering a more cordial atmosphere by de-escalating tension, the general and his troops have resorted to aggression both vocal and military to snuff out any possibility of dialogue. Instead of fostering confidence-building measures, they make no secret of their intention to secure Kashmir's status as regional flashpoint. Instead of matching his words with a deed or two, Musharraf has been holding forth on teaching the Indian's ``a lesson''. In the process, he has let slip through more indications of his active support forterrorism in the Valley, if any proof were in fact still required.
Referring to his argument for Indo-Pak reciprocity during talks with visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, the chief executive said his argument was along the line, ``If there is reduction of (Indian) troops in Kashmir, we will request the Mujahideen.''
All this has two serious implications. One, it means that India can expect no let-up in cross-border terrorism and in frenzied firing from across the Line of Control. For all the triumphalism that still echoes after the successful operation to regain the Kargil heights, the security forces will have to maintain an unblinking vigil to ward off intrusions in inhospitable terrain, to seize propaganda material and counterfeit currency that are being smuggled in increasing quantities and to anticipate suicide attacks on security installations. The Centre has already made a welcome start in formulating a more pro-active policy. It must now implement it forthwith.
Two, it also means that New Delhi can no longer count on Washington to use its considerable leverage to temper Islamabad's aggression. For, Musharraf has effectively demonstrated his skill at using nuclear blackmail to guarantee American engagement with his regime.