India must keep all options open except military action

RAJINDER PURI opines that in the atmosphere of Indo-Pak jingoistic talk India should categorically state that all options except military action will be considered.

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RAJINDER PURI opines that in the atmosphere of Indo-Pak jingoistic talk India should categorically state that all options except military action will be considered.

Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee warned Pakistan that if it did not cooperate in probing terrorism India would consider all options. Simultaneously US Intelligence reported that India was fast losing patience and could resort to precision aerial strikes. Was this a joint US-Indo move to pressure Pakistan? One hopes not. India should categorically state that all options except military action will be considered. However positive American intentions towards India might be,its judgment is suspect. It would be stupid to blindly accept advice from a nation that has demonstrably failed to protect its own national interests.

All military initiatives should be ruled out because Pakistan’s somersault on alleged Indian air violations and the fact that Pakistan airplanes are flying close to the Indian border indicate that Pakistan’s army is spoiling for a fight. There is a much more sinister aspect to be considered. When Mr Inder Gujral was Prime Minister Pakistani sources told him that if ever their nation’s survival was threatened the army would use nuclear weapons.

Consider the aftermath of even a small nuclear strike by Pakistan. Regardless of its final result, regardless of Pakistan’s eventual destruction, the future of India for the next several decades would be sealed. India would be viewed as a banana republic with nuclear weapons. Few global tears would be shed over the death of South Asians. The incident would be seized by the big powers to enforce nuclear disarmament on the rest of the world. The balance of power in Asia would alter dramatically to pave the way for India’s rivals to achieve unchallenged supremacy in the region. And finally, consider this chilling possibility: if suicide bombers can be programmed to invite self destruction in the pursuit of crazy goals, so can suicide army generals.

Does that mean India should do nothing? It does not. India can achieve today in South Asia what America cannot. It can stabilize the region. But to do that, India’s leaders would have to summon a broad vision. They would have to exploit their empathy with all the peoples of South Asia, which is denied to most Americans. Indian leaders have displayed little vision or empathy so far. Nor have they confronted reality.

On December 4 the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, urged in Beijing that India and Pakistan should avoid tension created by terrorism. He warned that if America got drawn into the dispute it would be difficult for China to remain neutral. Ah, so providing nukes and missiles to Pakistan and claiming Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese is Beijing’s notion of beneficent neutrality! Was it to perpetuate such neutrality that India conducted joint military exercises with China’s army on Indian soil very recently?

On December 10 in the UN Security Council debate on the Mumbai terror Pakistan traced its cause to the unresolved Kashmir issue. In the same debate China echoed Pakistan and called for addressing `the root causes of terrorism’.

China’s suggestion is excellent. It deserves implementation. China, like Pakistan, claims that it is a victim of terrorism. The main terror spots in the region are Tibet, Xingjian, Sri Lanka’s Tamil region, India’s northeast, Pakistan’s NWFP and Baluchistan, and Afghanistan. China should address the root causes of terrorism in Tibet and Xingjian. Pakistan should address them in Baluchistan and NWFP. Both nations should find out what the people in those trouble-spots want. India is already seeking answers from separatists in Kashmir and in its Northeast states.

Currently the key trouble-spot of course is the area across Pakistan and Afghanistan that is occupied by the Pashto-speaking Pathans. That is where NATO and Pakistani forces are deployed. That is where Taliban is strong. Clearly neither force is tackling the root cause of terrorism. Both use only military strength. The first task is to separate the Taliban from Al Qaeda. This is possible. America stupidly rejected Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s response to the US demand for handing over Osama bin Laden immediately after 9/11. The Taliban said it was prepared to hand over Osama to any third country for an open trial by the world court. But its code of honour precluded handing over a guest to his enemy. When this was said Osama had recently married Mullah Omar’s daughter. And yet the Taliban was prepared to surrender him to foreign powers. Does this not indicate that if the Taliban’s own interests are protected it would consider Al Qaeda expendable? In any case today Osama is reportedly in poor health. The Al Qaeda could be dumped by the Taliban even more easily. America stupidly rejected the Taliban offer made in 2001. The threads of that offer should once again be picked up. So who can talk with Taliban to discover the root cause of its terrorism, as China suggests? Well, India can.

Reportedly there are more Pathans in India than in their homeland, Afghanistan. The Indian Pathans will hold a grand assembly, the traditional Pashtun jirga, in Lucknow in February. That will be in preparation for starting a peace dialogue with the Taliban. The unimplemented Durand Line Treaty ceded Pakistani territory to Afghanistan. It will doubtless be reappraised in the Indo-Taliban peace talks while seeking the root cause of Pashtun terrorism. Clearly a people who have defied peace and foreign rule for 150 years will not rest till they can realize unity and legitimized self-governance for asserting their ethnic and cultural identity. That would require the Pashto- speaking Pathans of NWFP in Pakistan to join up with their tribal brothers in contiguous Afghanistan. If this is to be achieved without altering international borders it can only be done by the creation of some kind of Afghan-Pakistan confederation. The same principle would extend to Kashmir and other trouble spots that destabilize Pakistan. Like Israel, Pakistan is an artificially created nation state. Like Israel, it deserves to survive as one. But it can do so only as the member of a South Asian Union that reflects the region’scultural nationalism without sacrificing the sovereign identities of its member nations. India can help achieve this. But Pakistan must cooperate.