Minister said the other day that “we have learnt a lesson from
Kagil,” that we won’t let “such a situation arise again,” that “the supreme
sacrifice of our soldiers will not be allowed to go waste.” Ringing words
these. But do they ring true? Only time can tell. As of now the restraint
with which we combated the invasion and the magnanimity with which we
allowed the enemy to go home (and lay mines in the vacated areas) do not
encourage optimism. Nor does history.
The lesson from Kargil is a lesson we should have learnt in 1947 when
Pakistan first invaded us. Then as now, at the sacrifice of hundreds of our
soldiers, we had them on the run and by all accounts, would have reclaimed
the entire state if only we hadn’t rushed to a fraudulent court of justice
called the United Nations. This was to prove the mother of all our blunders
vis-a-vis this congenitally hostile neighbour.
That we learnt nothing from that war was proved when Pakistan did an encore
in 1965, and again six years later. On both occasions and especially in 1971
when we had them completely on their knees, we did not drive home the
advantage on the political plane. Instead, we returned to them on a platter
large areas including strategic points in Kashmir (along with more than
90,000 prisoners of war) and all in return for two predictably dubious
agreements, first at Tashkent and then at Simla.
These blunders were made by the Congress governments, but the underlying
infirmities in resolve and vision seem to afflict the entire political
spectrum. The non-Congress governments did nothing to repair the damage and,
in fact, it was under one such regime that Pakistan unleashed the so-called
proxy war in Kasmir, a war which has gone on for ten years and taken a toll
of 18,000 Indian lives. And now Kargil.
Even as our Prime Minister was sincerely bear-hugging a visibly reluctant
Nawaz Sharif at Wagah and we were applauding the “historic breakthrough”,
Pakistan was invading Kargil! The ink had not dried on the Lahore
declaration when Sharif threatened to exercise “some other option”. The
belligerent statement should have dented our unilateral euphoria but it
didn’t. While our politics ignored the intimidation, MEA put benign
construction on it, dismisssing the threat as merely aimed at “some fringe
elements in Pakistan.”
Not only did Pakistan actually thrust a war on us, it also decided when to
stop the fighting. That the latter decision had much to do with the lack of
overt support from its patrons abroad, particulary President Clinton, is
undeniable. But in our desire to celebrate this as a triumph of our
diplomacy, we must not underrate the decisive role played by the raw
courage, deep commitment and victories of our soldiers.
Four hundred young lives snuffed out. Scores disabled for life. At the end
of the day we have to ask ourselves: All this sacrifice for what? To throw
out the invader and recapture our land, yes - but is that all there should
be to it? Even when a bandit enters your house, you don’t merely throw him
out; you want to ensure that he is punished for his crime. Why should it be
different if the bandit is a country and a habitual offender, as Pakistan
is? In other words, the pertinent question is not whether we have learnt a
lesson from Kargil but whether we have taught a lesson to Pakistan. There is
little evidence that we have.
On the very day it began the withdrawal and we stopped “air action and use
of certain weapons so as not to impede the withdrawal” - in other words,
gave them safe passage - Pakistan continued heavy shelling from across the
LoC, felling more of our men. It has since stepped up terrorist killings in
the state, attacking even our army camps. According to an official
spokesman, “ISI and Pakistan army have lined up 2,000 terrorists to be
smuggled into J&K as a follow-up to the Kargil intrusion.” We let them off
the hook in Kargil and they are back at their bloody deeds in Kashmir.
Throughout the war we did and said things which were utterly uncalled for
and added up to confirming Pakistan’s (and the world’s perception of India
as a sponge state. Pakistan invades us and we publicly debate whether it is
the government or army or ISI or foreign mercenaries who are behind the
invasion. Our deep-set reluctance to call a spade a spade makes us describe
the blatant aggression variously as intrusion, incursion, war-like,
near-war. It is a planned invasion and occupation and Pakistan army’s
involvement is abundantly clear but we still call them infiltrators and
intruders. Pakistan’s “perfidy” notwithstanding, we let their foreign
minister come over for talks. Then we say ‘no talks till the aggression is
vacated’, and yet we receive another Pakistani emissary and send our own
there - secretly.
As the Indian army gets into action, Pakistan talks of a bigger war and of
using nuclear weapons, but our leaders are at pains to say ‘no, no we do not
want a bigger war.’ Given the facts, the world would have thought it would
have been the other way round! Pakistan says the LoC is not defined. Any
other country would have seized on this and gone on to destroy their bases
and camps in PoK, which in any case we claim as our territory. Instead, we
rush to produce the maps signed at Simla! They shoot down our plane and kill
the captured pilot in cold blood. All we do is to tell Pakistan that
murdering a PoW is against the Geneva convention - and an official spokesman
actually “appreciates the gesture” of Pakistan returning the body! A young
lieutenant and five jawans are fiendishly tortured to death. We are content
merely to call it “a barbaric act”. On our part, we wrap their dead in their
flag and bury them “with all respects.”
Yes we are not like them; we are a civilised people. But there is nothing
called a civilised war. It is a matter of killing the enemy before he kills
you, of avenging the killing of your comrades, of punishing those who attack
your country. More than ever before the people of India have genuinely
grieved with the families of the martyrs. Going by the innumerable surveys,
they are angry and fed up. They ask that we hit Pakistan so hard that it
gives up its devilish designs. The government’s reluctance to retalitate in
full measure and the Opposition’s petty and election-oriented politicking
altogether put the Indian people and army on one wave length and the
political and bureaucratic establishements on quite another.
Given the way we have handled the aftermath of India-Pakistan wars, one
sometimes wonders if we deserve the magnificiant army we have. Every great
performance of our jawans and young officers has been considerably nullified
by poor performance at the political and diplomatic levels. Is this because
“our govenments have been timid,” as former army chief VN Sharma says, or is
it “the victim syndrome” at play, as security analyst Brhma Chellaney says?
It is both and something more: an egregious mindset that seeks good-boy
certificates from the West, particularly from the US.
This mindset has to go. We must do things only and entirely in the interests
of the country, as our army does, and not be obessed with international
opinion. The time to get into the right gear is now. Even while maintaining
high vigil on the border, we must turn our guns on the terroristts in the
state. There should be no pussy-footing about this. Unfortunately but
typically our response to post-Kargil terrorism has been weak-kneed and
reactive - rather than pre-emptive and punitively retaliatory. We must
eliminate them (and their local collaborators), not by employing minimum
force as hitherto, but decisively by whatever means necessary.
We must also prepare to deal with a soon-to-emerge concerted western
“advice” to respond to Sharif’s calls for talks. Let us make no mistake. He
wants talks as a facade to impress the world even as ISI and the
military-mullah complex enlarge and intensify their machinations against us.
If history is not to repeat itself yet again, we should agree to talks on
three conditions: they must pay war reparations; they must hand over for
trial those who committed the destardly torture on our captured soldiers;
and they must at once cease and desist in Kashmir (and elsewhere in India).
Only when we secure these conditions can we claim not to have let the
sacrifice of our soldiers go waste.