Asia-Pacific

Tensions Between India and Pakistan

India: Raising the Stakes

India's oldest paramilitary forces, the Assam Rifles, march in the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi, Jan. 26, 2002. India's annual Republic Day was shorn of the traditional show of military might as the country's troops, tanks, and guns remained on the Pakistani border (Photo: AFP).

No war is inevitable, it is said, until it breaks out. Even as war clouds loomed large over the Indian subcontinent and Mumbai’s hyperactive satta market [betting parlors] gave no money to those who bet that hostilities would break out between India and Pakistan, there was a pause in the warmongering last week. It was a much-needed halt as India’s diplomatic offensive began to pay some dividends.

As the two countries mobilized their offensive army formations, including medium-range missiles, tanks, and artillery, along the border, the United States, alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the situation, moved to reduce the tension. In its toughest talking yet on the attack on the Indian Parliament, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said America had decided to designate the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) and issued a stern warning to Pakistan to rein them in, or else. The decision among other things empowers the U.S. president to use “all necessary means” including military force to destroy the infrastructure of the organizations and isolate countries which provide support to them.

Powell put it more diplomatically when he said: “The United States looks forward to working with the governments of India and Pakistan to shut these groups down.” The U.S. move also rejected Pakistan’s long-held view that these outfits are involved in a “freedom struggle” in Jammu and Kashmir.
With America declaring whose side it is going to be on in the second round of the war on terrorism, Pakistan suddenly found the will to act against the groups. But India has been less than satisfied with the little it has done: frozen the assets of the two organizations and reportedly arrested JeM leader Maulana Masood Azhar. India is concerned that these two outfits have merely changed their names, shifted their headquarters to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), and handed the leadership mantle to PoK-based Kashmiri fundamentalists. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh was unusually blunt in his choice of words: “Pakistan is playing a joke. Its police arrested Maulana Masood Azhar’s brother instead of the terrorist. Now the Punjab Police says that it cannot find Azhar.”

Delhi would like Islamabad to demonstrate action against these jihadi groups on the ground. That includes a visible clampdown on recruitment of volunteers by these organizations, dismantling their training camps, and taking joint steps with the Indian army to put an end to infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir. India is also seeking details from Pakistan on how many accounts of the LeT and JeM Islamabad has frozen and the transactions carried out by these outfits.

India wants the two countries to jointly assess the significance of the action taken by Pakistan on the LeT and JeM. Since 1989, Delhi has given Pakistan evidence to show these terrorist groups were involved in the violence against India and the linkages these jihadis have with the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence. It has already shared evidence on the involvement of the LeT and JeM in the attack on Parliament with the United States, U.K., France, Britain, Russia, and prominent Arab world countries. The proof principally comprises a recording of the telephone call made by the attackers to Karachi before the attack on Parliament and a message appearing on the LeT Web site saying no group should claim responsibility for the incident. So far Delhi is still working on linking the attack on Parliament with the Pakistani establishment.

Other diplomatic options that Delhi intends exploring are withdrawal of the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status from Pakistan, and, as a final move, abrogating the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. The diplomatic establishment here is apparently opposing moves on MFN status and the Indus Treaty. They feel that these steps would be counterproductive in the long run and would harm India more than Pakistan.

Meanwhile, if the diplomatic offensive runs its course without much effect, India has indicated that it is ready for war. In perhaps the largest military mobilization since the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict, the Indian army has mined areas on the Punjab and Rajasthan borders and moved the short-range missile Prithvi to its operational locations. While the western fleet of the Indian navy has proceeded to its operational locations, its war plans are being fine-tuned to avoid U.S. aircraft carriers and warships that are still operating in the north Arabian Sea. The air force is already on high alert and has moved its air assets to Punjab and Rajasthan. “There is no reason to doubt India’s military preparedness,” says former Western Army Commander Lt. Gen. Vijay Oberoi.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has mobilized its defensive corps along its eastern borders and the Line of Control and deployed short- and medium-range Hatf I and II missiles. It has deployed the entire 60,000 troop-strong I Strike Corps—comprising two infantry divisions, one armored division, an independent armored brigade, and an artillery division—along the Jhelum-Chenab corridor. However, its Army Reserve South (ARS), essentially the Multan-based II Strike Corps, has still not crossed the Chenab River. It has an option of crossing the Chenab and moving north, east, or south. While movement toward the north would mean an attack on Punjab, mobilization toward the east and south would mean danger on the Rajasthan and Gujarat borders, respectively.

That the situation has reached the brink is indicated by the Indian government communicating last week the “W” signal, or warning, to the armed forces for full mobilization for war.
Diplomacy may be war by other means. Now even that option appears to be running out. The next step is declaring a D-day. Peacemakers are hoping it is not an inevitable step.

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