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June 6, 2001

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G Parthasarathy

Internal security slips, but the red carpet is out

New Delhi is preparing to roll out the red carpet for General Parvez Musharraf. The havelis of Daryaganj are being spruced up. One would not be surprised if 'Karim's Restaurant' next to the Jama Masjid will be showcased as the producer of the best kebabs in the subcontinent, ready to take on the kebabwallahs of Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi as the producers of Mughalai culinary delights!!

We do, after all, now seem to believe that symbols are more important than substance. It is, therefore, not surprising that few people seem to be interested in the growing deterioration in the country's internal security situation. Our attentions seem to be more focused on issues like whether the artillery or the grenadiers should have the honour of presenting arms to the architect of Kargil.

Amidst all these lively developments one is still mystified as to what precisely caused the government to change its mind and do a policy u-turn on its approach to a dialogue with the Musharraf dispensation. With a friendly Bush administration in Washington, Indian diplomacy had for the first time succeeded in creating a situation where the heat was on Islamabad to cool its ardor for the causes of jehadis and not on Delhi to unconditionally talk to Islamabad. We were advised that one of the factors behind this turnaround was the Pakistani decision to observe "maximum restraint" along the Line of Control.

Imagine our surprise when this assertion was robustly contradicted in the Defence Ministry's Annual Report that asserted that Rawalpindi's pious references to "maximum restraint" were "self-serving". Those, in the armed forces who have served along the Line of Control will testify that prior to the Ramzan cease-fire Indian artillery was causing devastating damage in the Neelum Valley and elsewhere across the Line of Control. By proclaiming "maximum restraint" Islamabad rightly assumed that we would end this artillery fire even as it continued to support the infiltration of jehadis. Such a development would inevitably create a situation where we would continue to "bleed" even as Pakistan's soldiers slept peacefully in POK. Further, as the "maximum restraint" was to be observed on the Line of Control and not the international border, the Pakistan Rangers have had no inhibitions in targeting their counterparts and those involved in constructing a border fence on our side of the international border.

The prime minister himself has acknowledged that the Ramzan cease-fire did not have the desired results. It needs to be recalled that by May 1999 the security situation in the Kashmir valley had improved so much that for the first time in a decade tourists were visiting Srinagar and other resorts in large numbers. The militants were on the run. In the decade preceding these developments, the sustained operations of the security forces had resulted in the capture of nearly thirty thousand semi-automatic weapons, three million rounds of ammunition, over a hundred thousand explosive devices and hundreds of mortars, machine guns and rocket launchers. Those misguided Kashmiri youth who had taken to arms were becoming convinced that they were mere tools in the hands of the ISI and that pursuing the armed struggle was a futile endeavor.

With waning morale in Kashmiri outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen, Islamabad was forced to review its strategy and step up infiltration across the LOC of Pakistani jehadis from groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. What was earlier an armed struggle by disaffected Kashmir youth had become an ISI sponsored jehad conducted predominantly by Pakistani and some Afghan nationals. World opinion does not exactly favor such blatant use of religion to pursue political ends. A major factor inhibiting the militants was their realization that there were enough people in Jammu and Kashmir who would expose them to the security forces.

What has happened since the advent of the Ramzan cease-fire? While the ratio of security personnel and terrorists killed was 1:5 in the first ten years of Kashmir militancy, the security forces found that one of them had to die for every two militants killed during the cease-fire. This is an unacceptable kill ratio for any organized security force. Further, the militants have succeeded in targeting and instilling fear amongst intelligence assets, pro-government politicians like the members of the National Conference, special police officers and members of village defence committees. Separatist and avowedly pro-Pakistani groups like the Hurriyat Conference have been strengthened. Militants have now established secure bases in urban centers, with the population either contemptuous of the efficacy of the state apparatus, or realizing that they have no option but to toe the line of their jehadi "guests". It is not without significance that even people like Shabir Shah and G M Shah have their inhibitions and fears of dealing with K C Pant. There is after all, a virtual ISI ordained fatwah against all those who dare to welcome Pant's efforts.

Apart from the deterioration in the security situation in the valley, those living in and around the Jammu region are also apprehensive about recent developments. There are fears that there is now significant infiltration into the Jammu region also, with infiltrators setting up hideouts to create problems at a time and place of their choosing. These elements obviously have their eyes on lines of communication including the railways.

It would be na´ve to believe that Islamabad has given up its aims of stoking militancy and separatism in Punjab. Given the security precautions in Punjab, infiltration through Jammu presents a tempting alternative for the ISI to promote violence in Punjab. It is not without reason that the virulently anti-Indian former ISI Chief, General Javed Nasir has been retained by General Musharraf as head of a so-called "Gurudwara Prabhnadak Committee" in Lahore. Further, we should constantly remember that those charged as being responsible for the Bombay bomb blasts are today living in opulent comfort in places like Karachi.

The fact that the objective of the ISI is to destabilize and create problems for India throughout the country, was acknowledged by a former ISI chief in a conference last year in Islamabad. The attack on the Red Fort, the bomb explosions near the prime minister's office and the attempt to infiltrate into Ayodhya should all be seen in this context. Our porous borders with Nepal and Bangladesh will be used not only for such purposes but also to exploit our vulnerabilities in the Northeast. These were, after all, routes used by the Pakistani hijackers of IC-814.

The seriousness of the internal security situation should be evident from the fact that the otherwise soft spoken chief minister of West Bengal has spoken out about it for the first time publicly. There is no reason to believe that such activities will cease merely by rolling out the red carpet for General Musharraf. This is more so as influential Pakistanis and a wide cross-section of the Pak media have chosen to read both the cease-fire and the invitation to Musharraf as arising from Indian weakness and from international pressure.

Despite the foregoing, we need to constantly bear in mind that many of our security problems have been largely self-created. If the 1987 elections were perceived as being flawed by large sections of people in Kashmir, it was the competitive rivalry in exploiting communal sentiments in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh that led to communal tensions in these states -- tensions that Pakistan has relentlessly exploited. As both Punjab and Uttar Pradesh prepare to go to the polls with existing state governments being widely perceived as having under-performed, one can only hope that a sense of statesmanship will prevail over considerations of political expediency. One is intrigued at the kid glove treatment in Punjab being given to those who have in the past waged war and have been charged with sedition against the Indian Union.

There are forces outside India that are only too keen to exploit communal and caste divides in our society and body-politic. The strengthening of our secular and pluralistic democratic polity, together with sustained and accelerated economic growth combined with social justice, are the best answers to overcome the external challenges that we face to our internal security today.

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G Parthasarathy

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