Kargil: Lance the boil

1999

The Kargil war continues. But to the Indian army and defence forces, the trivial word "continues" signifies more than anything else, just one thing: more deaths. The Indian government is asking the country to brace itself for a prolonged battle, till September at the very earliest. Which means what? More Indian soldiers dying. Possibly tortured, their bodies grossly mutilated. As we all now know only too well, the Pakistanis are not above such barbarity.

President Bill Clinton and other G8 countries are reportedly putting pressure on Islamabad to pull back its soldiers. Even if Pakistan does so, what will this achieve? Sure, in the short term, we will have a peace of some sort. But what is to prevent Pakistan or its mujahideen partners from carrying out further raids in Indian territory in the future? One thing is certain: Whatever pressure foreign governments put on Pakistan, the solution will only be temporary.

So what's the answer? There is a school of thought which says that if India becomes an economic superpower and gets rid of its many ills - corruption and so forth, Pakistan will want to suck up to India rather than be its enemy. Although this sounds logical on the surface, there is no guaranteeing this will happen. You only have to look at Iranian and Iraqi antipathy to the US. Economic strength offers no protection against tin-pot dictatorships. Pakistan, for all its claims of democracy, is essentially an army controlled, theocratic, rabble-rousing, feudal tin-pot dictatorship.

The problem is that as Indians, for all our flaws, we still view all solutions from a democratic perspective. And Pakistan, for most of its life, has been anything but that. Solutions that would seem logical to us would seem totally irrational to them. Sometimes, dictators simply don't understand the language of peace - Slobodan Milosovic being a recent example. Unless you talk to them in the language of war, they simply don't listen.

So then, is war the only answer? One thing is clear. If we decide on a "low-key" war, India will have to prepare itself to lose many, many more of its soldiers in a long drawn out battle - not just months but years. And if India goes down this route, we can only hope that we won't become inured to the routine deaths of our soldiers, with the latest toll consigned to a small footnote sandwiched between a politician's inane speech and a film-star's latest publicity stunt.

The only other alternative is to lance the boil once and for all. No person in his right mind would want a full-scale war. Unfortunately, the Pakistan leadership knew that the "right minds" in India would not want to launch an all out war, which is why they could gamble on capturing Indian territory. This obviously put India in a difficult position. However, for the sake of our soldiers, the Indian government should allow them total freedom in battle, rather than tying their hands with instructions to fight only on the Indian side of the LOC. After all, how would you like it if you were fighting for your country and your life, and you were told that oh no, you can't cut off the enemy's supply lines but it's perfectly acceptable that they kill you like sitting ducks?

The Indian government argues that by staying within the Indian LOC, we prevent the battle from escalating, and further, it makes us look good in the eyes of international community. Try telling that to the families of the jawans who have died. Can you imagine the US government staying quiet if US soldiers are tortured and killed? A more likely reaction is that the offending country would be bombed into prehistoric existence. Why does the Indian government think an Indian soldier's life is worth any less? vAnd finally, as an editorial in India's Asian Age newspaper says: "We [Indians] are often told that the world is watching us. The time has come to say that we are also watching the world".

- Chetan Dhruve in London

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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