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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 33, August 1, 2009

Salute the Death-defying Sentinels of Our Freedom

Wednesday 5 August 2009, by SC

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Kargil War, we reproduce S.C.’s following editorial in Mainstream (July 10, 1999).

Since ‘Operation Vijay’ was launched on May 26, India has suffered heavy casualties in the battlefield but eventually our valiant soliders and airmen have pushed the enemy close to the Line of Control achieving in the process remarkable successes. These successes have been capped by the recapture of the 16,500 feet-high strategically significant “most dominating” peak in the Kargil region—the Tiger Hill—on July 4, 1999 after a fierce, all-night, 11-hour assault. Significantly this outstanding victory of the Indian armed forces—which would justifiably make every patriotic and nationalist Indian proud—coincided with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreeing in his talks with US President Bill Clinton in Washington to take “concrete steps” for the “restoration of the Line of Control in accordance with the Simla Agreement”—something that in plain terms means that under Clinton’s pressure the Pakistani head of state has decided to pull back the intruders (comprising the Pakistan Army regulars as well as the mujahideen mostly from Afghanistan) who had occupied vast tracts of Indian territory in Kargil from, as is now revealed through a disclosure in Time, November 1998.

These positive developments in the military and diplomatic spheres have given rise to legitimate hopes of a de-escalation of the Kargil conflict and strengthend the optimism that the prevailing war-like situation would finally not turn into a fullscale war between the two South Asian neighbours which have by now emerged as de facto nuclear weapon states. However, what is unfortunate is that in the wake of these developments our diplomatic acheivements are being given undue importance whereas our resounding military exploits braving the heaviest of odds in one of the most difficult terrains of the world and with limited equipment take a backseat. Actually it is our military exploits—and not our diplomatic successes—which should acquire more prominence because, as has been aptly underscored by veteran diplomat and former Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey, the situation in Kargil “is too complex, sensitive and difficult to be managed by diplomatic devices”. Our diplomatic moves in different Western capitals have no doubt borne fruit—the G-8 has reponded positively, the US Administrastion has applied the much-needed pressure on Islamabad to pull back its troops from the Indian side of the LoC in Kargil. But what needs to be pointed out is that these have been done by the Western leaders—including Bill Clinton—primarily in their own interest so as not to let the conflict become a fullscale war with the potentiality of a nucelar confrontation. So to interpret their postive attitude towards India as the outcome of our tireless endeavours in the diplomatic arena would be a gross mistake.

On the other hand what our soldiers in the battlefield have achieved despite the massive constraints under which they are functioning (and among these constraints is the directive from the political leadership not to cross the LoC so as to preserve our “good guy” image before the global cowboy who has no compunction in attacking any country it deems to be a “rogue state”; of course Pakistan, let it be emphasised, does not—in the US view—fall in the category of a “rogue state” despite evidence to the contrary) is indeed stupendous. Its significance cannot be gauged by employing the usual platitudes. Our debt of gratitude to these death-defying sentinels of our hard-won freedom cannot ever be repaid. One must unequivocally declare that it is not the political leaders in or out of power but the soldier on the battlefront who has redeemed the pride of India that is Bharat. To say this does not mean disproportionately magifying the role of the armed forces in our polity, but it is an expression, howsoever inadequate, of our sincerest homage to those who laid down their lives in defence of our frontiers so as to reinforce our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a matter of fact without their selfless sacrifice and superhuman endeavours we would not have been able to regain the lost territory in Kargil. Had the intruders been successful in cutting off the Srinagar-Leh national highway—the lifeline to Siachen—by mid-May as had been originally planned, it would have become a fait accompli necessitating urgent alternative steps on our part like opening new fronts and crossing the LoC, the very measures we were forced to adopt, faced with open aggression, in 1965. If an allout India-Pakistan war has been prevented for the present, a large part of the credit for this protection of peace, howsoever fragile, goes to the personnel of our armed forces who are still engaged in flushing out the infiltrators from the treacherous heights on the Indian side of the LoC. And it must also be borne in mind that had India not achieved its nuclear status in May 1998 through purely indigenous efforts (the vital point of difference with Pakistan aided generously by China and North Korea with the full knowledge and connivance of the US authorities) the dipolomatic successes we are witnessing today would not have come, because the Western world would have treated the India-Pakistan hostilities in Kargil with the same indifference that marked their approach towards the protracted Iran-Iraq war or the genocide in Rwanda. It was only the apprehension of a flashpoint in South Asia that spurred them into action to rein in the unconcealed aggressor, Pakistan.

From the Indian standpoint therefore the situation at the moment is better than what it was when ‘Operation Vijay’ was launched some forty days ago. But we have no reason to lower our guard. The US has pinned its hopes in Nawaz Sharif as it believes that he is best suited to sell the Washington agreement to his own people. It has also taken pains to ensure that the military establishment in Islamabad which is a key player in Pakistan’s socio-economic-political life, does not queer the pitch. With the spadework done by General Zinni, the C-in-C of the US’ Central Command, during his visit to the Pakistan capital, Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf has fallen in line behind the accord. However, the fundamentalist groups and sections within the Army have predictably vehemently opposed the Clinton-Sharif agreement. The anti-US statements of the former ISI chief, General Hamid Gul, are quite revealing in this context. Hence, there is at present a question-mark on Nawaz Sharif’s future. According to well-informed diplomats in Islamabad, his fate is already sealed and it is just a mater of time before he quits the political stage by being ousted from power. If that happens who will be the new—civilian or military (most probably civilian as the Americans would not desire a militaryman for the job)—replacement? And what would be his equation with the fundamen-talist groups, the Army as well as the US and India? These questions are bound to assume relevance in due course. But there is not a shadow of doubt that their impact on our region will be profound.

In this setting one cannot suffer from any false sense of complacency in the light of our successes. Unless the intruders are evicted to the last man India cannot rest. And there must be an element of urgency in completing the operation. For the pressure to bring about a ceasefire will mount sooner than we anticipate from the same Western forces we are trying to placate now. Clinton’s decision, in deference to Islamabad’s request, to take “personal interest” in Kashmir—as specified in the Washington accord—is also a matter of concern although that would come subsequent to the withdrawal of the intruders. Inexorably the issue of Kashmir is getting internationalised. The Opposition’s criticism of the BJP-led government on this score (due to the latter ‘s excessive eagerness to petition Washington as was revealed in Vajpayee’s letter to Clinton handed over to Sandy Berger by Brajesh Mishra in Geneva) cannot be brushed aside offhand (even though one must have no hesitation in complimenting Vajpayee for having rejected Clinton’s invitation for talks in Washington at this juncture).

The situation is still fluid. Thus any effort at playing petty politics on Kargil in view of the forthcoming Lok Sabha poll must be firmlly rebuffed by enlightened public opinion. When our jawans are shedding their blood on the battle-line any such move would be tantamount to betrayal of the national cause. And once more it is necessary to reiterate that while fighting the enemy no quarter should be given to communal propaganda on the one hand and spread of calumny against the Pakistani public on the other. For all the misdeeds of the Pakistani authorities (the govenment, the bureaucy, the ISI and the military establishment), one must never bear any ill-will towards them. Even at the height of hostilities it must never be forgotten that the people of Pakistan are our brothers-in-arms in our joint quest for peace, amity, cooperation and progress in South Asia foiling the diabolic designs of jingoists and fanatic warmongers of every hue.

(Mainstream, July 10, 1999)

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