The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Good neighbours?

Thursday, January 28, 2010
Ikram Sehgal

Unless there is lasting peace between Pakistan and India, there is no hope for hundreds of millions in the two countries. The Jang Group and The Times of India had the vision and the courage to launch "Aman ki Asha." The prime prerequisite of good-neighbourliness is a "live and let live" policy. Unfortunately, India has a marked inclination for the latter in dealing with the nations on its periphery, particularly Pakistan.

Vast tracts of Bangladesh will become desert if India goes through with its plans to harness upstream the two great rivers that flow through the delta country. The India-friendly Hasina Wajed government notwithstanding, why does Bangladesh field almost seven Infantry divisions, not including division plus paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), double the fighting strength of the Pakistani armed forces in East Pakistan in 1971? Elaborating why "Peace should break out in South Asia" at the Bangladesh National Defence College in Dhaka about two years ago, I was repeatedly admonished during the "Q&A" session by the two dozen senior Bangladeshi officers (as well as a Nepalese, two Sri Lankans and a Pakistani) doing the National Defence Course that I was dangerously naïve if I thought India would ever have peace with the neighbours over whom it wants to establish hegemony. India has given enough reason to evoke such raw hatred.

The world is conveniently comfortable with a memory lapse on terrorism. "Suicide bombings" were perfected by the Tamil Tigers trained in over a dozen training camps run by India's Research Analysis Wing (RAW) in Tamil Nadu. Rahul Gandhi says his father, Rajiv Gandhi, personally presented psychopath Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran with his own bullet-proof jacket. Prabhakaran returned that favour by presenting him with a garland of explosives. In the 1980s, the Sri Lankan army was seething with resentment at the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) landing in Sri Lanka uninvited (the protocol legitimising their presence was signed after their arrival on Sri Lankan soil) to rescue the Tamil Tigers from absolute defeat. The Tamil Tigers were finally cornered and eliminated.

India dominated Nepal totally for decades. The Nepalese monarchy showed sustained flashes of independence until the blatantly pro-Indian King Gyanendra ascended to the throne after a mysterious and brutal tragedy eliminated his brother King Birendra and his entire family. Widespread anti-Indian feeling is pervasive throughout Nepal. The country is increasingly looking to deepen its relationship with China.

The Maldives and Bhutan have been dominated so totally by India they do not matter as independent nation entities anymore. China claims Arunachal Pradesh (formerly NEFA) as its own. China overran NEFA in a brief war fought with India in 1962 within days, later withdrawing unilaterally, preferring to negotiate the territorial dispute through peace rather than through war. It is no secret that India, which would revel in being "non-aligned," has been assiduously built up by the US as a regional power to contain China (Ambassador Galbraith's Memo of May 25, 1965).

When the Indian parliament was attacked by terrorists in December 2001, India threatened Pakistan with war. The two opposing armies staying eyeball to eyeball throughout 2002. The terrorists did not have state connections, but India still blamed Pakistan as it did again after the 26/11 Mumbai incident. The ability of terrorists to use our soil as a base is nothing for Pakistan to be proud of. Having sowed the wind in the early 90s we are reaping the whirlwind, paying a heavy human price for misplaced adventurism in now having to engage terrorists across the country in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. However, to blame Pakistan, as a state, for third-party interventions is unfair. To threaten war for their atrocities is downright madness. Is India trying to blackmail Pakistan with war, or blackmail the world with the possible effects of a nuclear one? This attitude gives an open invitation to anyone to create trouble.

India's constant targeting comprises a deliberate, myopic and obnoxious state policy of cutting Pakistan down to size in all ways possible, tarring and feathering the country as a responsible entity among the comity of nations. Pakistan is beset by many problems, the most serious being terrorism. We need Indian understanding and support, not the pouring of fuel on the fire.

While the roots of terrorism's incubation and growth are imbedded in Kashmir, the Afghan problem has exacerbated and complicated the situation: we are host to three million uninvited refugees. Almost one-third of the Pakistani army's fighting strength is deployed to deal with the insurgency. Terrorist cells have infiltrated and proliferated, and that has put our entire society under virtual siege. We are in a state of clear and present danger.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates enunciated our dilemma best during his recent visit. "Pakistan is not threatened by India." In almost the next breath, he said, "If another terrorist attack originates from Pakistani soil, it would be difficult to contain Indian reaction." In countering the insurgency, the reserves meant for the eastern borders are depleted. Thus weakened, we are in danger of being attacked.

Mr Gates now wants us "to do more" in opening another front in North Waziristan. For an army doing 90 per cent of the fighting and dying in the "war against terrorism" in this region, one must be grateful the US has allocated $1 billion approximately. The disparity, with the Afghan National Army (ANA) which is not even 10 per cent engaged in all the fighting by Coalition forces getting $16 billion from the US, is mind-boggling.

The element of hypocrisy is palpable. India's fingerprints are all over Swat and FATA. The Indians have been actively stoking the fires in Balochistan. India must behave responsibly with the countries on its periphery, particularly Pakistan. The water issue has dangerous and ominous overtones. Tens of millions will starve to death without the rivers. The Indians are violating the Indus Basin Treaty. What option will we have except to fight if we face desertification?

The silver lining of the counter-insurgency operations is that our army has recovered from the debilitating 2003-2007 period. If the Indians decide to test Pakistani gun-sights they will find a battle-hardened entity. India campaigned assiduously to eliminate and isolate Pakistan from world cricket by ensuring the World Cup was taken away from it, followed by banning of all international cricket from our soil. With its cricket economic power, India's venom was on full display in its ensuring that not one Pakistan player was picked for the IPL. Our under-19 youngsters gave us back some pride by eliminating India from the Cricket World Cup in a tense semi-final in New Zealand.

India's economic success relative to Pakistan's more pedestrian progress is to be admired. Unfortunately, total US support coupled with economic boom has inculcated unbridled arrogance. One does not expect humility from India, but certainly understanding and tolerance thereof. Approximately one-third of Pakistan's population, about 60 million, can be said to be really poor. The sobering thought is that India has 10 times more than that, 600 million. The media-hype perception of "Incredible India" has to contend with the reality of uplift of hundreds of millions to the lifestyle that their more affluent upscale fellow compatriots are used to. Let alone Pakistan, can India ever hope to accomplish this if, instead of peace, war breaks out with Pakistan? It is vitally important to foster "Aman ki Asha" (desire for peace), rather than "Jang ki Bhasha," the dialogue of war.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:

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