India put its navy ï the fourth largest in the worldï on full alert in the Indian Ocean on June 17, a somewhat surreal response to the successes of Kashmiri mujahideen among the frosty peaks of the Himalayas 1,000 miles away. The apparently nonsensical decision becomes understandable when seen in context of India’s face-saving strategy of creating war-hysteria against Pakistan, maintaining its stance that it is facing an invasion across the Kashmiri Line of Control (LoC). At the same time, India also massed troops on the Rajasthan border with Pakistan.
The more meaningful action, meanwhile, was taking place in Kashmir itself, where thousands of Indian commandos, supported by aircraft, helicopters and heavy weaponry, were continuing to try to wrest control of vital peaks in the Kargil-Dras-Batalik sector of the LoC back from the mujahideen. Indian officials admit privately that it will take months before the area is re-captured. The Indian army, hitherto in charge of internal security in the Valley, was relieved of this responsibility and moved to the 350-km-long LoC with Pakistan. It was also announced that India was moving an additional three divisions to Kashmir to augment its 290,000 regular troops and 250,000 paramilitary forces. The Rashtriya Rifles, a paramilitary force, assumed responsibility for internal security in Kashmir from June 18.
Meanwhile, tension in the rest of Indian-occupied Kashmir has also risen sharply, with other mujahideen units emerging to attack Indian forces. On June 18, two bombs exploded on the Srinagar-Kargil road, killing more than 40 Indian soldiers. The same day, the mujahideen attacked a police station in Pattan, killing two policemen. India, meanwhile, has cracked down brutally on Muslims across the country. The village of Kargham, for example, was burnt to the ground on June 16-17, after Indian troops discovered two mujahideen hiding there. The mujahideen were summarily shot. India later blamed the village’s destruction on Pakistani shelling. Elsewhere, tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been forced from their homes by Indian military operations, and Kashmiri men have reportedly been forcibly used as labourers to carry supplies and ammunition in mountainous areas.
The game of brinkmanship and show of force has brought India no closer to its military objectives. Despite loud Indian claims in mid-June that they had recaptured Tololing and Peak 5410 in the Dras-Batalik sector, mujahideen spokesmen have categorically and consistently denied losing any ground. Similarly, Indian claims of killing more than 600 ‘intruders’ (the term used by India for the mujahideen) do not stand up to scrutiny. Why does India need 30,000 troops using long-range Bofor guns, and backed by planes and helicopter gunships to flush out a hundred or so mujahideen that India claims ‘remain’ on the heights? While mujahideen losses have been minimal, India has suffered massive casualties trying to scale the dangerous peaks. Even Indian officers have admitted as much on condition of anonymity. “We are dying like dogs,” said one Indian colonel to a Reuters correspondent last month. Recapturing the peaks, said another officer, is “almost a suicide mission.” Up to Crescent International press time, at least 1,000 Indian troops had been killed and perhaps four times as many injured.
India has refused to allow journalists ï foreign and domestic ï to visit the frontline near Kargil, clearly fearful that the true situation would be revealed to the world as well as to its own public in India. Journalists have been confined to Srinagar or Delhi where officials paint a rosy picture of the great “progress” their forces are making. On June 18, hundreds of Kashmiris, braving Indian wrath, held a noisy rally in the town of Kargil in support of the mujahideen. Indian security forces fired tear gas shells to disperse them. India’s only progress has been in targeting civilians on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control. The Neelam Valley has been particularly hard hit, with Indian artillery shells killing scores of civilians.
Delhi has had far more success on the international diplomatic scene, with its version of events being accepted by western leaders. Speaking at Cologne during last month’s G7 summit, Clinton advised Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to “withdraw from the Indian zone” in the Kargil-Dras sector and resume a bilateral dialogue with India. In response, Sharif urged the G7 “to adopt a constructive and solution-oriented approach” in dealing with South Asia’s most serious crisis in 28 years, recognising in this context “the centrality” of the unresolved Kashmir dispute.
According to Tariq Altaf, the Pakistan foreign office spokesman, the prime minister stated: “Kargil cannot be viewed in isolation from the larger issue (of Kashmir) nor dissociated from the record of India’s past transgressions to alter the LoC to its advantage.” Altaf pointed out that India had repeatedly violated the LoC, with the occupation of about 2,500 square miles in Siachen since 1983-84, utterly disregarding the LoC, “a standing example”. Sharif asked the G7 leaders to call upon both India and Pakistan “to restore respect for the sanctity of the LoC in Kashmir,” adding that “Pakistan has always respected the LoC.”
There must, however, be limits to India’s belligerence. Should the situation get out of control ï and there is no reason why it cannot ï India might find itself in the very situation it is trying to avoid: internationalisation of the Kashmir issue. If a full-scale war between the two nuclear States were to erupt, the international community, hitherto reluctant to intervene despite repeated Pakistani pleas, will have to do so. This would not be to India’s advantage. Delhi insists Kashmir is a bilateral problem but refuses any discussion with Pakistan to resolve it.
Militarily, too, India faces some hard choices. Indian troops in Kashmir are demoralised and there have been numerous incidents of soldiers deserting their posts or even killing their own officers. While the Indians have slaughtered more than 70,000 people since the uprising began in 1989, the Kashmiris have not given up and are putting up a valiant resistance.
Kashmir’s internal situation is a nightmare for any army, more so for one that has perpetrated such horrendous crimes against the local population. In the event of war, the Kashmiris would want to exact justice for the years of rapes, torture and killings to which they have been subjected. Only a foolish Indian general would want to expose his forces to such a precarious situation ï fighting both an external war and trying to crush the people’s aspiration for freedom.
Muslimedia: July 1-15, 1999