Track two talks with Pakistan is fast becoming a profitable cottage industry in this country. This peace talks lobby felt that our surgical strike and fire assaults that had chastised Pakistan last year was just a brave flash in the pan and we could now return to the track two dialogue in a business-as-usual mould. It mattered little to them that Pakistan’s ISI had simply switched tactics and was now using Islamic State fronts, and local Maoists and criminals to sabotage our 1,20,000-km rail network.
In November last year, 150 Indians were killed and 200 wounded in a serious act of rail sabotage in Kanpur. This was virtually equivalent of another Mumbai 26/11. It was sought to be buried under the carpet. Three MPs recently reached Islamabad to signal all was well once more. Possibly Uncle Sam had given the nudge and nod, and the doves were straining to fly to Islamabad in droves. Setting the stage were activists such as Gurmehar Kaur who informed us with a flourish of cards that not Pakistan but war had killed her father. It was time to make peace and the only way to establish it was to gift the Valley to Pakistan on a platter! The Ramjas College fracas now makes much more sense in hindsight.
In 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee and members of his Cabinet had ridden the peace bus to Lahore. It was a grand gesture like Neville Chamberlain’s (the British PM who had returned to England from Berlin crowing “Peace in our times”. A year later the Second World War had started). In our case, the Kargil War started just six months later in May 1999. Pakistanis have developed back-stabbing into a fine art. The Americans push us into peace talks and the Pakistanis enjoy humiliating us. Even as our Parliamentarians were popping the champagne in Islamabad, the Pakistani Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination grandly announced to Geo TV that a committee headed by Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Ajiz had recommended that Gilgit-Baltistan be incorporated as the fifth State of Pakistan (in addition to Punjab, Pashtunkhwa, Sindh and POK).
The Pak Constitution, he said, would be duly amended soon. It was a highly premeditated and outrageous provocation—a virtual slap in the face and a brazen attempt to turn de-facto occupation of Indian territory into de-jure ownership. Our Parliamentarians should have flown back the very next day to register our protest. All that we got were rather feeble and anaemic statements from our foreign ministry. It had the air of déjà vu. In the 1950s, China had simply gone ahead and built the Aksai-Chin highway through Indian territory. It took us nearly three years to even find out that such a road had been built in our area. In 2016, China announced the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with great fanfare and has built the road alignments through Indian territory. Both China and Pakistan held Indian sovereignty over J&K in utter contempt. All we can manage in return is anaemic whimpers of futile protest.
Pakistan claims J&K is a disputed territory. Gilgit- Baltistan is part of J&K and Pakistan never tires of saying the case of J&K is before the UN Security Council. Yet it can unilaterally alter the status of Gilgit- Baltistan. Does it consider India such a weak and pusillanimous state? The onus of asserting and restoring our sovereignty over POK and Gilgit-Baltistan is squarely on India. China is using Pakistan to keep India bullied, cowed down and wholly preoccupied in South Asia. If things go on in this fashion, India will be left with little option but to deal militarily with a Pakistan, whose asymmetric adventurism and provocations scale new heights each passing month.
Meanwhile, defence and modernisation of the armed forces seem to be slipping dangerously in our list of priorities. State politics of Goa take precedence over national security and a sensitive portfolio like defence is left to be tenemented by a part-time defence minister who is burdened with a crucial portfolio like Finance. The unfortunate impression given out is that national defence is among our lowest priority. As a percentile of the GDP, our defence budget has fallen to 1.6 per cent. This drift in defence could have serious long-term consequences. In 1962, our political elite had reached the firm conclusion that wars could just not happen anymore. After the disaster of 1962, we have had to fight three major conventional wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999. If despite this, we refuse to learn lessons and prepare ourselves for the possibilities of conflict, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.
Should Pakistan declare Gilgit- Baltistan its fifth state, India must abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution to begin with. The problem in J&K is primarily rabidly communal. It has been an extended communal riot with terrorist violence, ethnic cleansing and arson of secular schools. We have allowed it to go on under the rubric of a ‘freedom struggle’ and now ‘free speech’ for seven decades. It was a tragic mistake to thin out troops from South Kashmir and move them to the borders under the pressure of human rights enthusiasts and votaries of a ‘political solution’. We must check this dangerous drift in matters of national security.
Maj. Gen. (Retd) G D Bakshi
War veteran and strategic analyst