Monday, January 22, 2007

Army fears Govt may fall for Pakistan sweet talk
Kamlendra Kanwar - January 19 2007

Some recent statements by the Army Chief, General J J Singh, and a Defence spokesman, Lt Col S D Goswami, reflect the apprehensions in the armed forces that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government may give in too much on Kashmir and Siachen in negotiations with Pakistan.

The Indian Army is avowedly apolitical and not known to comment on political and foreign policy issues. That it has cautioned against the demilitarisation moves in Kashmir and against any withdrawal of troops from Siachen without Pakistan authenticating the maps on troop positions is an indication that fears of the Government succumbing to Pakistani sweet talk run deep.

Shrewd as President Musharraf is, he realizes that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is obsessed with making his mark in history. A deal with Pakistan, Dr Singh reckons, would get him into the history books and is worth the risk it involves. That is indeed dangerous when he is dealing with a leader who was the mastermind of the Kargil invasion and whose guile keeps even the Americans befuddled.

Significantly, Goswami’s articulation of Army concern was contained in an article that he released to the media. It came on the heels of Dr Manmohan Singh’s statement welcoming President Musharraf’s four-point proposal on Kashmir, which, among other things, moots Pakistan’s abandonment of claim to Jammu and Kashmir if India agrees to give the territory autonomy under joint supervision by both countries and to demilitarisation in the territory.

Goswami cautioned: "Pakistan’s proposal of demilitarization of Kashmir means complete withdrawal of troops not only from the borders but also from such urban centres as Kupwara, Baramulla and Srinagar."

Ruling out this possibility, he said: "There is a distinction between troops returning to the barracks on completion of internal security tasks assigned to them and troops being completely moved out of the area including from border defence duties.

"Kashmir touches the borders of Pakistan and China. It has suffered four invasions from the western neighbours and one from the northern. Besides, there is cross-border terrorism in which 30,000 people have lost their lives. In such a situation, withdrawal of defence forces would be fatal," Goswami maintained.

"Even if normalcy is restored and peace returns within the state, troops can go back to the barracks but demilitarisation as such cannot be considered as the requirement of defending the country’s borders still remains paramount, in fact non-negotiable," he added.

Strong words these considering that no less a person than the Prime Minister had, in principle, welcomed the proposal of President Musharraf. Surely, Goswami could not have written the article and circulated it to the media without the knowledge and sanction of his superiors.

Back in April last, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan had revealed the Government’s mood when he declared that India and Pakistan were ‘closer’ to a ‘final point’ on resolving the Siachen issue. Pakistan Prime Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri spoke in the same vein when he said that a Siachen ‘solution’ was days away.

It was then that Army chief J J Singh swung into action. He had a one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister at which he is believed to have told him that the Indian Army would be highly demoralized if it was ordered to vacate Siachen. The Army chief, who must be commended for his bold approach, is reported to have told Dr Manmohan Singh that he was sure Pakistan would not authenticate maps giving the present troops’ position since the intentions of the Pakistan establishment were to re-capture the commanding heights of Siachen.

According to the authoritative web journal ‘News Insight’, the Army chief further told him that even if the Indian Army withdrew, it must move back only in such a way that it could re-take the positions if Pakistan moved hostilely.

It was this meeting that apparently led Dr Manmohan Singh to re-think and to announce publicly that a deal on Siachen was not on the cards.

Mercifully, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee asserted in Islamabad earlier this week that India would not acquiesce to any redrawing of borders. More crucial, however, was Mukherjee’s emphatic "no" to President Pervez Musharraf’s feverish advocacy for "joint management" of J&K. This was the first instance when India had clearly rebuffed Musharraf’s alleged peace promotion measure.

For now, the danger of any major ‘deal’ with Pakistan on Kashmir and Siachen seems to have receded. But the country will have to be on guard lest we be pushed again into what may potentially prove to be a disaster.


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