This question has been raised repeatedly over the last few days: Why is the Pakistan Army pulling out troops from its western borders to deploy along the eastern ones; are we going to war?
To begin with, it is essential to realise that defence and diplomacy are tied by an umbilical cord; neither one can effectively function without support from the other.
Even as last month’s attacks in Mumbai were unfolding, the Indian media had decided that the perpetrators were Pakistanis and the Indian government did not take long to follow suit. The Pakistani government and people hastened to express their sympathy, but hardly had the terrorists been killed or apprehended that the Indian government began to threaten unilateral action against Pakistani citizens a la US intrusions into the Pakistani tribal areas.
We, in Pakistan, learnt of the military options under consideration from the Indian media; while the Indian foreign minister continued to assert that, ‘all options are open’ and that ‘India has the right to defend itself by any means from attacks launched by citizens of another country’.
Unusually wisely, the Pakistan government responded with restraint and the Pakistani foreign minister had to be pushed to the wall by journalists to force him into mildly responding, ‘we are hoping for the best but are prepared for the worst’.
While most analysts in Pakistan were fully conscious that the ruling Congress Party was milking this opportunity, not only to spike the BJP’s guns and gain as much domestic ground as it could in the run up to the elections — which it did, as demonstrated by its sweeping the first of three state elections, including Delhi, which every Indian analyst had predicted that the Congress would lose — but also, inspired by the international reaction following Kargil and the attack on the Indian parliament, to again isolate Pakistan.
But this time, while achieving its domestic objectives, India miscalculated the international reaction. The international community is fully conscious that Pakistan is fighting the cancer of terrorism created by itself but with carcinogens provided by the US and Saudi Arabia. It is also aware that Pakistan is critical to the worldwide war against terrorism. In fact, it is generally accepted that Pakistan has replaced the US as Al Qaeda’s ‘enemy number one’. Any attempt to destabilise Pakistan could, therefore, only help the cause of the terrorists.
Consequently, the initial wave of sympathy for the dastardly acts in Mumbai was soon replaced by a rising concern regarding India’s ‘war mongering’; which continued, perhaps unaware of the negative reaction of the international community. Even as Manmohan Singh said, ‘war is not an option’, his foreign minister stated the very next day that, ‘all options are open’.
Then came the news that India had moved some of its air assets to forward bases, soon after occurred the violation of Pakistan’s air space, which was probably an aggressive ‘air patrol’ intended to test Pakistan’s response time. Within days of this, the Indian media reported the deployment of Indian forces around Jaisalmer, close to our southern borders where, at Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan is vulnerable because the main road artery is very close to the border.
Meantime Pakistan, even without having been provided any tangible evidence, took pre-emptive measures to place possible suspects under arrest, many of who had not been even verbally accused by India, but were suspected by the Pakistani government. India continued to assert in the same breath that tangible evidence had been provided to Pakistan, and was baying or blood even as the chief of Interpol came from India and stated that he knew no more than us or the media. However, domestic pressure was mounting on the Pakistani government and, from a mood of sympathy for India, the Pakistani media also joined in to point fingers at India and a ‘pre-war environment’ prevailed on both sides.
The first military response was that of placing the Pakistan Air Force on ‘red alert’, which was demonstrated by defensive patrolling of our borders for two days; followed by moving an armoured brigade and support elements, including armoured infantry elements, to a location close to Sulaimanke Headworks.
For me, it was a repeat of 1986 when, under the garb of an exercise nicknamed ‘Operation Brasstacks’, India had amassed troops, though in far greater numbers, intending (it is now generally accepted that India intended to go to war at that time) to strike the same area: RahimYar Khan. That time too, Pakistan moved an armoured and an infantry division to the same location, from where they could threaten the Indian lines of communication to the troops in the south, isolating the bulk of the Indian army. Fewer troops were involved this time, though.
Most analysts unaware of the facts attributed the conclusion of Operation Brasstacks to a nuclear threat, but it was this manoeuvre by the Pakistan Army that resulted in Rajiv Gandhi, who had been unavailable to our high commissioner for days, to delay his flight and summon the Pakistani high commissioner to the airport where he told the envoy that the ‘exercise’ had been called off. This manoeuvre ended Brasstacks and has now resulted in a sudden desire in the Indian government to defuse tensions.
Having said as much, it would be only fair to acknowledge that the token withdrawal of troops from our western borders was also an exercise in employing defence to further diplomatic ends and accelerate international efforts to defuse tensions between two nuclear neighbours; and it was successful. The only danger of war during the last four weeks was the possibility of some overenthusiastic individual exceeding orders.
This is a modified version of an article originally written for the Royal United Services Institute
Reproduced by permission of DT