Kashmir: Counting votes - and bodies
By Ashok K Mehta
With elections in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on his mind, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah recently told the visiting US chief of military intelligence, Admiral Thomas Wilson, director, US Defense Intelligence Agency, at Srinagar, something that Abdullah alone could say, "After this you will go to Pakistan. Tell [President] General [Pervez] Musharraf that he can get Kashmir over my dead body." Abdullah's resolve to hold credible elections in J&K, which began on Monday, stands firm, despite the brutal spurt of election related violence - including the killing of State Minister Mushtaq Ahmad Lone on September 11. Equally unshaken is Abdullah's determination to defeat the anti-election alliance between Pakistan and terrorist groups inside and outside J&K.
With an army of 3,000 battle-hardened foreign and local terrorists present in the state, the latest political assassination has put the state and national security forces in J&K in a tizzy. Questions are being asked about holes in the security of a state minister. Soon after the incident, the army reported that the political rally where it occurred was impromptu, and the late minister, on an unannounced visit to the area, simply asked people to assemble. There was no flushing of the area or frisking of the assembly. Whatever the facts, everyone is wiser after the event. Abdullah announced a meeting of the unified command - or is it unified headquarters (both of which are misnomers). Defense Minister George Fernandes rushed to Srinagar to revalidate the internal security grid. The fact is, no matter how tight the security, determined terrorists will get through.
The government has been armed with assessments and information that the 2002 Legislative Assembly elections in J&K will be the most violent ever, never mind the pro forma warnings from the US to Pakistan. The US is both unable and unwilling to push Musharraf beyond a point in curtailing the jihadis. The US also takes India's self-certified restraint with utmost seriousness and consequently lets the general get away with blue murder. India, on the other hand, is stuck in the groove of crying foul without breaking its sickening record of turning the other cheek. After 55 years and four wars, the fear of the Pakistani gun still haunts the people of J&K. The bulk of 35,000 persons killed after the start of proxy war have all been civilians.
The killing of yet another Lone ("moderate" Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone was killed on May 21) will certainly spruce up the election security grid without substantially reducing violence and fatalities. India wants the election to be credible, transparent and with maximum voter turnout. Nearly two thirds of the army is operationally deployed on the Line of Control (LoC) and international border. The other two services - the police and the para-military - are also partially deployed in a state of high alert. Much of the country's paramilitary forces and police units are being employed in election duties, with polling spread over four phases between September 16 and October 8. The inadequacy is not in numbers of personnel but of appropriate intelligence and counter terrorism equipment, such as sensors.
The role of the army is to create an environment conducive for elections, which includes sanitization and cordoning of specific areas so that the electoral process can be carried out without fear of the terrorist guns. This means keeping the terror groups on the run and off the backs of the people. The army cannot and will not be seen to be directly involved in the elections, though the propaganda mill will, in any case, churn out stories that the army forced people to vote. Such reports, though inevitable, are less credible if the army stays in the background. There are a host of subsidiary tasks the army will perform to assist the state and Central Election Commission and paramilitary forces - such as logistics, communication, specialized equipment and quick reaction teams. Further, the state has to launch an extensive public relations and psychological war campaign to expose Pakistan's hand in disrupting elections in particular and destabilization of J&K in general.
What is Pakistan's grand design? The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its terrorist groups would like to delegitimize the elections by creating fear to ensure low turnout. To this end, they will maximize violence, targeting the election staff, candidates, political parties and civilians. Radio intercepts over the past two weeks in the run up to the elections reflect a clear shift in strategy. The ISI and the Pakistan-based United Jehad Council (UJC) have issued clear instructions - break up elections. This is to be done through assassination, intimidation and random violence. The local Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) leader has acknowledged receipt of an extraordinary infusion of funds to boost the morale of his cadres. The ISI believes that creating general panic and mayhem will force the Indian army to divert some of its forces along the LoC to the hinterland, which in turn will ease pressure on Pakistan forces so that some troops can be redeployed on the West to monitor the situation along the Afghanistan border.
Pakistan remains the biggest beneficiary of the US global war against terrorism. It has not only become a "stalwart ally" of the US, but has also gained enormously in financial terms. The US has rewritten its $1 billion debt and given aid worth $600 million together with at least $300 million as payment for the use of air bases in Pakistan. A $73 million military hardware package, consisting of five helicopters and border surveillance equipment, has been given to keep vigil in the west. This can always be redeployed in the east.
Beginning July, Pakistan raised the ante astride the LoC, when its Army crossed the LoC and occupied a crucial height, Point 3260 (Lunda), in the Machal Sector (SAIR 1.6), in what some US experts described as Kargil II. When asked by Indian soldiers what Pakistani troops were doing at Lunda, they coolly replied, "We've been sitting here for 55 years. You may not have noticed." For the first time after Kargil, Mirage 2000 aircraft were employed to evict the intrusion with the use of standoff laser guided bombs. The cost of vacation was high, but no soldier was lost in the fire assault, which reflects a new trend in mountain fighting. The message was clear - India would not hesitate to use whatever it takes to defend the LoC.
A second incident drummed up by Pakistan was a non-event. On August 23, Major General Rashid Qureshi, military regime spokesperson, helped the BBC in breaking news accusing the Indian army of launching an "unprovoked attack" on Pakistan-held Point 5353, bang on the LoC in the Dras-Gultari sectors (SAIR 1.6). This was pure fiction and staged for the benefit of US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage. After Kargil, Point 5353 was turned into a raging controversy in Delhi by the political opposition. Last week, Pakistani guns spewed 4,500 shells in Dras and Kargil in response to imaginary firing by Indian guns elsewhere. Pakistan's purpose is to keep the LoC alive during what it calls "mock elections".
Kashmiris, unfortunately, have always been counting their dead. Let no one be under any illusion about Pakistan's motives. With Musharraf facing an election next month, assembly elections in J&K will be immensely violent. The Americans have told both sides, Pakistan and India, that they expect a comparatively violence free election which could unlock the impasse over de-escalation and dialogue. Which world is the US living in?
Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta is a military and strategic affairs commentator; former Indian government Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) South in Sri Lanka and founding member of the Defense Planning Staff (now Integrated Defense Staff).
Published with permission from the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
THE BATTLE OF WITS IS BETWEEN FAROOK ABDULLAH AND ABDUL KALAM, BOTH MUSLIMS. BUT THE LAST LAUGH WILL BE WITH SONIA KHAN.
PAKISTAN BORDERS ON KASHMIR BUT ITALY IS ON "ANOTHER PLANET". YET SONIA KHAN WILL HAVE THE LAST LAUGH.
IN 1947 WHEN THE HINDUS AND THE MUSLIMS SLIT EACH OTHER'S THROATS, THE LAST LAUGH WAS WITH A EUROPEAN, TOO, LORD LUIS MOUNTBATTEN WHO WAS GIVEN A HERO'S SEND OFF BY THE INDIAS SLAVES WHILE BLOODSHED ON GROUND CONTINUES.
IT IS THE SAME NATIVE "NIGGER" AND THE "SUPERIOR EUROPEAN" TODAY, NOT AN INCH OF DIFFERENCE.