Miliband’s gift: stiffening Indian resolve over Pakistan

January 28, 2009

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband may yet end up achieving the opposite of what he intended in India when he called for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the interests of regional security.

To some Indians, linking the attacks in Mumbai - which New Delhi says originated from Pakistan – to the issue of Kashmir is not just insensitive, it is also a wake-up call. The lesson they have drawn is this: for all the world’s sense of outrage over Mumbai, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, and not expect foreign powers to lean on its neighbour in the manner it wants.


Miliband’s visit was a “jarring reminder to India to stop off-shoring its Pakistan policy,” writes Indian security affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney in the Asian Age. He then goes on to call for a set of measures including a military option short of war to weaken Pakistan.

New Delhi has diplomatic options that it has not yet deployed, he argues. These include recalling the Indian High Commissioner to Islamabad or suspending peace talks, or disbanding a “farcical” joint anti-terrorism mechanism or halting state-assisted cultural and sporting links or invoking trade sanctions.

On the military front, he suggests offensive military deployments along the entire length of the border. This would be different from the 2002 all-out mobilisation for a war that nobody really believed would happen, following the parliament attack in Dec 2001. Such a strategy, Chellaney argues, would put keep Pakistan on tenterhooks as to which front would be chosen for a quick, sharp thrust. Pakistan would have to follow suit and that would put unbearable pressure on a state already in severe financial difficulties.

Plausible? Well, two months after the attacks, you would have to argue the appetite for such tough measures has reduced. . If you had to act, you were better off even in the eyes of your own people to have done it then, rather than now.

But this may well be a pointer to a stiffening mood in India as it heads into an election that could bring the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party into power. And then all bets would be off as to what would be India’s policy towards Pakistan.

Over the weekend, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani gathered a bunch of military chiefs, security analysts and party bosses, and the verdict from that meeting was India had been too soft on Pakistan.

“After Mumbai, any self-respecting government would have adopted a much more robust response which alone could compel Pakistan to not only bring to book those behind the incident but also to wind down the infrastructure of terror,” the BJP said in a statement. “Instead India adopted the mildest of response, not like an emerging global player.”

India, it says, has a range of “diplomatic, economic and other options” to force Pakistan to see reason and stop being a base for anti-India operations. Tough words, but then this is a party that said way back in 1998 it would weaponise India’s nuclear deterrent in its election manifesto and proceeded to do exactly that soon as it entered office.

Even some members of the Congress government are not above flexing muscles. Defence Minister A.K.Antony said New Delhi knew of the existence of more than 30 militant camps operating in Pakistan and that it was telling foreign nations these camps were not just a threat to India but to the world itself. Pakistan has said that it is already fighting militants on its own territory and that the accusations from India are unhelpful.

[Reuters photos of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Indian policemen standing guard in Kashmir]

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