Weak India mirrors general lethargy
‘Appeasement’ we have repeatedly been told by those who currently run our government, is the root cause of India’s ills. Since this has been their consistent ideological position for decades, it could be expected that this would not emerge as their most prominent failing and that they would err, rather, on the side of harshness and excess, but on a number of occasions they have been caught off guard, and, instead of responding firmly, have repeatedly sought to explain away the situation.
Why is it that the Indian government finds it necessary to explain the internal political compulsions of the Bangaldesh Prime Minister after Indian soldiers are murdered by the BDR? Why must Indian officials explain to an outraged nation that Bangladesh’s Prime Minister ‘did not know’ of the BDR action; just as they explained that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief ‘did not know’ of his Army’s plans in Kargil, even after he went around all over the world justifying the aggression. Just as the Indian government lauded the ‘cooperation’ of the Taliban regime at Kandahar, despite clear evidence of its complicity with the hijackers.
The relationship between a foreign government and its armed forces is an internal issue of that country, as is the political alignment of various factions in any elections that may be held there. An instrumentality of the Government of Bangladesh – the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) – has committed an act of the most inhuman criminality against Indian soldiers, and the Government of Bangladesh must answer for the actions of its agency. India cannot predicate its foreign policy and strategic responses on the premise – or the gamble – that a sympathetic Prime Minister will hold office in Bangladesh, or that Indian policy must be fashioned to facilitate such an end.
Missing the woods for the trees, it appears, has become the characteristic Indian response to every crisis. Nothing else can explain the flood of ‘analyses’, explanations and details of events that led up to the barbaric torture and murder of the BSF personnel by the Bangladesh Rifles. Was the BSF patrol engaged in a retaliatory action? Are unresolved border issues the ‘root cause’ of the conflict, and will no purpose be served by action against the Bangladeshi General who ordered this atrocity – as the obtuse and brazen Bangladesh High Commissioner asserted? Was there an intelligence failure? Was Hasina Wajed aware of the BDR’s action and intent? Was this the result of a rogue operation by the BDR Director General, backed by the Bangladesh opposition, Islamic fundamentalist elements and the ISI? Will the incident damage Hasina Wajed’s electoral prospects?
These are matters of detail, not one of which should have any immediate relevance or influence on the Indian response.
What is known is that 16 BSF personnel were killed in Bangladesh. Examination of their injuries indicates that not more than three of these could have died in an exchange of fire. The remaining 13 were certainly and brutally tortured in custody, and then murdered in cold blood. A public and disgraceful spectacle was made of the body of at least one of these soldiers.
‘After such knowledge, what forgiveness?’
A nation does not need to understand and explain the circumstances under which her soldiers are tortured and butchered by the Army of a "friendly country". Such things are beyond understanding or explanation. They demand punishment. And the fullest force of the state – diplomatic, military and economic – must be used to secure this end. And this must be done immediately, not in the extended and inconclusive time frame of ‘inquiry commissions’ and other whitewashing exercises.
But in this country, no one speaks for the Indian soldier. When the IC 814 Flight was hijacked shortly after takeoff from Kathmandu, and after Indian incompetence had allowed it to take off once again subsequent to its landing at Amritsar, India thought nothing of suspending all flights to Nepal, despite that country’s strong protestations. These flights were only resumed more than five months after their suspension, after several humiliating rounds of talks that were inflicted on the Nepalese authorities, and an enormous loss of revenue to that country. And this is despite the fact that the exaggerated media reports of massive weaponry being allowed onto IC 814 at Kathmandu were found to be absolute rubbish even while the hijacking was in progress.
Was Nepal not a "friendly country"? Or is it the case that passengers who can afford air travel have a greater "human value" than India’s soldiers?
The fact is, each of these responses has been both arbitrary and wrong, defined by the subjective and rapidly changing perceptions of individual decision makers without any context of a clearly defined and declared national policy. India, indeed, has no strategic perspectives or contingency plans for a response to any aggressive or rogue action by its neighbors – and the price is inevitably paid by our soldiers. ‘Intelligence failure’ has, of course, become the favorite whipping boy in this scenario of pervasive incompetence, but this is worse than rubbish. Hundreds of reports have been filed by various intelligence and enforcement agencies over the past year regarding destabilization along the border with Bangladesh, yet, when an incident occurs, everyone is caught sleeping, and not a single, clearly defined response is forthcoming even a week after the incident.
Had effective contingency plans been in place, the crisis would have immediately been contained, instead of the continuous brinkmanship and escalation that is still being instigated by the Bangladesh Forces. Today, statement has followed brazen statement from Bangladesh, and not a single note of sincere regret has been sounded. It is India’s government that appears to be far more apologetic than that of Bangladesh, and there is no evidence in the Indian position of even the faintest spark of national pride, of honour, and of decisive concern over the unforgivable wrong inflicted on our soldiers. Those who are responsible for this spiritless posture argue that strong Indian action will weaken Hasina Wajed. This is not only an entirely extraneous argument, it is erroneous as well. Such a position ignores the more dangerous fact that Indian inaction will infinitely strengthen the fundamentalist and anti-Indian elements in the Bangladesh polity.
India’s unpreparedness in the face of the Bangladeshi outrage is the more amazing since the internal situation in that country is well known to the Indian intelligence community, and to our policymakers. Bangladesh has a history of military coups and dictatorships, and the elected government’s hold on the Armed Forces is little more than tenuous; for decades now, the forces of Islamic fundamentalism – essentially hostile to India – have been gaining strength, increasingly mobilizing masses and an armed following; and linkages of these organizations – and of militant groups operating against India from Bangladesh soil – with Pakistan’s ISI are well documented. How then can the entire national leadership in India be caught so completely unprepared for this act of outrageous aggression? Because Bangladesh is a "friendly country"? Perhaps just as China was in 1962? And is the nation to have no defense against such a "friendly country"?
India’s leadership is constantly lying to its people, and to itself. That is why, after Kargil, instead of an honest effort to get to the truth and reform the system, we had a bogus inquiry committee that gave all the generals a clean chit. It is only when a mistake is admitted that correctives can be instituted. But here, the pattern of mishandling of every past crisis – be it Kargil or Kandahar – becomes a model of ‘successful response’ and the officials involved go about congratulating themselves and praising each other on their astuteness.
The incompetence of India’s initial reactions has now left only one course open to the government: the country’s intelligence agencies must be directed to identify each of the individuals responsible for the outrage at Boraibara; the Bangladesh government can be given an opportunity to bring them immediately to book; and failing appropriate punishment, India’s agencies should be authorized to ensure that such punishment is actually inflicted – by all means necessary.
(Published in The Pioneer, April 28, 2001)