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Asia Times Online, January 25, 2002
Now India stands accused

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - A split among leading Indian decision makers, in which a faction of hardliners is set on thwarting any peace initiatives towards Pakistan, poses severe problems for the New Delhi government.

The latest manifestation of the rift is Tuesday's attack by masked gunmen on a United States building in Kolkata, in which five security guards were killed.

Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) - which has been accused by India of having links to the gunmen - has prepared a detailed report on the attack. It is believed to blame a faction within the Indian government that has links to the hawkish Interior Minister L K Advani, who himself has led the calls blaming the ISI.

The ISI report indicates that there is strong reason to believe that Tuesday's attack might have been instigated with the support of some sections within Indian intelligence, and that many top Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, may not have been aware of plans for the killings.

Sources within the ISI also point to the recent incident in which an Indian Army Corps commander almost triggered war between India and Pakistan on their volatile border. Lieutenant-General Kapil Vij, leader of one of three strategic strike corps deployed on the border, was, according to some Indian reports, ordered to take leave for committing "tactical errors during the forward deployment of a strike corps".

The reports said that Vij had been found to have "overreached his brief" during the deployment of his corps, a movement that was detected by United States spy satellites and brought to the notice of the Indian authorities.

India and Pakistan have massed hundreds of thousands of troops along their border in a build-up triggered by a December attack on India's parliament. New Delhi has blamed Pakistan-based Islamic militants for the suicide raid.

The strike corps are tasked with the crucial role of launching offensive operations into enemy territory. Vij is said to have acted without higher authority in beginning this highly sensitive maneuver, and it is now speculated that he could have connections with the premier Indian Hindu fundamentalist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The RSS is one of the oldest Hindu extremists groups. It is dedicated to a revival of Akand Bharat, the belief that India was once an all-Hindu state, and it is set on the forced conversion of all Indians toward their origins, which the RSS says is Hinduism. The RSS has been blamed for a number of atrocities committed against minorities in India, including Muslims and Christians.

Sources in Pakistan say that although the Indian government has refused to include any US authorities in the inquiry into the Kolkata attack, Washington apparently believes that the gunmen were not terrorists (more likely hired thugs) and that they were not from an anti-American group.

The sources say that in the past few months there have been a number of incidents in which Indian authorities have blamed outside sources, but which in fact were acts undertaken from within the Indian establishment.

One of these was a supposed hijacking of a commercial plane in India last year. It is widely believed that the plot was hatched by Indian intelligence agents at the instigation of the interior ministry to discredit Pakistan. India accuses the ISI and the Pakistani army of training, financing and placing guerrillas in its Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir, and the hijacking was an attempt to strengthen these claims.

When news of the hijacking was flashed all over the world, the Indian government immediately blamed Pakistan and Kashmiri separatist groups. However, within a few hours, when all top Indian authorities had been informed about the real facts, the hijacking was aborted, with the authorities saying that the whole incident had simply been a security drill.

Events such as this are counter to the designs and objectives of the Indian military. Pakistani intelligence agents reported to Islamabad that India had massed its troops near the Pakistani border with very limited objectives, and certainly not for the purpose of a full-scale conventional war. The escalation was meant to put pressure on Pakistan also to mobilize fully, with a view to stretching the country's already strained economy.

In view of this, Pakistan initially did not mobilize, but subsequently it learned that India had committed to a limited conventional war near the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. As a result, Islamabad increased its troop strength there, at an estimated cost of US$2.5 billion. Although this is about half of the amount that India has spent, New Delhi has much deeper reserves on which to draw.

Now it is expected that India will maintain the border tension for several months, hoping to cripple Pakistan economically. The Indian armed forces and most leaders do not want to go beyond this limited objective, partly because of US pressure, which does not want the neighbors to go to war as this would hinder the wider struggle against international terrorism.

Indian extremists, however, are threatening to upset this carefully devised strategy.

 

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