Ever since Pakistani raiders and razakars invaded J&K in October 1947 and the state acceded to India, Pakistan has been unable to accept what it perceives as a wrongful loss. The state remains a bone of contention between the two countries even after over 50 years of independence. The Pakistan Government calls it the ‘core’ issue and says that the eventual merger of J&K with Pakistan is the only acceptable solution to the problem and that it is the ‘unfinished agenda of partition’. Having failed to annex J&K by force in the several wars initiated by it against India over the last 50 years, and emboldened by its acquisition of nuclear weapons in 1987, Pakistan hatched a new conspiracy for the annexation of J&K by waging a covert ‘proxy war’ against India through a strategy of ‘bleeding India by a thousand cuts’.
Operation ‘Topac’, under which Pakistan launched its proxy war against India, was brilliantly conceived and skillfully executed. Pakistan’s President, General Zia ul Haq’s concept was to exploit the religious sentiments of the Kashmiri people, whip up passions on communal and sectarian lines, fan the flames of religious fundamentalism and, in the process, gradually create conditions for waging a Jihad. Before launching its proxy war in Kashmir, Pakistan also initiated measures to exploit the disgruntled elements among the youth of Punjab to fight for the creation of an independent Sikh state of Khalistan. The intention was to destabilize India by creating conditions of insecurity in two contiguous front-line Indian states and to tie down the Indian security forces, particularly the Indian Army, in internal security duties. It was expected that prolonged employment in internal security duties would weaken the Indian Army and degrade its conventional superiority over the Pakistan Army. All this was to be achieved through a low-cost option, without getting directly involved.
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate of Pakistan was entrusted with the responsibility of executing the plan. The ISI had gained immense experience in organizing guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan, with sabotage and terrorism as the weapons of choice, while working together with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The ISI had also surreptitiously siphoned off nearly 60 per cent of the small arms, light weapons, ammunition and explosives supplied to it by the CIA for onward dispatch to the Afghan mujahideen. It has been reported that arms and ammunition worth US $5 billion had been pumped into Afghanistan by the US and its allies. In addition, the erstwhile Soviet Union had supplied arms and ammunition worth US $5.7 billion. Large numbers of these weapons became available to the ISI for equipping Kashmiri terrorists when the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Profits from the clandestine sale of freely available narcotics from Afghanistan, “donations from Muslim zealots in other countries” and profits from large-scale smuggling activities across the Indian border, provided adequate funds to finance an uprising in J&K. Massive rigging of elections to the J&K Assembly in March 1987, and the Kashmiri people’s disillusionment with Mr. Farooq Abdullah’s allegedly corrupt and inefficient administration, led to spontaneous protest and a call for azadi (independence). Thus the situation was ripe for exploitation and the ISI, which was ready and waiting, stepped in to fan the flames.
- Initiate a low-level insurgency to interdict communications networks and subvert the police and financial institutions.
- Subsequently, exert direct pressure along the Line of Control (LoC) by large-scale sabotage and infiltrate mercenaries and Special Forces to attack vital targets in rear areas.
- At an appropriate stage, using religion as a motivating and binding factor, give a nudge to the Jihad to peak and, if necessary, be prepared to exercise the military option to liberate J&K.
While J&K was to remain the focus of all ISI activities, Operation Topac also envisaged the provision of support and encouragement to insurgent and terrorist groups in the north-eastern states of India and the spread of terrorism progressively to other parts of India, in keeping with the strategy of bleeding the country through a thousand cuts. It is axiomatic that for the Pakistanis, a continuing crisis in Kashmir and tensions along the LoC with India provide an excellent diversion from frustrations at home. These are time-tested methods for mobilising the masses, for gaining the support of fundamentalist Islamic parties and the mullahs within Pakistan and in other Islamic states. It also enables the civilian rulers and the bureaucracy to keep the Pakistani Army gainfully employed in directing and supporting the slickly packaged ‘just cause’ of the Muslim brethren of Kashmir and, as a corollary, away from harbouring thoughts of another military coup. Another major aim is to internationalize the Kashmir issue, contrary to the spirit of the 1972 Shimla Agreement, by raising the bogey of the denial of the Kashmiri people’s right of self-determination. It is conveniently ignored that Pakistan itself had impeded the process of the holding of a plebiscite in J&K by not vacating its illegal occupation of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), which is called Azad Kashmir in Pakistan. The playing up and highlighting of trumped up human rights violations in the international media is also part of a well-orchestrated campaign.
Pakistan’s proxy war campaign is carefully calibrated to ensure that India’s perceived ‘threshold of tolerance’ is not transgressed. Though Pakistan would prefer to avoid escalation of the present low intensity conflict (LIC) situation to conventional war, it has apparently vectored in the risks involved in pursuing its proxy war strategy into its operational plans. Yossef Bodansky writes that, “Pakistan knows that the active pursuit of the current Kashmir strategy may lead to an escalation of the faceoff with India. Islamabad is ready to deal with this eventuality while increasing its all out support for the Kashmiris.” In mid-February 1995, a Foreign Ministry spokesman warned that ‘if India carries out another aggression and war breaks out between Pakistan and India, it would not be a war of a thousand years or even a thousand hours, but only a few minutes and India should not be oblivious to the potential destruction.’ Pakistani officials add that “Pakistan is really in a position to strike a heavy blow against India through its nuclear capability.” Pakistan also believes that its nuclear weapons and missiles provide the cheapest option for peace. Gen Mirza Aslam Beg writes: “The nuclear and missile deterrence have helped maintain peace in the sub-continent for over two decades.”
However, it is self-evident that a foreign power can sow the seeds of insurgency only when discontentment and dissent are already widespread among the people and the situation is ripe for exploitation. Due to decades of poor governance, and neglect, compounded by rampant corruption, cynical nepotism, alienation from the national mainstream and political mismanagement, the situation in J&K was as bad as it could possibly have been in 1988-89. It is only belatedly that true realization has dawned regarding the various sins of omission and commission with which the post-independence history of J&K is replete. J&K Governor, Mr. Girish Chandra Saxena, recently told Prakash Nanda in an interview that, “We are considering the situation on the political, administrative and democratic fronts. We realize that maladministration, corruption and unemployment have also been responsible for the growth of terrorism in the past.”