Limits to patience

Limits to patience
Heads must roll for security lapse

by H.K. Dua

TUESDAY’S attack by the Pakistan-trained terrorists on the Tanda Army camp near Akhnoor is as audacious as was the December 13 attack on Parliament and on the Kaluchak Army camp in the summer of last year. While the earlier two attacks brought India and Pakistan close to war, it remains to be seen how the Indian government reacts to the latest provocation from across the border. No country, certainly not India, which has been facing terrorism for nearly 20 years, can forget December 13 or Kaluchak. Nor can it allow the perpetrators of the Akhnoor outrage, in which most of the Northern Command top brass could have been wiped out, go unpunished. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government may choose to avoid taking an impulsive action in the heat of the moment, but it is unlikely that it will not have another look at South Block’s emerging policy towards Pakistan and the terrorist organisations which continue to operate from its soil with impunity.
Even before the government considers its options – military or diplomatic – it ought to look into why the Northern Command’s security apparatus, knowing the terrorists’ mischief potential, neglected the ordinary tasks which even an untrained small-town beat constable would have performed. The attack on the camp occurred after six hours of the earlier attack and after the arrival of the Northern Army Commander, the Corps Commander and other generals and Brigadiers on the scene. How is it that so many senior officers chose to converge on the same spot at the same time allowing themselves to be sitting ducks for those who don’t wish India well? Why did no one from the Army’s security set-up comb the entire area around the Army camp, particularly when the Northern Army Commander and his top generals were coming to review the situation? While the terrorists’ attack earlier in the day should have made the Army’s security set-up more vigilant, it presumed that the militants, having killed some soldiers in the morning, would do no harm to the seniors in the afternoon. Some heads must roll to ensure that no one hereafter escapes responsibility and punishment for a lapse as serious as the one the nation, especially the Indian Army, has experienced at Akhnoor.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Lal Krishna Advani, has said that the terrorists attacked the Army camp mainly to disrupt efforts to bring peace back to the subcontinent. That is, no doubt, true; the peace process would make the extremists lose their jobs. Surprisingly, the Indian government has not yet directly blamed the Pakistan government for the Akhnoor attack. It is possible that it is not doing so for diplomatic reasons, known only to itself. Or is it because it wants to give one more chance to President Musharraf to make another attempt to rein in terrorists carrying on their deadly business from deep within Pakistan and the occupied Kashmir? The theory gaining ground in the Capital is that either President Musharraf is not able to control the terrorists or he is not willing to do so. In any case, India is the target of their activities and it needs to do everything it can to ensure that the Pakistan President comes to realise that there are limits to Indian patience.
There are as many as 60 training camps still functioning in Pakistan giving practical lessons to their wards. They also have access to sophisticated communication facilities. Outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba continue to remain active in Pakistan with new signboards. They certainly cannot survive and operate from Pakistan without President Musharraf’s consent or knowledge.
The Akhnoor attack shows that the so-called pressure from the United States and the European Union on President Musharraf is not enough. India must now realise that the United States and other Western nations will not put more pressure on President Musharraf because they think he can still prove a better bet than the Islamic fundamentalists who could oust a weakened General in the emerging situation in Pakistan. This may not be wholly true. The General is, possibly, taking the United States for a ride by projecting the view that after him they will have to face fundamentalists in Pakistan. India must tell Washington that President Musharraf can still control the terrorists, but he wants to keep the heat on India for domestic reasons.