US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld may be allowed to inspect India’s assault plan for Kashmir, when he arrives in New Delhi over the weekend for a fresh effort to ward off a cataclysmic clash with Pakistan – but he will not be afforded even a glimpse of New Delhi’s war plans for the main Indian thrust into Pakistani Punjab, Baluchistan and Sindh.
(See additional details in DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 62, May 27).
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources in New Delhi report that India’s Kashmir offensive is built around a blitz by Indian Air Force Mirage-2000, MiG-27 fighters, of what India calls Islamic militants bases on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control, followed by drops of large airborne units to destroy those bases.
Indian officials may ask politely for an American nod to its Kashmir offensive, presenting it as an element in the modular US-led war against terrorism. In essence, the Vajpayee government will be tendering Washington a take-it or leave-it demand: approve our military plans or we go ahead on our own without prior consultation with Washington. It is also hoped in New Delhi that if the Americans toss India’s war plans on General Pervez Musharraf’s desk, he will be sufficiently sobered to seek negotiations in order to end the standoff peacefully.
A senior Indian security source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that in any case each side knows the other’s military plans, but neither has a clue as to the secret means of warfare the other means to deploy. “The Americans are just as much in the dark as we are,” the source said.
No one in Washington is banking on averting a major flareup at this stage, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s American sources. Rumsfeld’s task focuses less therefore on examining military plans and more on finding common ground between the two nuclear adversaries. He will be looking for a crevice through which to kick off bilateral negotiations before full-scale fighting breaks out or, as second best, after the first round of combat shows which side has the upper hand.
In New Delhi, therefore, Rumsfeld has three premier goals:
1. Preventing the introduction of nuclear weapons into the conflict and its spread to wholesale belligerence.
2. Discovering how long India intends to keep its forces in the Pakistan terror bases they capture; finding out if New Delhi’s use of the term “terrorist bases” also applies to Pakistani military installations training Muslim militants, including al Qaeda, and offering them other forms of logistical support.
3. Learning what quid pro quo India wants for not taking the war outside Kashmir’s borders.
Helpful responses in New Delhi on these points would provide the Americans with something substantial to work with in Islamabad. For example, India’s commitment not to go first with nuclear weapons, and its promise not to hold onto captured Pakistan bases for longer than a few weeks, would be levers in American hands for persuading Musharref to play ball with Washington and limit the range of the conflict on his side too.
One way of defusing the Kashmir controversy called for frequently this week was the creation of an international force to join Indian patrols in monitoring the Line of Control and Kashmir’s external boundaries with China and Afghanistan. US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage referred to a possible joint Anglo-American military monitoring force when he talked to reporters in Islamabad on Thursday, June 5, after meeting the Pakistani president.
“We are discussing all sorts of monitoring mechanisms without any prejudice one way or another,” he said elliptically.
Echoes of the proposal hung over the Asian security conference meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan this week, attended also by Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharraf; it was also bandied in London, when Rumsfeld met British prime minister Tony Blair en route for South Asia.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources explain that the proposal is realistic only if applied to a post-war arrangement for keeping the peace. Neither Pakistan nor India will accept an international force as a means of preventing the outbreak of war. International peacekeepers might be acceptable in New Delhi to replace the Indian troops occupying Pakistani military bases in Kashmir after purging them of militants – that is if India agrees to a short-term occupation. Even then, the plan would most likely run into Pakistani resistance. Therefore, it does not particularly enthuse the officials traveling with Rumsfeld or the Bush administration in general. Thus far, India is showing no sign of being willing to withdraw quickly from any Pakistani military bases it is able to seize in Kashmir, even at the price of a drawn-out conflagration possibly spilling over into 2003.
However, in Washington, the duration of the Indian-Pakistani war is of less concern than its primary goal of preventing a nuclear war from enveloping the Indian subcontinent. There are few illusions that Rumsfeld’s mission is capable of bringing that goal forward.