Diplomatic Fiasco: Pakistan's Failure on the Diplomatic Front Nullifies its Gains on the Battlefield
Op-Ed, Newsline, volume 11, issue 1, pages 37-38
Author: Samina Ahmed, Former Research Fellow, Project on Managing the Atom/Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, 1998-2002
On July 12, just days after Prime Minister Sharif's unannounced visit to Washington DC, the withdrawal of forces began in Indian-held Kashmir. Pakistan's sudden capitulation to US demands to withdraw "armed intruders" occupying mountain heights in the Kargil-Drass area across the LoC brings to an end an ill-conceived adventure which brought the two nuclear-capable states to the brink of all-out war. Diplomatically isolated and dependent on international goodwill to prop up its ailing economy --still reeling from the impact of sanctions imposed after its May nuclear tests- Pakistan could ill— afford to take on a militarily superior foe. That Sharif threw in the towel in a dramatic and public admission of culpability comes as no surprise. The military battle was in any case lost once Pakistani decision-makers failed to convince the international community of the righteousness of their cause. Diplomatic isolation and disapproval plagued Pakistan from the onset of the current crisis in Kashmir in May 1999, just a year after the nuclear tests. It will be an uphill task to restore the country's international credibility and image, particularly if the lessons of the Kargil escapade are swept under the rug by a policy establishment that has obviously failed to come to terms with the complexities of the post-cold war international environment.
Although many factors contributed to Pakistan's diplomatic debacle in its latest war of words and deeds with India, ranging from incompetent diplomacy to its failure to successfully woo the world's media, Prime Minister Sharif s apparent about-turn in his policy towards India played a particularly prominent role. The May 1998 nuclear tests had focused international attention on the potential for conflict between two rival states with a history of war. Sharif's peace overtures, culminating in the February 1999 Lahore Declaration were therefore hailed by the international community as harbingers of peace. Events along the LoC this May, therefore, came as a shock for the more ardent supporters of the Lahore process, particularly the Clinton administration.
Even as the US administration suspended some and the Congress debated suspending all economic and military sanctions, promising a return to a South Asian policy of engagement extending beyond a one-point non-proliferation agenda, sporadic fighting broke out along the LoC in Kashmir. By May 1999, the conflict threatened to spread as India accused Pakistan of sending hundreds of regular forces and insurgents in a bid to forcibly alter the LoC. Pakistani denials and claims that indigenous Kashmir freedom-fighters were occupying the heights on the mountain ridges in the Kargil-Drass area across the Line of Control failed to gain credence in international circles. This failure could be partly attributed to the contradictions in Pakistani policy since expectation did bear fruit but with Pakistani respect for the sanctity of the official propaganda for internal consumption focused on the setbacks suffered by the Indian forces, raising public expectations of an Indian military debacle to new heights.
It is improbable that there were any real hopes of a sustained successful campaign in a remote and desolate area where the inclement weather in the fall would would have forced all combatants to withdraw. A more likely Pakistani goal was for a renewed international focus on a long-standing conflict over a disputed territory between two nuclear states. This expectation did bear fruit but with disastrous diplomatic consequences. Fearing the outbreak of all-out war between the two nuclear capable foes, the Clinton administration at first quietly and then openly accused Pakistan of intervening across the LoC, demanding an immediate withdrawal of the Pakistani-backed "armed intruders." However, the Sharif administration seemed oblivious to the growing international consensus about Pakistan's culpability. While military and foreign office spokesman extolled the military advances of the mujahideen in Kargil, the diplomatic war was already lost.
Pakistani policymakers clearly failed to understand the perils of the post-cold war environment. During the cold war years, as an ally to the US, Pakistan could reasonably expect a sympathetic American response to tensions with pro-Soviet India. Pakistan was also the beneficiary of Chinese support against their mutual foe, India. The end of the cold has changed regional and international equations. Strengthened non-proliferation norms and concerns about the state-sponsored terrorism have replaced the cold war ideological agenda and traditional allies have become neutral in a world that is dominated by the one super power.
Pakistan was to learn this lesson the hard way when the Kargil conflict escalated. In its annual meeting in Cologne, the world's advanced industrial nations, Pakistan's main source of economic assistance, and India's ally, Russia joined hands with the US in calling for a withdrawal of Pakistani-backed forces an Pakistan respect for the sanctity of the LoC. Deprived of US military hardware as the result of non-proliferation legislation, the Pakistani military also faced the prospect of the French reneging on their deal to supply Mirage 3 aircraft and submarines in a bid to pressure the Pakistanis to respect the LoC.
As the Vajpayee administration threatened to extend the local war beyond the Line of Control, Sharif dashed to China, only to be rebuffed by a Chinese leadership more interested in regional peace than in sustaining cold war alliances. In its first open rift with Pakistan, China not only called for a peaceful and negotiated settlement of Kashmir dispute but also for respect for the LoC. Collaborating closely with the US throughout the crisis, China was clearly in no mood to come to Pakistan Pakistan's rescue within or outside the Security Council. By the time the US Commander-in-Chief of the Central Command, General Anthony Zinni was dispatched to Islamabad to pointblank demand a withdrawal of Pakistan- backed forces from Indian-held Kashmir, the Sharif administration was ready to capitulate, realising that the only alternative would be a disastrous war that Pakistan could ill-afford in its current state of economic disarray, military vulnerability and international isolation.
In the July 4 Washington declaration on Kargil, Pakistan's dramatic and public departure from its previous stand of disclaiming other than political support for the Kashmir mujahideen has greatly harmed its own moral standing on the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan was to learn Pakistan has also been forced, albeit unofficially, to swallow the bitter pill of acknowledging the sanctity of the Line of Control in Kashmir. Above all, the Kargil episode demonstrates that the international community, led by the US, concerned about the potential for a nuclear exchange will no longer ignore any real threat to peace between Pakistan and India. Ironically, the nuclear tests of May 1998 have frozen the territorial status quo in Kashmir, for at least the foreseeable future.
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