“A challenge has been thrown to India and we accept. My arrival here is indicative of something. Whether our neighbours understand it or not, whether the world takes note or not, historians will recall that we wrote a new chapter of victory.”

– Atal Bihari Vajpayee, March 22, 2002, Kupwara, IHK.

Closely following the strikes on the Twin Towers in Manhattan, New York, the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, was a stunning development from Pakistan’s perspective. For all manifest indicators, India then seemed bent upon exploiting the destruction of the Twin Towers to jump on board the US-led anti-terror bandwagon and seek fulfilment of its longstanding political goals, particularly those related to the freedom struggle in Kashmir.

The so-called war on terror obliterated the lines separating genuine and long running freedom struggles from terrorism and when the US assault on Afghanistan commenced in October 2001, the Indians decided to follow suit. Opportunity presented itself soon, rather dubiously, in the form of the attack on the Indian Parliament. Within days, the Indians - citing “incontrovertible evidence” - had launched Operation Parakram, the largest ever mobilisation for war against Pakistan, and built up diplomatic pressure in a ruthless exercise of coercive diplomacy. During the next 10 months, it was through a skilful display of deft diplomatic manoeuvre by Pakistan and brandishing of a strong credible deterrence, conventional as well as nuclear, that war could be averted with narrowest of the margins.

A decade has passed since the event occurred, but the passage of time has hardly crystallised the Indian rationale of pushing the subcontinent to the brink of a nuclear conflagration. According to the Indian allegations, on December 13, 2001, at around 11.45 am, five men in an Ambassador car carrying a flashing beacon and a Home Ministry sticker drove into the Parliament’s premises and launched an attack. In the shootout, all five attackers were killed. None of them could be identified, but were, nevertheless, declared Pakistanis. The special judge of the Sessions Court, later, claimed that the dead persons were Pakistanis, “since no Indian came forward to claim their bodies” and, by way of evidence, the then Home Minister, L.K. Advani, proclaimed in Parliament that “the dead men looked like Pakistanis.”

Basing its case on such flimsy premise, India rushed heedlessly into its drive for coercive diplomacy against Pakistan. On December 21, India recalled its High Commissioner to Pakistan, banned Pakistani planes to fly over its territory and stopped rail and bus communications between the two countries. Both offers: The UN’s request to be involved in the probe and Pakistan’s offer to hold a joint probe into the attack were rejected. A war seemed all but inevitable. On at least two occasions – first, in January 2002, upon the completion of its mobilisation of 1.1 million Indian army to Pakistani borders and then, in May, following an attack on its military camp in Kaluchak by Kashmiri guerrillas - commencement of hostiles was virtually just a bullet away. While the Indians sought a limited war, Pakistan made it obvious that if India’s aggression commenced, then all dimensions of the defence matrix, including nuclear deterrence, would come into play. Munir Akram, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN, unequivocally articulated his nation’s resolve: “Pakistan has to rely on the means it possesses to deter Indian aggression…….and wouldn’t neutralise that deterrence by any doctrine of ‘no first use’.” It was only after a 10-month long standoff that the Indians blinked and slinked back to their cantonments, subsequently incurring a huge expenditure of Rs10 billion and suffering 800 casualties, mostly through walking into self-laid minefields and mechanical transport related accidents.

Despite charges of complicity, India has yet to provide the “incontrovertible evidence”, justifying the recklessness with which it embarked upon the course of military confrontation with Pakistan. The Parliament attack case followed the labyrinthine course of going through a Special Court, the High Court and finally the Supreme Court, yet there is no smoking gun to hold Pakistan accountable. It took the “third judicial pronouncement on the case by the Supreme Court of India in August 2004 that threw aside the charges involving Pakistan.” It is a shame though that the absolving of Pakistan from the ‘conspiracy’ charges by India’s Supreme Court has elicited no response from its media, as well as the political establishment; no apology or remorse for its churlish behaviour has been forthcoming.

Even more perplexing is the fact that, despite the Indian Parliament being the objective of the attack, no mainstream political party, no group of prominent individuals and none of the influential print or visual media has ever raised the question of an inquiry. The tragic figure of Afzal Guru, a renegade, with his longstanding association with India’s Special Task Force, emerges as the ultimate fall guy of the Parliament attack case, who never participated in the attack, yet has been convicted for the conspiracy and is awaiting the hangman’s noose in Delhi Jail ever since the Supreme Court handed down its verdict in 2004.

In the hindsight, India’s first attempt at using the military muscle to coerce Pakistan into submission in pursuit of its political goals proved a dismal failure. A major contributory reason was Pakistan’s credible military response and, more so, the availability of the nuclear deterrence that was well woven into the overall military strategy. The attempt is certainly not the last of its kind; sooner or later, the same is likely to be repeated. Future may hold situations inside India, without any linkages to Pakistan that could be cited as acts of war to coerce it (Pakistan) to make unacceptable political concessions over a threat of military aggression. The development of the ‘Cold Start’ strategy by India to reach critical depths of Pakistan, giving a minimum time for reaction, bears testament to its offensive military thinking. The only guarantee to ward off such a contingency, which can emerge out of thin air, as it happened on December 13, 2001, in Delhi, is to maintain a credible deterrence built around Pakistan’s hard won nuclear capability, supported by an unshakeable political establishment, to thwart any threat to national security.

  The writer is a freelance columnist.