11 June 2002

Rumsfeld has special forces offer for India

11 June 2002
The Times of India

Rumsfeld has special forces offer for India


NEW DELHI: As part of a plan to de-escalate tension between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control, Washington is considering a proposal for the ambit of Indo-US military cooperation to be expanded to allow US special forces to operate in Jammu and Kashmir.

According to sources, officials in both countries have been seriously evaluating this proposal, which is likely to be raised formally — along with other suggestions — when US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld meets Indian leaders here on Wednesday morning.

If at all this radical proposal goes through, any American military deployment is likely to be fairly modest and will officially be described by both India and the US as part of the continuing war against al-Qaeda. There will be no reference to the LoC or to the need to verify on the ground the extent of Pakistani compliance with General Musharraf’s assurances on ending cross-border infiltration.

However, the aim of the deployment would indeed be to monitor the LoC. As far as the Pakistani side of the LoC is concerned, the US is reported to be considering air-borne monitors tasked explicitly with observing cross-border movement.

The US proposal to India comes in the wake of Prime Minister Vajpayee rejecting the idea of "international monitors" for the LoC and Pakistan reacting coolly to the Indian proposal for joint Indo-Pak patrolling.

While both sides are evaluating the legal implications of US forces operating alongside the Indian military such as rules of engagement, immunity and sovereignty issues, officials in Washington and Delhi have concluded that it is only the war on al-Qaeda that can provide a politically safe rationale for the Vajpayee government to allow American troops in, given India’s traditional aversion to outside mediation in Kashmir.

It is possible that recent official Indian claims of al-Qaeda being active in the Valley and of "Arab-looking terrorists" being shot dead by the security forces in J&K are part of the government’s efforts to prepare the ground for "joint Indo-US military action".

In the days and weeks to come, say the sources, India could very well declare, "al-Qaeda and all the other bad guys are operating here and we invite the US to help us deal with them". A section of Indian officials has already started speaking of the possibility of the Kaluchak massacre and some other recent incidents in Jammu & Kashmir as being the handiwork of al-Qaeda.

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