Post-Taliban, Pak may silence guns in Valley
10 October 2001
The Indian Express
Srinagar: PAKISTAN’S about-turn on its Afghan policy has been so complete that there is disquiet in the Valley. In fact, separatist circles are anticipating a major shift in the country’s Kashmir policy. Citing ‘‘national interest’’, General Pervez Musharraf not only turned his back on the Taliban but had no qualms in denouncing them as harbourers of terrorists. Significantly, he said in the same breath that all this was necessary to protect the Kashmir cause. This has been taken as an indication that the fundamentals of Islamabad’s Kashmir policy have changed: Now the focus will be on the ‘‘freedom struggle’’ rather than jehad that transcends the agenda of self- determination. The argument is that Musharraf can’t fight the jehadis at home and at the same time make them his main players in his Kashmir gambit. So, he will have to change his cast of characters and the moderates are likely to benefit. ‘‘September 11 has changed the world, it has changed global mindsets. And it has left a very thin line between terrorism and violent political movements or freedom struggles across the world,’’ said a political observer who didn’t wish to be quoted. ‘‘Now the genuineness of an armed political struggle is being judged by whether it is to the liking of the west or not.’’ He said Musharraf had ‘‘outsmarted India and managed to keep almost all the jehadi groups based in Pakistan and fighting for the Kashmir cause away from US wrath, but for how long? Musharraf has no option but to change his main players in the Kashmir separatist movement. He cannot fight the jehadi groups like Jamiat-e-Ulemai Islam, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Jaish -e-Mohammad inside Pakistan and simultaneously allow them to be at the centrestage of Kashmir militancy and thus control his Kashmir cause.’’ A Hurriyat leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘‘Pakistan decided to sacrifice its own baby in Afghanistan so that the Kashmir cause is not hurt. But now which group will have the support and blessings of Pakistan inside Kashmir will also be determined by the US and its western allies. ‘‘Although there is no militant or political group active here which has direct links with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida, there exists a very strong ideological bond. It is evident on the streets of Pakistan. And, ironically, these very pan-Islamic militant groups are at the forefront of the fight against India in Kashmir. Once the Pakistan government distances itself from these forces, they definitely have to look for a different voice.’’ Interestingly, the moderates in the Kashmir insurgency are now hoping that their marginalisation by Pakistan would end. ‘‘We are hopeful that the struggle for the third option (independent Kashmir) will benefit,’’ said a former commander of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). ‘‘Musharraf’s decision is bound to strengthen those who believe Kashmir to be a political problem rather than a purely religious issue. It has strengthened the view that the Kashmiri people are not fighting against India because they are Muslims but because they have been denied their right to self- determination.’’ The head of the department of political science in Jammu University, Prof Rekha Choudhary, agrees that groups like the JKLF and the Democratic Freedom Party, led by Shabir Shah, can gain from the situation. ‘‘Musharraf cannot continue in contradictory terms...Pakistan will have to give its Kashmir struggle a moderate face. It will promote the moderate elements in the Hurriyat Conference. If Musharraf remains in power, we can expect the emphasis to be on politics rather than the gun,’’ she said. A Kashmir University lecturer felt ‘‘it will be comparatively easy for Musharraf to check and minimise the activities of the jehadi groups in Kashmir rather than inside Pakistan. He is not a politician but a military ruler, and he can easily seal the borders and disallow these militants from sneaking into Kashmir, if he wants to do so.’’ However, the message is still to sink in in many quarters and there is confusion. For instance, when Kashmir University students were protesting against the US strikes, slogans in favour of both the Taliban and Pakistan were heard. The contradiction was more stark in hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s statement describing the strikes as terrorism but arguing that Pakistan was doing it under compulsion. However, radical groups just blasted Musharraf. The chief of Dukhtaran-e-Millat, Syeda Aisa Andrabi said Pakistan was following an ‘‘anti-Islam agenda’’ and urged the ‘‘Afghan Defence Council in Pakistan that comprises of Islamic organisations to teach the Pakistan rulers a lesson.’’ And outfits like these are not so sure now that in a crisis Pakistan may would not abandon the Kashmir cause altogether for the sake of ‘‘national interest’’.