September 2002 News

'19 Kashmiris' Pakistan isn't bothered about

17 September 2002
The Indian Express
Amin M Lakhani

New Delhi: PAKISTAN'S singular obsession with Kashmir, subordinating it to all other priorities, has been self-defeating. Domestically, it has thwarted Pakistan's development. Internationally, it has diminished its stature and smeared its reputation. Even its spiritual development has been warped by the proliferation, popularisation and increase in relative power—post Partition—of religious groups that represent an intolerant, militant and gender-biased interpretation of Islam. In one word, Pakistan's obsession with Kashmir has been suicidal, albeit of a time-delayed variety. More importantly, the obsession with Kashmir has prevented the acknowledgment, and hence resolution, of innumerable domestic problems, each more critical and bigger than Kashmir. At a minimum, there are 19 Kashmir-sized problems in Pakistan. Take political rights. The 145 million people of Pakistan are clamouring for the right of self-determination of the 13 million people of Kashmir. Fair enough. There are strong historical, geographical and religious reasons to do so. Moreover, this issue is inexorably linked with the very idea of Pakistan. But what political rights have the people of Pakistan enjoyed over the past 50 years? Pakistan has been mainly misruled by generals, bureaucrats and politicians. Under the best case, it will in the future have a "managed democracy" where the sovereignty of its people and their elected representatives will be overseen by another body. Under the worst case, history will repeat itself, with the country swinging between a fake democracy and a dictatorship. Either way, 145 million Pakistanis, equal to 11 times the population of Kashmir, will continue to be denied the rights enshrined in their own constitution. Can Pakistan demand, with a straight face, rights for another people when it has consistently denied political rights to its own for over 50 years? Next, consider poverty. According to a Pakistani public-policy group, approximately 38% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2000-2001. That's 55 million people, equivalent to the population of four Kashmirs. Are Pakistan's efforts to eradicate poverty as focused and forceful as its efforts to keep the Kashmir pot boiling? Did the ruling elite seek the consent of the 55 million impoverished people to determine if they agreed to subordinate to the Kashmir cause the alleviation of their poverty? Now, think about education. The World Bank states that in 2000, 54 % of the population above 15 was illiterate. With the population of those above 15 years of the age at 85 millions, this yields an adult illiterate population of 46 million - over three times the population of Kashmir. This number excludes the millions under 15 who can't afford to attend school. Is the benefit to Pakistan from the restoration of the political rights to 13 million Kashmiris so much greater than the cost and shame of raising an Islamic republic of 46 million Pakistanis voluntarily agree to remain illiterate so that the nation could divert resources to other purposes. As for health care again according to World Bank, in 1999 the mortality rate for children under five years of age was 126 per 1000. In comparison, the figure in Malaysia was 10. How many deaths would have been avoided if Pakistan's rate matched Malaysia's? The arithmetic would suggest that over 403,000 children are unnecessarily dying in Pakistan every year for lack of investment in the basic health care. At this rate as many Pakistani infants as the entire current population of Kashmir have died over the past 12 years. What kind country allows its infants to perish when the means to eradicate such an evil exists? Politicians hold rallies, marches and hurl threats against India when Kashmiris die. Why aren't they outraged against the daily, silent, deaths of Pakistani children? Why have the generals who're so keen to defend Pakistan from its external enemies not declared war on the biggest killer of Pakistani children operating within Pakistan's borders? Based on this admittedly non-rigorous analysis there are at least 19 Kashmir-sized problems in Pakistan today. The exact number is probably higher. This is because the "Kashmirs" of unemployment, of the unavailability of potable water, electricity, sanitation and housing, of gender bias, human-rights violations, minority harassment and sectarianism have not been counted. This calculation also excludes the "Kashmirs" lost by Pakistan. Remember East Pakistan? The Pakistani leadership made a courageous decision after Sept. 11 last year by cutting its ties to the Taliban and supporting the coalition against terrorism. The time has come for another momentous decision for the same reason. Pakistan should permanently cease any overt or covert military action in Kashmir. It should disarm all militants and disband all supporting camps and training facilities. However Pakistan should continue to provide moral, diplomatic and political support to indigenous forces fighting for their political rights. This policy will reduce tensions with India and allow Pakistan to concentrate on "liberating" the dozens of internal Kashmir-sized problems. Moreover, it is the responsibility of Pakistan's elite to inform and explain these sobering truths to the people: First, that Kashmir cannot he liberated militarily— even General Musharraf admits that. Second, India will make Pakistan pay a very high price for supporting cross-border militancy. If Pakistan believes it can play the nuclear card, it must also know that although a nuclear exchange may severely damage India, it will destroy Pakistan. General Musharraf should act upon the same advice he gave the people of Bangladesh recently when he said that the "courage to compromise is greater than to confront." If Pakistan is willing to forego confrontation, its youth at least have the prospect of transforming its founder Jinnah's vision into reality in their lifetime.


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