Pakistan: Whither Kashmir Policy?
18 November 2003
Lahore: Last week's development, where the majority of the mainstream top leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the umbrella body of the political resistance in Kashmir, stayed away from the traditionally high-profile Iftar dinner of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi is a worrying pointer for Pakistan's Kashmir policy. What is worse is this event formalised the split in the APHC with Syed Ali Gilani, apparently enjoying Pakistan's blessings, while others like Mir Waiz Omar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat and Abbas Ansari, who have been long-standing friends of Pakistan as forefront leaders of the political resistance, left out in the lurch. This split couldn't have come at a worse time. At a time when Pakistan is keen to place the Kashmir issue on the front-burner of its diplomacy, the split in the internationally accepted political face of the resistance will undermine Pakistan's capacity to effectively promote the Kashmir cause both in international fora or in its relations with India. The split, which is now in the open, could not have suited India better, given New Delhi's bid to open a formal dialogue with the APHC through Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, reinforced by a major Indian diplomatic offensive in the region. That diplomatic offensive has seen, within the last fortnight, India forging strong links with countries around Pakistan: China, Iran, Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics. For example: ¤ China and India have just completed their naval exercises, the first between the two countries; ¤ Russia has accepted the Indian line that no outside mediation is necessary on Kashmir; ¤ The Indian Prime Minister has strengthened military cooperation with Tajikistan, including rumours of a military base, the Indian Defence Minister has been doing the same in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, while their Foreign Minister was in Uzbekistan to forge a 'common anti- terror strategy'; ¤ India is now seeking a revival of the Silk Route bypassing Pakistan with goods sent by sea via the Iranian port of Chahbahar which will then be transported by rail and road to Tajikistan and other Central Asian states; ¤ Afghanistan's Foreign Minister, in Washington, has discounted Islamabad's allegations regarding any Indian anti-Pakistan role in that country, while accusing Pakistan of harbouring Taliban holdovers in a tone and language somewhat similar to India's 'cross border terrorism' mantra; ¤ Iran's President Khatami told the Indian ambassador in Tehran that India, Iran and Afghanistan should 'cooperate for regional stability.' Pakistan's foreign policy has largely been on the defensive and somewhat reactive since 9-11. Its major success was to prevent an Indo-American gang-up against Pakistan which was in the offing, but thanks to the U-turn on Afghanistan, that was prevented. However, that new window of opportunity post 9-11, when the international community started viewing Pakistan as a pivotal political player, would largely be squandered if the centerpiece of foreign policy, the Kashmir cause, is undermined either by design or default. If this split, the first since APHC's formation in 1993, acquires permanence, then Pakistan will end up following the disastrous Afghan route on Kashmir as well. It were the divisions in Afghanistan's Seven Party Alliance, augmented by Pakistan's proclivity to play 'favourites' that damaged the both the Afghan resistance and Pakistan's capacity to stabilize the situation following the Red Army's exit from Afghanistan. Pakistan had played host to Gulbadin Hekmatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani since 1975, propped and promoted them, but in 1994, both were denounced as 'agents of India' and ditched while the Taliban were embraced as the new 'favourites' in the Afghan power struggle. After 9-11, the Taliban too were denounced, accused of fomenting 'religious extremism', and Pakistan was forced to witness the transformation of Afghanistan's political landscape. The main problem in Pakistan's Afghan policy was a mindset that viewed Afghanistan's struggle as primarily an extension of Islamabad's foreign policy, with a tendency to control the resistance as its instruments. And Afghanistan was practically perceived as Pakistan's 'fifth province'. Such a mindset sought flunkies, not friends, among the Afghan resistance. And it is thus no accident that Ahmed Shah Massood, who came to Pakistan alongwith Hekmatyar and Rabbani in 1975, not only broke away but later became a sworn enemy of Pakistan, a path subsequently followed by the other two Mujahideen leaders as well. Given this context, is Pakistan destined to repeat the Afghan mistakes in Kashmir? A decade after the APHC was launched, Gilani has now been anointed as the official 'favourite' while others in the APHC, who may differ from the Gilani line, have overnight been transformed into non-persons on Pakistan's official electronic media as if they have ceased to politically exist! No reference, no mention and no names of those like Mir Waiz Omar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat and Abbas Ansari who were once featured nightly on news, which is more akin to a Communist-style purge where the purged leaders were either denounced in public or suddenly became non-persons. Like the Afghan resistance, there is now a growing list of disillusioned Kashmiri leaders, who had pinned hopes on Pakistan, but these were dashed over time due to wrong attitudes and bad policies, people like the late Abdul Ghani Lone, Abdul Majid Dar and Azam Inqalabi, the latter two returning to the occupied territory from their exile in Azad Kashmir. While the international environment post 9-11, fuelled by the 'war on terror' with strong anti-Islamic overtones, has generally favoured the Indian position on Kashmir, the situation inside Occupied Kashmir remains to India's detriment and to the relative advantage of Pakistan. For instance, The New York Times, in its issue of November 16, reported that 'more young Kashmiri men appear to be joining a guerrilla campaign for independence in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir', terming it as a 'new setback for India'. And The New York Times also listed the primary reason for fuelling the freedom struggle in Occupied Kashmir, not Pakistan, but India's own brutal repression: 'A year after the new government was elected with a 'healing touch' policy, Kashmiris say that human rights abuses by Indian security forces have continued, fueling a rise in young Kashmiris joining the insurgency, which has killed 40,000 to 80,000 people.' And the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) has said a whopping 8,000 Kashmiris are 'missing' since 1990, 116 within the past year. However, that setback to India inside occupied Kashmir would be neutralized on the political front were the APHC to remain split. If the Kashmir issue is to be revived diplomatically and Kashmir's cause is to avoid the fate of the Afghan Jihad, then Pakistani policy-makers need to pull up their socks, and take steps to straighten out a situation that is today at a crossroads. An imaginative, pro-active policy based on trust and confidence in the Kashmiri leadership is called for. For starters, the contradictions in Pakistan's Kashmir policy need to be sorted out. Pakistan has said that 'any solution acceptable to the Kashmiris will be acceptable to Pakistan.' And Pakistan has always stated that India must talk to the Kashmiris since they are a party to the conflict. Notwithstanding its motives, when India expresses its willingness to talk to the APHC, albeit a faction of it, Pakistan develops cold feet, although the APHC leaders themselves have laid down conditions for the dialogue with India that are similar to what Pakistan has been propounding all along. It comes across as if Pakistan cannot trust APHC to talk to the Indians directly. Another contradiction evident is that while Pakistan considers the Kashmir insurgency as legitimate and indigenous, but when the major indigenous movement, Hizbul Mujahideen, is put on the US State Department 'terrorism watch list' although it has no record of attacking American lives or property, Pakistan's response is strangely muted. Conversely, despite Hizbullah being officially labeled by the US as a 'terrorist organization', Israel has had no qualms in negotiating with Hizbullah for a prisoners swap. A major lesson for Pakistan regarding Afghanistan is that while the Afghan jihad was militarily successful, Pakistan lost the game politically in Afghanistan through wrong policies that alienated long-standing friends. Pakistan needs to carefully review its Kashmir policy in the light of Indian diplomatic activism and take urgent practical steps that promote conciliation, not cleavage, within the APHC. Otherwise in the coming crucial months, the APHC split would be a sure recipe for a major foreign policy fiasco.