May 2004 News

It`s Time To Rethink Kashmir

11 May 2004
The News International
Pervez Hoodbhoy

Karachi: Kashmir does not have any military solution - the last decade of unremitting conflict proves this fact. Pakistan lacks the muscle to wrest Kashmir from illegitimate Indian rule, and India cannot win decisively over Pakistan in the difficult, mountainous terrains. This remains as true today as in 1989 when New Delhi`s unconscionable manipulation of Kashmiri politics, and its monumental administrative incompetence, led to a popular uprising. Pakistan was quick to translate India`s losses into its gains. The Afghan war was over, fighters were aplenty, and large numbers of Kashmiri refugees flowed onto the Pakistani side. Thus the bleed-India-through-jihad policy, to be simultaneously accompanied by denials of involvement, was born. This was a supposedly low-cost option that Pakistan`s military establishment imagined would lead to eventual victory, a means to change an otherwise unchangeable status-quo. Post-Iraq - and 70,000 Kashmiri, Pakistani, and Indian lives later - it is time to ask whether Pakistan is gaining or losing by single-mindedly pursuing this path. Has this `low-cost` covert war brought Kashmir any closer to liberation? Without serious and scrupulously honest introspection, a wise future course cannot be charted for our nation. Pakistan must now decide whether it can afford the next decade to look like the previous one. With Prime Minister Vajpayee`s forthcoming visit, which he dramatically describes as the `third and last` peace effort of his lifetime, it is essential to see how yet another failure can be averted. Rethinking Kashmir is now essential for both sides. Pakistan`s rationale for covert war in Kashmir was two-fold. The first objective was to bleed India into a state of abject weakness after which it would presumably quit Kashmir. But this goal was never met. Indian forces, both regular and paramilitary, did sustain high losses in Kashmir and the cost of maintaining large contingents remains considerable. But no evidence suggests any real weakening of Indian resolve or strength. On the contrary, as particularly evidenced during the Kargil war, an unprecedented show of national unity emerged in India. The rise of virulent Hindutva forces can be traced directly to anti-Pakistan feelings and the Kashmir situation. More significantly, contrary to the expectation of Pakistani strategists, India`s economy did not collapse but, instead, boomed. Indian foreign exchange reserves currently stand at over $70 billion and IT companies alone earn India a solid $10 billion a year, more than Pakistan`s total foreign exchange holdings. This figure is expected to double in the next two-three years. Indian scientific institutions are now being counted among the world`s best. Pakistan`s re-born economy, on the other hand, owes more to General Musharraf`s adroit handling of the 9/11 attack than to any inner strength. Its industry is barely crawling while education and scientific research seem incurably ill. In a technologically driven world, this is a devastating weakness. The second Pakistani rationale was, and is, to keep Kashmir in the news. The implicit hope is that a high level of tension between two nuclear-armed states will eventually alarm the international community - most particularly the United States - and so force a recalcitrant India to see reason. To raise fear levels Pakistani leaders sometimes deliberately worked to cultivate an image of Pakistan as a defiant, nuclear-armed state ready to commit suicide. But, at other moments, they sought to project an image of being calm, assured, and responsible. Though confusing, such signals made the threat of nuclear apocalypse sufficiently real to keep a steady stream of western leaders coming to Islamabad and Delhi at the peak of the tensions last year. Pakistan felt pleased - the world was now not forgetting Kashmir and would rush to solve the dispute. This turned out to be a fatal miscalculation. In fact, the principal alarm evidenced by the world in general, and the US in particular, has been in relation to the Kashmiri Mujahideen and Pakistani nuclear weapons. This attitude preceded the 9/11 attack, but now dominates all thinking. The US State Department`s recent declaration of 30 jihadist organizations as terrorist includes the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the largest Mujahideen group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, with no history of attacking US interests. This sends a clear message to Pakistan that violence in Kashmir, whether caused by indigenous groups or by Pakistani-supported militants, will boomerang. In the international press Pakistan now frequently stands accused of inciting violence, and of using the nuclear card to provoke fear, while India is blamed less frequently now than in the past. To be in the news is now no longer a good thing. Are Pakistani strategists ready to accept this hard fact? The consequence of waging covert war has been a steady loss of international support for the Kashmiri struggle. This fact is known to all Pakistani diplomats who represent Pakistan`s position in the world`s capitals, including those of Muslim countries. The moral high ground - the most potent weapon of the weak - erodes ever more sharply after every massacre of Hindu civilians in Kashmir. This has led many Mujahideen groups to sharply condemn these incidents and to blame Indian security forces, but these denials and condemnations receive little acceptance. On the other hand, India, the occupying power in Kashmir, has successfully portrayed itself as a victim of covert terror. These damning facts call for a rethink. One wonders if Pakistan has any coherent game plan for Kashmir, or any kind of time-frame. There is little evidence of this. Resistance to change has many sources - a possible backlash from the religious parties and extreme elements within the military, a large standing army that needs an enemy, and sheer intellectual laziness. Inertia, default, and ad hocism dominate planning and design. As the late Eqbal Ahmad passionately argued, although India`s leaders bear much responsibility for Kashmir`s tragedy, Pakistan`s defective Kashmir policy had repeatedly `managed to rescue defeat from the jaws of victory`. Where should new directions point? Surely, any significant change will require a spirit of compromise as a prerequisite, which in turn requires recognition that a military solution is impossible. If so, principles and pragmatism can then march together, and the two countries can abandon positions fixed half a century ago. The your-loss-is-my-gain mentality must be exchanged for one that values economic prosperity and social stability. On our side, the slogan `Pakistan First` recently offered by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Jamali offers rich potentialities. Suitably interpreted, this requires Pakistan to live up to its officially stated position - Pakistan shall provide only moral, diplomatic, and political support to Kashmiris struggling against India but no more. Indeed, this is exactly what reason, logic, strategic sense, and new geo-political realities require of Pakistan. If Pakistan should offer a strategic pause then India must respond positively. But what reasons could motivate India, and what forms could the response take? The undeniable fact is that India is morally isolated from the Kashmiri people and incurs the very considerable costs of an occupying power. Its industry, capable of double-digit growth, needs stability for this to happen. And, of no small importance, Indian soldiers do not want to die in Kashmir. By acknowledging Kashmir as a problem that needs a solution, releasing political prisoners from Kashmiri jails, and agreeing to a mutual reduction of hostile state-sponsored propaganda, India would appropriately acknowledge its part of the deal. Logic and pragmatism require India and Pakistan to explore non-maximalist solutions. Minus the two obvious ones, Kashmir watchers have counted over 30 possibilities. One, that makes particular sense, envisages two reconstituted Kashmiri entities possibly straddling the Line of Control with their own respective governments and constitutions. These two non-hostile entities, one associated with Pakistan and the other India, would have soft borders allowing for easy transit of people and goods. The details need to be worked out by all three parties: Kashmiris, Pakistanis, and Indians. The United States could serve as a facilitator. The road to peace is open - if there is willingness to travel.


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