Eyeing Kashmir, India Is Wary About Resignation

18 August 2008
The Washington Post

New Delhi: For India, Pervez Musharraf's resignation as the president of Pakistan leaves a power vacuum during an increasingly tense time between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Musharraf's legacy in India is mixed, but many Indians credit him with helping bring about relative peace in Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region claimed by both countries. 'He was India's best bet in Pakistan. We will miss Musharraf,' said A.G. Noorani, a constitutional lawyer and Kashmir expert. 'If he had not fired his judges and gotten bogged down in domestic dramas, I believe we would have been able to make a significant breakthrough in a peace deal in Kashmir today.' Relations between India and Pakistan improved during the last four years of Musharraf's presidency. But violence in Pakistan surged during the four months leading up to his departure. Taliban fighters appeared to gain ground in the country's restive northwest, and sporadic violence spilled over into India and neighboring Afghanistan. Both India and Afghanistan blame Pakistan's intelligence services for a July 7 suicide bomb attack on India's embassy in Kabul that killed more than 40 people, a claim supported by evidence recently uncovered by the United States. Pakistan has denied the allegation. ad_icon There have also been several cease-fire violations in the past few months along the Line of Control, the de facto border dividing Kashmir, a region that has been claimed by both Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan since the bloody partition of the subcontinent in 1947. It is a region over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars, nearly coming to blows again in 2002. The Indian government reacted cautiously to news that Musharraf had quit. 'We have no comments to make on the resignation of President Musharraf of Pakistan,' it said in a statement. 'This is an internal matter of Pakistan.' Recent protests in Kashmir have triggered a war of words between Islamabad and New Delhi, a flare-up that some here say would have been quelled by now if Musharraf had been able to focus his attention on it. Instead, the tension is worsening as some Indian politicians blasted Pakistan for calling for a greater U.N. role in Kashmir. Some Indians prefer a military leader in Pakistan, fearing that a civilian might not have enough clout with the military or the intelligence services, which many here see as the most powerful institutions in Pakistan. Many also question whether a civilian government would be able to rein in the clusters of extremist fighters that have wreaked havoc in Pakistan with roadside attacks and suicide bombings. Many Indians blamed Musharraf for an armed attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in 2001. The incident sparked a rapid military buildup on both sides of the border, bringing the countries to the brink of yet another war. 'Still, Musharraf was a one-man go-to guy in Pakistan. Now who do we speak to? These are very uncertain times,' said Bharart Bushan, editor of the Mail Today, a popular English-language newspaper in New Delhi. In Afghanistan, which shares a long and lawless border with Pakistan, there was relief at Musharraf's resignation. The countries' border areas are where senior al-Qaeda figures are believed to be hiding. Afghanistan has accused Pakistan's intelligence services of aiding an April assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai.