Kashmir — An Appraisal

Kashmir is the burning issue these days and we read a great variety of views and suggestions in the newspapers. One may agree or disagree with these varied and often conflicting views and suggestions which only highlight the complexities of the problem. But one cannot disagree with the popular awareness and interest in the problem that sweep the country and reflect the growing public concern. Although it seems that the entire country is fully conscious of the Kashmir cause, unfortunately its vital importance to Pakistan and the implied risks and sacrifices inherent in its resolution suffer from misrepresentation. Nonetheless, this awareness by itself is a significant qualitative development.

Originally, Kashmir had not been as complex a problem as it has become. It was a simple case of accession of the state under the same principle of people’s will as declared by India before invading Junagarh and as later affirmed by the UN resolutions. But the problem acquired new complexities with India’s military aggression into Kashmir and Pakistan’s unpreparedness and slow reactions by its political leadership. In December 1948, having halted the Indian aggression, when the nascent Pakistan Army was ready for a counter-offensive (Operation Venus) in Rajauri-Naushera sector, it was deprived of the opportunity by the government’s hesitations and later its hurried acceptance of a ceasefire. Its lack of requisite resolve to take the risk allowed the Indo-British bluff, fraudulence and outright dishonesty to carry the day. Ever since, the Kashmir issue has suffered not only through its own treacherous leaders and surrogates but also through the inept political and military handling, lack of resolve and even neglect by Pakistan, allowing India to dig in and unabashedly challenge world opinion. Lost opportunities, concealed in the blunders and mistakes, misjudgment, hesitation and failures need to be recounted to expose political hypocrisy and military ineptitude. It would be wrong to dismiss the past to hide follies which have and continue to affect this issue of vital national interest. We should stop living with lies which have made us shy and apologetic, otherwise the same blunders will be repeated as happened in the past and as we witnessed most recently in the Kargil episode.

After forty years of default, the Kashmir situation has changed from within and during the last ten years has acquired a new dimension which reflects  the growing public resolve of the Kashmiris and the Pakistanis. Whether the impetus has come from within due to continuing Indian exploitation – cruel and dishonest to the core – or from the Afghan Jihad, notwithstanding the Indian accusations directed against Pakistan, the reality is that the Kashmiri freedom movement has not only survived the Indian oppression and brutalities inflicted on the unarmed civilians and extensive military operations against the freedom fighters to crush it but has expanded and become stronger. This is no mean achievement, particularly against doubts and apprehensions so frequently aired about the Kashmiris’ sustaining ability and the future of the movement. Now, it must not be allowed to be lost and sacrifices wasted under the influence of some demagogic and self-styled leaders, wishful exponents of peace or cynics and preachers of economic doom. Peace should be obtained with honour. It must ensure national interests and be durable. Anything short of it would bring us back to square one.

Fortunately for the first time we have a national leadership that is neither shy or apologetic about Pakistan’s full support to the Kashmir cause, nor is afraid of India’s vicious propaganda campaign which frequently crosses the limits of decency. Indeed, hidden behind the intensity of Indian salvos against the Pakistan military regime is the apprehension about the strength of its sincerity and determination which could not be breached through traditional Indian deceit and cunning. Whatever may be said about Pakistan’s internal situation, certainly not as bad as is being portrayed, today the Kashmir issue stands at a cross-road of decision which demands all self-respecting Pakistani citizens to set aside their meaningless bickering on petty issues and get united. This unity and resolve will be the most befitting response to Indian propaganda and other pressures.

There is nothing better than to resolve the Kashmir dispute peacefully. That is what we have been trying for the last fifty years! Given sincerity and will, it was a long enough period to resolve the issue particularly when the parameters of the dispute are so well defined and fully endorsed by the UN and Mr. Nehru. But it takes willing cooperation of both contenders to do it. Over the years, India has built its claims on fraudulent accession followed by deceptions, distortions and lies, violation of principles, reneging on her solemn promises and declarations, and now refusing altogether to negotiate. Do these indicate sincerity and willingness for a peaceful resolution? Indian deceit and cunning are proverbial and those who passionately plead for peaceful negotiation – certainly with sincere intentions – must not be carried away by Indian deception and charade. Indeed there are many who talk of ‘flexibility’, meaning compromise in our stance, perhaps to get whatever we can, or simply to get over it. This is just the trap the Indians would like us to fall into. Impatience of some of the self-styled Kashmiri leaders to enjoy privileges can be understood but such blind suggestions coming from Pakistani writers may prove suicidal. One may agree to flexibility and spirit of compromise for the success of any peaceful negotiation, particularly for a complex dispute such as Kashmir, but these must be exercised within the limits of national interests. Obviously the limits are to be identified and clearly drawn.

When the Quaid declared Kashmir to be ‘the jugular vein of Pakistan’, he was stating a geographical fact of strategic dimension. Having lost control of three rivers of the Punjab in the Partition, Kashmir with sources of the remaining three rivers (Indus included) assumes vital importance for our economic survival. This was and remains the main reason why India aggressed into Kashmir and maintains its stranglehold. The oft-propagated bogey of Nehru’s homesickness is nothing but hogwash. For India it is a simple matter of territorial advantage over Pakistan’s northern flank and the control of its water sources. We simply cannot allow these lifelines in hostile hands that reached there and are being sustained by a series of fraudulent and deceitful practices. In this respect, Kashmir after all and much to the dislike of many is a territorial concern of vital importance. It is amazing that we often ignore this vital aspect of Kashmir and keep harping on ‘the two-nation theory’ and its Islamic contents. The theory has served its purpose in the realization of Pakistan and as a separate nation having survived and existed for the last 53 years. No further proof or protestations are required and now all state policies and activities must relate to this reality. Our over-emphasis on this aspect will bring in the communal factor and a division of Kashmir will become inevitable, perhaps once again with the attendant displacement of population and human suffering. Islamic fundamentalism is the main theme of Indian diplomatic and media offensive abroad and by our over emphasizing the Islamic contents we would be playing into their hands. Geographically, historically, culturally and demographically, Kashmir is contiguous to and forms a natural part of Pakistan. By itself, it is a strong justification. As India claims Kashmir its ‘atoot ang’ on the basis of the fraudulent accession and rigged elections, we should also claim it to be integral to Pakistan on the basis of the popular Kashmiri rebellion against the Maharajah which unequivocally rejected the fraudulent accession to India, and its affirmation by the UN resolution for a plebiscite.

There has been a lot of glib talk on the new option of an ‘independent Kashmir’. The justification is at best a lame one: perhaps the Indians would agree to it! It is doubtful if those who promote this option, have considered the implications of Chinese factor, its claims on Aksai Chin and territories in Ladakh and how these would affect the option? What will be the status of Northern areas, a leased out territory to British India and which were physically liberated by its people who have nothing in common with Kashmir? What would be its economic viability – foreign aid wrapped in political influence and interference or playing the two contenders against each other for financial gains? Economically, Kashmir is a liability for India and it is only Pakistan whose economic interests flow through its rivers! There are hordes of other indicators that make this option highly questionable.

It is now clearly visible that the Indians for the first time in 50 years are under pressure in Kashmir. The decade long popular insurgency in Kashmir has begun to tell upon the Indian morale and resources. Despite heavy losses in the early period, more due to inexperience and naivet�, the freedom fighters in Kashmir have sustained their insurgency against the barbaric assaults of huge Indian forces. No country, however, big (recall USA in Vietnam and the Soviets in Afghanistan) can claim to have unlimited resources and sooner or later must come to the inevitable conclusion – whether human and economic attrition caused by the insurgency is sustainable? Admittedly, Indians would take a little more time to reach this fateful conclusion. They have their problem of a fragile pride and an obsessive hostility against Pakistan. Their failure here could bring down their delusive dream of power and recognition. With such high stakes, there should be no doubt that the Indians will give in any sooner or as easily. But the unusually aggressive Indian diplomacy, accompanied by shrill ‘wavaila’ (hue and cry) are ominous signs of increasing psychological pressures and economic effects of ongoing attrition in Kashmir. One  could say that the insurgency is now at a crucial threshold and to talk about ceasefire and negotiation without achieving an upper hand would be an indication of weakness. In this cauldron of violence, the winner will be the one who has stronger nerves and endurance and can persevere despite setbacks and losses. Indians’ failure to crush the insurgency with 700,000 strong force, is itself a proof of their inability and the inherent strength of the insurgency.

Any enemy in a losing battle either gambles on a last desperate option or tries to salvage the losses keeping them to a minimum. The Indians cannot be an exception. India’s desperate gamble could include a limited war in Azad Kashmir or a general war along the international border with Pakistan or both. One can hope that the Indians would not start a general war which could be highly detrimental to her interests in Kashmir and may prove counter productive to her diplomatic campaign abroad; however, one cannot afford to lower guard against Indian desperation. A limited war in Azad Kashmir is a possibility, though all offensive operations in the mountains (and Kashmir mountains are peculiarly difficult) suffer from inherent disadvantages. Since Indians cannot use their full military potential, operations would be slow and expensive and well fortified Pakistani defences should be able to blunt such an adventure (Indians already have a taste of it in Kargil). The most important aspect of both enemy options relate to the Pakistani freedom to physically support the insurgency. Such a war should release Pakistan of its self-imposed restraint and under a well prepared plan, it should be ready to move in and fight alongside the freedom fighters. It is not very difficult for the Indian military to foresee these implications, though their politicians will continue to play the bluff to scare and intimidate the feeble-hearted amongst us.

Eventually, therefore, as the pressure mounts on the Indians, they could opt for salvaging their losses to the minimum through negotiations. This could be the most tricky and dangerous phase, since the Indians would use their traditional abilities in cunning and deceit to their best advantage. Make no mistake, the Indians would never give in to the wishful Pakistani or Kashmiri demands unless they are convinced of the futility of continuing with the illegal occupation. Their objective would be to deny any strategic advantage to Pakistan. We should, therefore, have clear formulation of the maximum limits of compromise which must guarantee our national interests and those of our trusted allies, viz, China. In this context we must be conscious and alert to the new political developments in the form of the Indo-US nexus being evolved to encircle China which would equally affect Pakistan. It will also be best to discourage the communal bias of the movement and ensure unity amongst the freedom fighters and their groups who would be vulnerable to Indian exploitation.

Meanwhile, the freedom movement in Held Kashmir must continue. The freedom fighters from Kashmir and volunteers from Pakistan must remember that the price of freedom is often paid in blood.

Mr. Rafiuddin Ahmed is Maj Gen (Retd) of Pakistan Army and columnist.