Musharraf confirms his betrayal of the Kashmiri struggle for freedom

Pakistan’s rulers never miss an opportunity to pretend that abject surrender to their enemies is a grand victory. General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s self-styled president, did precisely that after abandoning the country’s 56-year-old Kashmir policy: he called the abandonment "historic" after his meeting with Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on January 6 in Islamabad. Musharraf’s pronouncements echoed those of another general, Yahya Khan, who told stunned Pakistanis on radio and television, after 90,000 Pakistani troops had surrendered to the invading Indian army in East Pakistan (December 16, 1971), that they had entered into a "local arrangement" and that the war would continue on the western front until total victory.

Different motives have been ascribed to Musharraf’s abandoning the Kashmiris: a changed international environment, diminishing returns on a policy of supporting militancy, and finally Pakistan’s weakened position both economically and militarily vis-a-vis India. None of this, however, explains Musharraf’s real motives. He is desperate to remain in power, and sees America as the only guarantor of his political survival, so he accedes to every US demand without question. Washington has been leaning on him to settle the Kashmir dispute, so that India can be free to pursue the larger US agenda by assuming the role of a regional policeman, so he has obliged by doing so.

Musharraf’s surrender also indicates that the Pakistani military’s leadership has been going soft, and is no longer willing to fight to rescue the Kashmiris from India. When officers become accustomed to perks, acquire huge bank-balances and busy themselves with grabbing as much land as possible at home, while seeking retirement abroad, then they can be said to have bid farewell to professional competence. Not surprisingly, when Pakistan’s corps commanders met on January 18 to review the agreement signed by Musharraf with India, there was apparently not a single word of dissent. This is surprising for an army that has devoured the bulk of the country’s resources, depriving vital sectors of much-needed funds, because of the sanctity of the Kashmir cause.

There have been a number of changes in the top ranks of the army in recent weeks; more are on the way. At least two senior generals are retiring this month. Musharraf wants to ensure that only those loyal to him get the best posts. He is dangling the carrot of top spot –” chief of army staff –” currently occupied by himself, to the general who shows him the most loyalty. He has already announced that the promotion will be based on competence, not seniority. This gives him considerable lee-way to promote his own man. With Musharraf due to shed his uniform by the end of 2004, he will need a trusted ally to head the army; without it he will be politically vulnerable.

The surrender with India was signed under the cover of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) conference held in Islamabad from January 4 to 6. After a closed-door meeting with Vajpayee on January 6, Musharraf said: "History has been made…The string that was broken at Agra has been repaired in Islamabad." The surrender was sealed after a telephone conversation between the two the next morning. The Indians could hardly conceal their glee: they had got more than their wildest expectations; Pakistan got little or nothing. A joint statement issued by the two sides said: "President Musharraf reassured Prime Minister Vajpayee that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner." But the Indians were not satisfied with Pakistan ceding all rights over Kashmir and branding the Kashmiris’ struggle as "terrorism" –” Musharraf had already set aside the UN Security Council resolutions in an interview on December 18, 2003 –” they wanted to make sure that Musharraf understands he still has to do even more. The joint statement went on: "Prime Minister Vajpayee said that in order to take forward and sustain the dialogue process, violence, terrorism and hostility must be prevented."

There was not even a hint that India would terminate its atrocious policies of murder and rape in Kashmir (in a vain attempt to intimidate and cow the population into submission); nor did the joint statement say that Delhi would reduce the number of troops there. By announcing a unilateral ceasefire on the Line of Control (November), Musharraf has given India carte blanche to finish putting up a fence so that the Vale of Kashmir will be permanently sealed off from the rest of the state. And by his promising not to make trouble, Delhi is given a free hand to intensify its policy of repression and attempt to destroy any remaining pockets of resistance. This became evident with the Indian occupation forces continuing to kill Kashmiri civilians, despite all the talk in Islamabad of peace and good neighbourliness.

All Pakistan has got out of this whole affair is an agreement by India to start a "composite dialogue" later this month. The two countries’ foreign secretaries will meet in Delhi to work out what to do about confidence-building measures. Indian officials have already said that Kashmir will take a long time to resolve. With buses and trains going back and forth, and elites from the two countries holding mushairas to entertain each other, there will be little or no need to talk about Kashmir. And if Pakistani officials raise the issue at any meeting, one can be certain how the Indians will respond. Altaf Gauhar, press secretary to president Ayub Khan, reported once in one of his columns an encounter between Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Swaran Singh in the early sixties. When the two foreign ministers met, Bhutto made an eloquent presentation about Pakistan’s case for Kashmir. Swaran Singh then poured cold water over all his arguments, saying that if the leaders of the two countries could not reach agreement on the Kashmir dispute, how could they, mere foreign ministers, do so in one sitting. That was the end of the meeting. Today Pakistan is in a much weaker position, made all the more precarious by American pressure.

Rather cleverly, the Indians have been able to lay down the terms under which "a certain process" would be initiated. Yaswant Sinha, the Indian external affairs minister, said: "We are interested in the success of a certain process, and if you are interested in the success of the same process, you have to act responsibly." This means neutralizing those who oppose the deal on Kashmir, such as Islamic groups, contemptuously referred to as jihadis. Henceforth both Delhi and Islamabad will deal with these groups by intelligence-sharing, secret diplomatic channels known euphemistically as "Track-II diplomacy", and extradition of fighters to India. This is conveniently facilitated by the Protocol on Terrorism adopted at the SAARC summit on January 6, which formalizes intelligence-sharing and monitoring the finances of groups that are branded as "terrorist" by either India or the US (or both).

As if to underscore his earnestness, lieutenant general Ehsanul Haq, head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), held secret meetings with Brajesh Mishra, Vajpayee’s national security advisor, both before and during the SAARC summit. Mishra confirmed that there is every likelihood that the two countries will fight "terrorism" together. In other words, Kashmiri mujahideen will now be hunted by both Indian and Pakistani troops, as the latter are doing already in Afghanistan under the Americans’ orders. Musharraf personally confirmed this after the joint statement: "We will adopt more measures to curb religious extremism… We have to take to task every extremist… No extremism will be allowed in Pakistan."

Only a year ago Musharraf was saying that a distinction must be made between freedom-fighters and terrorists. Since the SAARC summit that distinction has been abandoned. Musharraf and his men will now hunt the very people whose sacrifices have pinned down 700,000 Indian troops in Kashmir for more than 14 years, freeing Pakistani troops from the burden. But when personal ambitions get in the way even the most cherished principles are thrown to the winds. This is what Musharraf has done. Although he is hailed as a statesman in the West, Muslims both in Pakistan and elsewhere view him very differently: as a traitor in the mould of Anwar Sadat of Egypt.