Pakistan and India’s options in the war of the new century

“Kashmir” is in the headlines again, thanks to Indian threats of a bloody war against Pakistan. Terrestrial and satellite TV stations and Radio broadcasters in the UK and USA continue to look for new stories in their attempt to bring out some of the hidden aspects of the conflict behind the Indian threat. This renewed threat has given little space for Pakistani policy makers to assess and re-assess the direction they should be taking on Kashmir apart from President Musharraf’s announcement on 12th January, which sought to curb the growing menace of religious intolerance in the country. The pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan have not had a chance to come out of the coma to re-assemble or react to his declaration of reforms. The lessons from the long overdue demise of the Taliban in Afghanistan are yet to be absorbed but the dangers of mixing religion with politics for expediency are well realized in Pakistan. Those who sought to use street power in empty rhetoric by exploiting religious sentiments without engaging the brain and without the ability to backup their claims with force have placed themselves in a hole. Will they ever learn to stop digging when you are in a hole? Only time will tell.

The tragic events of 9-1-1 in America have indeed changed the world and will continue to reshape the international agenda for a longtime. If Mr. Bin Laden was indeed behind the terrorist attack (and there is little doubt now), he has helped put most unnatural allies in the same bed to the disadvantage of worlds down trodden and dispossessed suffering from global power struggle and economic deprivation. It is not entirely true that smaller and weaker nations have a chance to share in the dividends in the fight against international terrorism.

Their choices were limited but did Pakistan make the right choice? Have the Kashmir policy and nuclear installations truly been saved or is it just a myth of the minds?

What is true is that Pakistan (in its domestic rethinking) and India (in Kashmir context) have already begun to reap the fruit. Pakistan’s self-style president, General éPrevez Musharraf – accused by India of being the architect of Kargil, and his army’s Inter Services Intelligence unit, whose name often fails me for the contradiction in terms in the name, which is accused of masterminding “a terrorist campaign in Jammu Kashmir” – éhave apparently ordered the rank and file of those who aspired to re-conquer New Delhi to stop digging any further. éThe accusations come from yesterdays hard-lined Hindu fanatical leaders, who lead a campaign to reclaim India by demolishing the historic Babery Masjid and then armed and equipped agents provocateur to create havoc in Pakistan and in Azad Kashmir -evidence for which is apparently available in many of the Azad Kashmiri and Pakistani prisons. Incidentally, I fail to see why Pakistani authorities have not made that evidence against India available to the world leaders thus far. Perhaps there is more to the Pakistani hand of peace and Indian fist of war than meets the eye. Perhaps there is a paradigm shift.

Kashmir watchers are watching closely as the war clouds hangover it once again. Belligerent Indian leaders have called for a mother of all wars and some of the peace loving Pakistani leaders wish to have the war limited to Kashmiri territory. Either way any bullet from either side, which is not aimed at air, is bound to take another life. It is likely that the life lost in the process is going to be of a Kashmiri on one side or the other of the so-called line-of-control.

Optimists amid us have found the silver lininging this new and intriguing scenario. They are happy that the threat of “Talibanization of Kashmir” has been removed forever. Some have even called for the withdrawal of the “Guest Mujahadins” in Kashmir.

So far so good but what of the freedom movement ? éWhat of the Kashmiri people’s right to live in a free, democratic and peaceful home without the threat to life and liberty and without the presence of the “Berlin Wall” which has divided families and friends for half a century and which now offers a renewed threat of anti-personnel mines and cross border shelling by Indian and Pakistan armed forces. Is America and the coalition for operation “Enduring Freedom” going to go beyond Kabul, up the Hindukush mountains into the valley of Kashmir, where a struggle for the very rights the Americans have come to take for granted and are now out to defend, are scarce and have been so for centuries? éI think not.

Though I was one of many who did not agree with the remote control war in Afghanistan as the dangers of the conflict resembled the Vietnam scenario with seemingly far fetched agenda that was foreseen to have repercussions for Kashmir. The unthinkable has, however, happened. India has found a perfect excuse to use the American example to the last word. But if India’s claims are to be believed over that terrorist attack of 13 December those who were indeed involved could not have been ISI agents or affiliated to the Kashmiri resistance movement as their callous act has worked wonders for India to further BJP’s long standing dream against the Kashmiri cause and against Pakistan, just as the September11 attacks on America did for the USA in the global context.

Interestingly, the New York Times report that Pakistan’s president is to curb ISI activities was denied but it was more or less confirmed during his address to the nation as he put a ban on Jaish and Lashkar groups, which were wrongly portrayed as Kashmiri groups fighting against India. Both had been hailed by certain quarters after the JKLF declaration of 1994,which was incidentally mocked by those who only followed it in footsteps years later but to no avail. It doesn’t take Einstein intelligence to understand and accept that what the JKLF had been preaching regarding the indigenous resistance movement was a sensible option. It was vehemently opposed by Pakistan’s conservative Urdu press, which played a pivotal role in sidelining the idea and promoting the two none-Kashmiri groups. This is the same press, which often found itself in bed with ISI rank and file to alienate JKLF and create hostility against our philosophy in Azad Kashmir and wrongly encouraged the menace of fanaticism without just political direction in its zeal to win occupied Kashmir by hook or by crook. What we are saying today may be understood in a few years but time does not halt for anyone. It is now time to correct the errors of yesteryears. Pakistan’s insistence on the two-option UN resolution, which is not even acceptable to the Kashmiri population, will have to be revised thoroughly and honestly.

Those who are over enthusiastic for it, or perhaps more appropriately blinded by the pain from the wounds of the past – namely India’s hand in making of Bangladesh, should reassess the chances of any gain. The fact that the Kashmiri society has continued to reject sectarian causes calls for an intellectually driven debate throughout Pakistan instead of embarking on smaller misadventures, which have backfired more often then not. There is still time to invite the rational debate, which could lead to a more cool and calculated response to the crisis in hand. Similarly, India’s intellectual community and mass media has a challenge on its hand to help those at helm of power to shunt the ostrich like approach in the hope that by burying the head the Kashmir problem will go away. Indian leaders have to come out of the Bollywood fantasy world. It has not happened for the past 54 years but the next 54 years can be saved. Billions of Indian who sleep without a roof on their head deserve better then fantasies. Both Indian and Pakistani intellectual zealot shave to focus on the few options that the countries are left with. Pakistan’s president has begun the process by choosing to be an important partner in the international coalition. He took significant first step on 12th January. India must reciprocate.

Pakistanis have started to understand what we had been saying and protesting against for years but we still have a long way to go before Kashmir’s true friends in Pakistan will fully accept that the re-unification and independence for Jammu Kashmir is the only option left open for Islamabad. Once we reach that stage we will have an uphill struggle to jointly convince India that there is no win-win situation for anyone in Kashmir. The world is listening and there are takers in India as I discovered at a seminar at Oxford last year. We will all have to accept that the bombing and attacking of parliamentary institutions is not the answer to India’s continual denial of Kashmiris right to self-determination. There is a more powerful weapon now available. The world opinion and perception also matters.

Indian leaders can take comfort in the fact that there is a genuine desire for peace in Pakistan but threats behind the veil of international terrorism is not going to pay. India lost two of its prime ministers through domestic disturbances and not through international terrorism. India’s “cry ISI” has only invited more world attention to the case of Kashmir and so has its nuclear arsenal. Tony Blairs and Collin Powells of the world are watching closely. If they were to be convinced of Indias contention that the Pakistani ISI is in fact the biggest threat to her internal security then they would suggest that the Indian armed forces should playing the role of ISI agents as they carry out the acts of wanton destruction and death in Kashmir, driving the Kashmiri population to alienation and segregation. As the British Prime Minister Tony Blair has suggested, terrorism is terrorism wherever and in whatever form it occurs as we continue to count the rise in over 70,000 death toll.

When Mr Blair spoke of British experience in Northern Ireland during his visit to India and Pakistan he was not merely referring to the decades of sectarian violence but a commendable and genuine peace process, which roped in some of the toughest and hardest of freedom fighters in the province. India will have to take queue from the old colonial masters. When he declared a pivotal role as a force for good for his country he did not have in mind a free license for any one to carry on with the killing game in Kashmir and hope to gain a seat in the UN Security Council as a prize. éWorld leaders have come to realize the threat of a nuclear breakout over Kashmir perhaps more than justice for long ignored suffering population of Kashmir. They are now gearing up for amore proactive role and less of traditional statements of caution, which have got us nowhere so far.

It is in the interest of both India and Pakistan to re-negotiate the terms of engagement with a view to honoring Kashmiri national aspirations and safeguarding their legitimate national concerns mutually. Mindsets will have to be changed and historical baggage in the way of peace and prosperity will have to be got rid of. The alternative is the more dangerous precedence of international intervention as in the case of Kuwait and in Kosovo – with America calling the shots, which will not be deterred by the China factor but could well end in redrawing the map of the sub-continent, as we know it.

The myth of India’s democracy and secularism is totally shattered and in reality India is fast converting into a fascist and racist State with the sole honor of having regular elections which are also now contested under communal themes.

As for us, the Kashmiris, our plea remains the same. Justice with freedom is a commodity worth investing in. To turn a blind eye to the plight of our people is to invite further resentment and deeper frustrations. These are the ingredients, which breed extremism and terrorism. In this new war of the century let us jointly contribute to removing the causes of violence and terrorism to make tomorrows world a safer place for the sake of our children and not for short term political and diplomatic point scoring which has been done too often for too long.

The writer is a British based former general secretary of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation.