T h e

K a s h m i r

T  e  l  e  g  r  a  p  h

Fourth Edition

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

August 2002


Spotlight               S H Zaidi

Top of Page        KPS Gill

Special Report     S Roughneen

Fundamentals     Praveen Swami

Periscope            B Raman

InsideTrack          H Bashani

Himalayan Blunder                 W Hussain

In Black & White G Peiris

Statecraft             B Raman

Bottomline           N Kaushik


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 S P E C I A L  R E P O R T


The Simmering Conflict Over Kashmir

The Blame Game Of The Subcontinent  

Simon Roughneen 

One of the problems with the current India-Pakistan conflict is the culture of blame, which inevitably surrounds such a precarious situation. Although latent in all such scenarios, the cliché-ridden and loaded nature of the terminology used serves only to cloud and simplify the difficulties involved in a successful resolution of the current crisis. Among the international community, a loaded term itself, is a fairly widespread consensus that the onus is on President Pervez Musharraf to curb the activities of Muslim extremists, another loaded term, operating out of Pakistan. Of course, if these groups, and their official benefactors in the Pakistani military and intelligence elite, were to cease operations tomorrow, then much of the tensions currently palpable would subside. If only things were as simple as that.  

On one level, there is insufficient attention focused in western government and media on the nature of Indian rule of Jammu and Kashmir, two-thirds of the territory of Kashmir proper. The other portion is divided off by the Line of Control, a hapless misnomer, across which lies Pakistani –controlled Azad, or Free Kashmir, another dubious term. Human Rights Watch cites the Indian military as responsible for gross violations of human rights in Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir, throughout the period since 1989 when direct rule was imposed on the state. With the reality of Indian misrule clear to Kashmiris in Pakistan, the ability of pro-Kashmiri militants to retain sway with official circles in Lahore is bolstered.

The ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party has three decisive motives for wanting to retain Jammu and Kashmir. Firstly, in an almost periodic assent to the Gandhian legacy in Indian politics, Jammu and Kashmir is valued precisely because it is a Muslim majority state. As such, it attests to the secular and multiethnic composition of India, something regarded as vital, at least rhetorically, to all Indian political parties. The recent election of the Muslim Avil J.P. Abdul Kalam to the ceremonial position of President of India attests to this compulsion in Indian politics. Noble as it may seem, in reality it allows the BJP and others, portray their Hindu nationalism in a more benign light. Indian misrule predates the rise of the BJP, and aspects of these motives would be present in any party’s rule if Jammu and Kashmir. What is crucial for the BJP is that retaining Jammu and Kashmir is a totemic aspect of their rationale. As a nationalist party, they adhere to typical doctrinaire ideas about historic rights, national territorial integrity, India’s destiny etc. Concessions to local wishes over the disputed territory are seen as concessions to Pakistan, irrespective of the legacy of Gandhi.

The second motive lies in economic modernisation and the effects of globalisation on India. Given the rise in competitiveness of India’s hi-tech and particularly software exports, such a PR exercise in political correctness is seen as necessary in ensuring that western lobbies do not focus their governments’ attention on the political incorrectness of a nationalist mono-ethnic party ruling a huge multiethnic federation. Token actions such as the nomination of a Muslim President are seen as necessary to India’s retention of a decent image among western investors and trade partners. Sadly, for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, they are far easier to implement and have far less effect than real reform   The Indian leadership merely demonstrates greater insight into western political culture than their Pakistani counterparts. They know how to play to the gallery of western conscientiousness and understand the importance of spin and politically-correct but essentially meaningless gestures. The election by the Indian Congress of a Tamil-speaking Muslim as President makes far more headlines and creates enough of a good impression to offset the BJP-sponsored pogrom against Muslims in the state of Gujarat. 

Thirdly, 11% of India’s vast population is Muslim, making it the second largest Muslim country in the world. With 120 million Muslims spread unevenly over its territory, the potential for civil unrest and ethno-religious strife is clearly visible. That the repercussions of this could spread to other minorities, particularly Sikh and Tamil areas, makes the need for a strong hand over Kashmir particularly pressing. As regards India’s Muslims, any concessions over Jammu and Kashmir or with Pakistan would likely lead to anti-Muslim violence by Hindu mobs, possibly orchestrated by elements of the Indian military and Hindu rightists. Although the potential for violence lies on both sides, clearly the Muslim population in general would be extremely vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the Kashmir issue. Again, for reasons to do with image and the demands of global economics, as well as good governance, the BJP does not want a repeat of the ethno-religious instability, which emerged in India last winter.   

To focus on India, however, is to miss much of the complexities of the blame game. US demands that Musharraff crack down, as the saying goes, on Islamic extremists operating in Pakistan have been a requirement of the War on Terror from the outset. Terrorist groups proscribed by the State Dept. must be dealt with without exception, and there is no doubt that Jaish-e-Muhammed (the murderers of American journalist Daniel Pearl) and Lashkar-e-Taiba fit the bill more than adequately. As the tensions over Kashmir increased, due to the inability or lack of will to rein in these groups largely responsible for provoking India, the international (or Indian and US) demands on Pakistan have increased concomitantly. A reasonable demand, given what is at stake along the Line of Control.  

However, the American line towards the Kashmir issue is best described as one of wilful ignorance of the complexities involved in Pakistan’s position. What’s more, this is compounded by the fact that the apparent simplicity of the American position is in fact deliberate and self-serving. Despite Pakistan’s co-operation in the war in Afghanistan against their erstwhile allies and dependents the Taliban, the Bush administration has continued to back Musharraf into a corner over Kashmir, a territory it describes as “disputed” but seems to lay the blame for the current crisis on Pakistan. 

Terrorists are terrorists, the freedom fighter debate notwithstanding. Any anti-terror operation requires consistency and even-handedness. This means that if the USA wants Pakistan’s help in fighting terrorism, it cannot ignore that state’s own sponsorship of a terror war by proxy against India. And to be fair, this has been the course of action followed by Bush. Unfortunately, simply demanding that Pakistan eliminate the terrorist groups is a self-serving dismissal of the realities of Pakistan’s co-operation in the War on Terror. Musharraf has already given much of his hand away by going over the heads of pro-Kashmir (and pro-Islamist) elements of the ISI and military in aiding the USA in eliminating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Afghanistan, long a crucial factor in Pakistan’s anti-Indian machinations, has been turned over to a hostile Northern Alliance, against whom the ISI helped the Taliban win the Afghan Civil war in the 1990’s. Pakistan has always wanted a pliant ally, or even satellite state in Afghanistan. This is not only to gain leverage against the Indian behemoth, but to forge economic and trade links with the post-Soviet Union central Asian states, and offset the economic malaise of a state haplessly trying to compete with a much higher Indian military budget. Since the feared backlash against Musharraf’s role in the war in Afghanistan did not materialise, it seems that the possibility of a backlash against towing the American line on Kashmir has been prematurely discounted. 

Obviously, the actions of the ISI in particular have been dangerous and morally reprehensible in Afghanistan and Kashmir. However, this is the context within which the USA expects Musharraf to tow the line and take on the extremists. Unfortunately, this means not only tackling Lashkar-e-Taibi and Jaish-e-Muhammed, but confronting the very elements that put him in power in the first place, something the Pakistani President has ample reason to avoid. The dangers to the current Pakistani government are real, despite the line expressed that Musharraf has the west pushed into thinking that the threats from Islamists and rogue military and intelligence elements are greater than they are, allowing him to perpetuate undemocratic rule and justify any slack attempt to counter Pakistan’s terrorist organisations. 

Sure, the Musharraf regime is unelected and hardly a paragon of western constitutionalism. Despite being allies of the US in the War On Terror, something paid for by downsizing of the economic sanctions imposed on Pakistan after the 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistan warrants criticism for a plethora of reasons. Musharraf himself has a dubious past, being centrally-involved in the 1999 incursions by Pakistan-based Islamists across the Line of Control. The idea that there is little evidence to warrant Western fears that religious zealots could overthrow the government in Pakistan misses the point about how terrorism, intelligence and political factors operate in Pakistan. Jihadis could not overthrow the government directly. However, the complex interaction between Islamist, intelligence, elements of the military and others suggests that any official line that offends the wrong people in any of these areas of the Pakistani political system could have a chain reaction effect that could prove fatal to the Musharraf regime. When Musharraf’s elected predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, was pushed by Washingon into climbing down over Kashmir and terrorism in late 1999, he was portrayed as a lackey, in a prelude to the coup that installed Musharraf. It would be foolish of Washington not to expect something similar to recur should Musharraf “go soft” on Kashmir, on top of co-operating in the war on Terror and seeing the apparent removal of Afghanistan from Pakistan’s sphere of influence. If he was to fall, logic dictates that his successor will be well within the reach of the ISI and other Kashmiri militants in the Pakistani political establishment. This would do little to offset the potential for all-out war along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, irrespective of the recent US – mediated thaw. The core structural reasons why Kashmir could prove the setting for a war between two nuclear powers remain in place The current rapprochement will prove transient should the blame game continue as it is now, without effective acknowledgement by outsiders of the problems facing both the flawed regimes involved.

The author is with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Dublin, Ireland.  The views expressed are his own.

By arrangement with South Asian Analysis Group, New Delhi

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