Sunday, December 21, 2008




Anyone who has ever wondered why India has been so obstinate in its refusal to allow third-party mediation on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir should have got their answer in the linkage that the next US president Barack Obama and his foreign policy aides have drawn between Afghanistan and Kashmir. The incoming US administration wants to play an active role in resolving the Kashmir issue, not out of altruism but because it thinks that a 'satisfactory' solution of the Kashmir issue will help in the achievement of US security interests in Afghanistan. Needless to say, Pakistan will be satisfied with nothing less than a solution of Kashmir that is substantially if not entirely according to its wishes, which in turn means that the US implicitly expects India to sacrifice on Kashmir to satisfy Pakistan. Not surprisingly then, India is deeply suspicious of the US desire to play an honest broker on resolving the Kashmir issue, and will find it impossible to accept US' good offices in settling its problems with Pakistan.

Clearly, the Americans see Kashmir as the missing part of the puzzle on not only defeating the al Qaeda/Taliban inspired Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan, but also ensuring the unstinted cooperation and compliance of the Pakistan army in fighting the Islamist guerrillas. The guiding logic of the argument linking Kabul with Kashmir is seductively simple – give the Pakistani state something to show on Kashmir, which in turn will make it easier for Pakistan's army and its politicians to sell to their people the idea of cooperating with the Americans in the War on Terror. The Americans believe, somewhat naively, that by 'satisfying' Pakistan on Kashmir, they will be able to end Pakistan's policy of running with the jihadist hare and hunting with the American hound. What is more, normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan will free the Pakistan army from its engagements on the Eastern front with India and enable the deployment of the bulk of troops on the troubled Western borderlands.

Unlike the US officials and academicians, India knows that any argument linking Kashmir with Kabul is totally specious and self-serving. There are broadly two dimensions to the Kashmir imbroglio. The first is the bilateral Indo-Pak track in the search for a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. The second is the International dimension of the insurgency in Kashmir, which is inextricably linked to the jihadist ideology and radical philosophy that is afflicting Islamic societies around the world. Unless both these dimensions are understood, quick-fix solutions advocated by campus radicals and neo-liberal think-tanks will end up creating a problem far worse than the one that confronts the people of the region and the world at present.

    The terrorism in Kashmir is nothing if it is not part of the international Jihad being waged by disparate Islamic groups in different parts of the world. Centred on the Islamist identity of Kashmiri Muslims, the basic DNA of the separatist movement in Kashmir is Jihadist, only it is packaged in nationalist hues. Although the so-called moderate separatists try to agitate and win support by bandying more liberal labels, the real ideologues of the separatists – people like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Syed Salahuddin – make no apologies for the Islamist underpinnings of their demand. Since the jihadists, both Kashmiri and Pakistani, see Kashmir as a part of the larger international jihad, their success in Kashmir will not bring an end to Islamic militancy in either the region or the world. Instead a victory for the jihadists in Kashmir will only serve as a shot in the arm for Islamic radicals and give a tremendous boost to violent jihad in other parts of the world by attracting ever more recruits to their millenarian war against both Muslim and non-Muslim societies.

    The argument that once Pakistan's concerns Kashmir are addressed the Pakistani state will be in a better position to take on the Islamic militias rests on the heroic assumption that the Pakistani state remains strong enough to eradicate the menace of Islamic militancy. The facts on the ground suggest that this assumption no longer holds true because the Pakistani state is no longer dominates the radical groups that operate inside that country. There are enough pointers that the Pakistani state has lost its monopoly over the coercive apparatus that enables a state to impose its authority over recalcitrant elements. Today the Pakistani state is almost reduced to being a minor player, surviving on the sufferance of both non-state and statist Jihadist militias. The bottom-line is that instead of the Pakistan army exercising control over its jihadist assets, the army itself has become an asset of the jihadists. This means that even if Kashmir is solved entirely according to the Pakistani wishes, the Pakistani state will not be able to put the jihadist monster back in the bottle. In fact, victory for the jihadists in Kashmir will sound the death knell of the Pakistani state structure and put it at the mercy of the Islamists.

    There is, in any case, very little that will be achieved by any international mediation that is aimed at hustling India into making concessions on territory or sovereignty or both only to address Pakistan's neurosis that emanates primarily from its refusal to accept that Kashmir is a part of India. Quite aside the fact that Munich type agreements, based as they are on appeasement of irredentism, have never brought peace, it is an entirely fallacious argument that tensions with India prevent Pakistan from taking effective action on its Western border.

India has until now done absolutely nothing to exploit Pakistan's discomfiture on its Western borders. For nearly five years now, India has scrupulously observed the ceasefire along the Line of Control, and this despite Pakistan's repeated violations of it. The peace process between India and Pakistan has made a lot of progress, both in the official dialogue as well as in the back-channel. Imaginative and out-of-the-box solutions were being actively considered by both countries to solve the Kashmir issue to the satisfaction of both sides. The Confidence Building Measures already in place in Kashmir – bus service, travel across LoC, opening up of trade across the LoC, meeting points for divided families – were unimaginable a few years back. In fact, ever since the peace process commenced, border tensions between the two countries were practically non-existent. And yet, if during this entire period, Pakistan's capacity and capability to take on the Islamic militants has declined, then surely the reason for that isn't India but something that is seriously wrong inside Pakistan.

The Obama administration will be making a terrible and very costly mistake if it tries to reach Kabul and Kandahar through Kashmir. Instead of being a short cut to winning the war in Afghanistan, this will be a path that will bring with it the worst of both worlds. Not only will the US end up strengthening the Islamists, it will also lose the support and trust of India in this widening war. Unfortunately, imperial hubris will ensure that the US embarks on this disastrous road. The only hope is that things don't reach the point of no return before the Americans realise the mistake they have made.


    <1200 Words>                    19th December, 2008



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