Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Faced with a virtual takeover of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province by pro-Taliban extremists, spiralling inflation coupled with a foreign exchange crisis, and an ongoing impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s senate strangely debated developments in Jammu and Kashmir last week, following the blockade of the Kashmir valley by a popular agitation in Jammu. Unmindful of the reality that their own country is now internationally regarded as the epicentre of global terrorism, Pakistan’s worthy senators passed resolutions condemning alleged “ceasefire violations” along the Line of Control by the Indian army, expressed concern at the economic blockade of the Kashmir valley by “Hindu extremists” and reaffirmed support for the “struggle of Kashmiris” to “achieve their rights”, by an early solution of the Kashmir issue, in accordance with UN resolutions. Leader of the House, Raza Rabbani, in the presence of foreign minister Mehmood Qureishi, moved the resolutions. The Senate resolutions came at a time when Pakistan’s political leadership was moving to impeach Musharraf and Pakistan’s corps commanders were meeting in Rawalpindi, where, amongst other issues, the internal situation was being discussed. The resolution must have pleased Pakistan’s hawkish army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, who has made no secret of his views on India and Jammu and Kashmir. As head of the ISI, Kiyani had allegedly rigged the local bodies’ elections in 2005 and elections in PoK in 2006. The present ISI chief, Gen Nadeem Taj, is an ardent admirer of Musharraf. Pakistan’s senators and foreign minister obviously wanted to please the real rulers of the country — the army establishment — by passing stridently anti-Indian resolutions, while ignoring worldwide accusations about the ISI’s role in supporting terrorism. The move was also evidently intended to please the radicals in Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, whose views on jihad and India are not very different from those of the military. While the ruling alliance appears to have the numbers to impeach Musharraf, the army would obviously not wish to see its former chief humiliated, even though it would not directly intervene in the impeachment process, apart from giving some “assistance” in floor crossings for the embattled president. American displeasure at Musharraf is now evident from the leaking of taped conversations between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, in which Musharraf responds to Benazir’s complaints about his going back on assurances, by threatening the PPP leader with these words: “The Americans can call (you) all they want with their suggestions about you and me, let them call. You should understand something. Your security is based on the state of our relationship”. Barack Obama has warned Pakistan against backing Islamic zealots in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir and the US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, has asserted: “I don’t believe that we can get the right outcome in Afghanistan as long as these militant sanctuaries exist across the border.” Moreover, even Pakistani writers like Ahmed Rashid have extensively documented how the ISI provides safe havens to the Taliban political and military leadership. The response of the army to these developments has been entirely predictable. The army has now started alleging that it has been compelled to back pro-Taliban groups, because India and Afghanistan are not only destabilising Baluchistan, but also helping pro-Taliban fundamentalists like Baitullah Mehsud, who are battling the Pakistan army. More significantly, the Pakistan army appears to be set to getting the civilian leaders to go along with a more hawkish policy in Kashmir. Pakistan’s new policies on Kashmir will involve strong backing for the separatist leadership and particularly for the hardliner Islamist, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Infiltration is set to increase with a view to promoting violence and disrupting and discrediting the forthcoming state assembly elections. Internationally, there will be an active effort to say that Pakistan can cooperate on issues of terrorism, only if its demands on Jammu and Kashmir are backed. New Delhi’s response to these developments has been timid, despite international opinion now supporting its approach to the issue of J&K. The European parliament, for example, recently called for the settlement of Jammu and Kashmir taking into account Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion that “borders cannot be changed”. The EU parliament has also noted that as the “world’s largest secular democracy” India has devolved democratic structures at all levels, while Pakistan still lacks democratic institutions in both PoK and in Gilgit and Baltistan. India can be assured of international understanding and support on the issue of J&K only if there is an abiding belief in its democratic and secular structures. For the first time in recent history, there is now a seemingly unbridgeable divide between the Kashmir valley and the Jammu region, a divide that undermines the very basis of our secular nationalism. Neither division of the J&K, as some demand, nor appeasement of separatist sentiments should be countenanced. This is the message that should be unambiguously conveyed to all those involved in both sides of the divide in Kashmir.