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|July 6, 2002||
Mohammad Sayeed Malik
Shifting sands in Kashmir
A quick stocktaking in the wake of the military de-escalation between India and Pakistan shows that the position of the Kashmir dispute on the international diplomatic map has undergone a diagonal shift vis-a-vis every main player. India is drawing satisfaction from its achievement that after a long time the world view about the Kashmir insurgency has taken a favourable turn, thanks to the over-riding global concern about Islamic terrorism, including that of the ‘cross-border’ variety.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has been gloating over what it sees as the revived international concern over the forgotten ‘core’ dispute between the two South Asian nuclear nations. In between these two adversarial perceptions, there is the fact that both the countries have had to make compromises with their respective pre-9/11 positions.
India’s rigidity on bilateralism and against third-party mediation has been diluted to the extent that the US is today welcomed as a ‘facilitator’ and that Uncle Sam’s ‘technological’ presence (a taboo till recently) along the Line of Control is gratefully accepted. Can the ‘Uncle’ be far behind, after installing his ‘sensors’ to curb infiltration for our benefit?
Pakistan’s sworn commitment to the US to ‘permanently’ end infiltration across the LoC, in effect, amounts to conceding India’s sovereignity over our half of the divided Jammu and Kashmir state apart from acknowledging the sanctity of the ‘temporary’ LoC, like that of the international border between the two countries. That is what Pakistan had refused to concede even while vacating the Kargil heights under US pressure in 1999.
Its implications on the ground are quite significant.
There is something for the ‘third-party-to-the-dispute’ as well. The people of Kashmir, that is. The perception from Kashmir is that the Indian government’s repeated commitment to ensure ‘really free, fair’ assembly elections in J&K is more a response to mounting international pressure than anything else. However, even this straw in the wind is sufficient to trigger positive trends on the ground.
Unlike in the past, the major segments of the separatist conglomerate in Kashmir, like the Hurriyat Conference and Jammat-e-Islami, have been labouring hard to avoid giving a ‘boycott’ call. Other groups like the late Abdul Ghani Lone’s Peoples Conference and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s Awami Action Committee have gone a step further, indicating a change of course towards ‘peace and dialogue.’ That is precisely also the ‘advice’ which the stream of visiting European and American diplomats have been giving to the separatist leaders here in Kashmir.
Suddenly positions are beginning to change.
Before New Delhi unleashes its ubiquitous ‘experts’ to educate us on the fine distinction between the US as a ‘third party mediator’ -- not acceptable to India ostensibly -- and as a ‘facilitator’ -- recently favoured by Prime Minister Vajpayee -- it can safely be concluded that the Kashmir issue is back into play, though history tells us that it could once again lead to nowhere. The path behind is strewn with the debris of similar expectations in the past -- the UN-brokered ceasefire and peace package (1948-49), the Swaran Singh-Bhutto series of talks (1962-63), the Tashkent Agreement (1966), the Simla Accord (1972) and the Lahore Declaration (1999). A significant difference this time being that certain crucial geo-political objectives of the only global power have somehow got entangled with the festering Kashmir dispute.
Whether New Delhi’s security/diplomatic advisors agree or not, in retrospect it seems that India’s elation over the US endorsement of the former’s position that Al Qaeda was active along the LoC and inside our part of J&K was rather hasty. Who does not know that America has armed itself with the universal authority to walk in Rambo style wherever it smells the presence of Al Qaeda -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Phillipines.... or India.
Giving the devil his due, Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah is perhaps the only one to sense the thin end of the wedge being driven in. In one of his recent speeches he was quite vociferous in warning the Indian government against letting American soldiers set foot on the soil of Kashmir. ‘Once in, they have a habit of not going out, more so in a place like ours,’ Farooq said.
Coincidentally perhaps, there were reports almost at the same time when the chief minister was expressing his apprehensions that some US ‘experts’ were surveying sensitive areas of the LoC in Kashmir to place sophisticated anti-infiltration sensors. The echo caused by the British plan to deploy a contingent of US-UK troops along the LoC for physical monitoring has not died down.
Naturally, these diplomatic/strategic moves tend to influence the course of political events in Kashmir. All the more so, as the countdown for the assembly election (due by October 2002) has already begun. Vajpayee’s vague reference to the ‘option’ of imposition of President’s rule in J&K for the sake of a ‘free, fair poll’ evoked sharp reaction from the National Conference which, evidently sees itself as a disfavoured party in any such deal.
Going by the history of conduct of elections in this part of the world’s largest democracy, administrative neutrality, even of a notional kind, is perceived to be an unfriendly/hostile act towards the incumbent entity. The Indian government might be under some diplomatic compulsion to reciprocate the strong US support over ‘trans-border terrorism’ in Kashmir vis-a-vis Pakistan but that does not mitigate the genuine fears of the ‘affected’ parties on the ground. Unless New Delhi compensates these apprehensions by helping Farooq Abdullah in finding some ‘suitable’ place for him at the Centre to facilitate the ‘local arrangement’ between father and son in Kashmir the policy of winning friends and influencing people on the ground might face what in the US military parlance they call as ‘friendly fire.’
Mohammad Sayeed Malik is widely considered to be one of the most erudite commentators writing on Kashmir today.
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