India has moved quickly to cash in on the anti-terrorism frenzy sweeping the world by branding the struggle in Kashmir as terrorism. It appears to be making some progress, thanks to the west’s hatred of Islam and Muslims and to the inept handling of the situation by general Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler. The haste with which Musharraf surrendered to US demands over the Taliban, abandoning a 20-year policy in Afghanistan, was bound to affect the struggle in Kashmir as well. That it fell victim to the same xenophobia so soon is a little surprising, however.
If foreign leaders had gone to Islamabad to shore up Musharraf’s fraying resolve while the ‘war’ against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was raging, now the movement is towards Delhi. On January 6, British prime minister Tony Blair was in India showering accolades on Hindu fundamentalist rulers, who are as archaic in their outlook as the vanquished Taliban were accused of being. He was followed by Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres a day later.
The US, which enlisted Pakistan’s support against the Taliban, without which it would not have made such swift progress, has also been courting India eagerly, much to the chagrin of Islamabad. In fact, both US president George Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair have leaned heavily on Musharraf to end Pakistan’s support for the uprising in Kashmir. While in Islamabad on January 7, Blair bluntly told Musharraf that no matter what form terrorism took and how just the cause, there was no justification for it. That the west proves so ungrateful so quickly is not surprising; what is truly amazing is the propensity of successive Pakistani rulers to lull themselves into believing that the west to be)= a friend. Bush and Blair have also warned Islamabad to clamp down on “terrorist” groups in Pakistan and to make up with India.
Musharraf has been doing just that. At the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting in Katmandu, Nepal, on January 5, Musharraf went out of his way to shake Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s hand. The following day there was a 15-minute informal meeting between the two, but tensions have remained high, with hundreds of thousands of heavily-armed troops massed on both sides of the border. The ostensible reason is the attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, in which 14 people, including the five assailants, were killed. India blames Pakistani-based groups for this incident.
At a press-conference at the end of the SAARC meeting on January 6, Musharraf said that India had shown him no evidence against those suspected of the attack, but that he had personally given his “guarantee” to act against whoever was found guilty. While giving such assurances, he also warned that the problem of terrorism should not be confused with the problem of Kashmir. “The trouble starts when we lump the problems together,” he said.
India, however, sees the situation differently, and seems to be getting its point of view across to the world much better than Pakistan. The struggle in Kashmir is not only called “terrorism”, but is also accused of being sponsored from across the border; hence its description by Delhi as “state-sponsored terrorism.” Musharraf, meanwhile, is forced to perform a delicate balancing act but he is increasingly hemmed in from all sides. Under pressure from the US he abandoned the Taliban, but such a volte face was bound to cast its shadow over the struggle in Kashmir as well. True, India is behaving extremely arrogantly, but it would be naive not to expect it to exploit the situation to its advantage. This danger was inherent in the policy shift forced by Washington on Islamabad vis-a-vis the Taliban. Similarly, Musharraf has lost what little public support he had at home; now there are even rumblings of discontent in the Pakistan army, for whom the Kashmir cause is extremely important: it is the very reason for its huge budget.
The more Musharraf tries to be accommodating, the more Delhi’s demands grow. In Katmandu, when Musharraf offered Vajpayee a “journey of peace and harmony,” the latter responded with more verbal abuse. After concluding his speech, Musharraf walked over to Vajpayee to shake his hand; the Indian prime minister, however, walked right past the Pakistani president without even looking at him when it was his turn to speak. Vajpayee’s words were equally uncompromising: “I am glad that general Musharraf extended a hand of friendship to me. I have shaken his hand in your presence,” he told the delegates. “Now president Musharraf must follow the gesture by not permitting any activity in Pakistan or any territory in its control today which enables terrorists to perpetuate mindless violence in India.”
To drive the point home, India has threatened to go to war unless Pakistan apprehends some 20 people and hands them over to India for trial. All are members of Lashkar-e Tayyeba and Jaish-e Muhammad, two groups fighting against Indian occupation in Kashmir but placed by the US on its list of “terrorist organizations,” to show that it sides with India on the issue. Pakistan had already responded by freezing their bank accounts and arresting more than 130 members. This was followed by Musharraf telling the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the primary agency involved in providing support to the struggle in Kashmir, to stop supporting such groups.
This is a severe blow to the Kashmiri insurrection, which has been going on for more than 12 years and which has cost more than 80,000 Kashmiri lives. India has occupied the state illegally since October 1947, and its 700,000 occupation troops have carried out gross human-rights abuses and other crimes such as murder, rape and looting since December 1989, when this uprising against Indian occupation began. The UN considers Kashmir to be disputed territory; several security council resolutions call for a referendum to determine its future. These, however, India has contemptuously ignored. The west overlooks this defiance, unlike Iraq’s.
To counter the Indo-western-zionist alliance, Pakistan has turned to China for support. The traditional Chinese attitude is to not get involved in others’ disputes directly, so they have told Musharraf politely to mend his fences with India. Unfortunately, the Pakistanis have again been reading too much into the China factor. Musharraf went to Beijing twice in 10 days, the second time on his way to Katmandu because Delhi has forbidden Pakistani flights to go over Indian territory.
Nor can Musharraf hope for help from the impotent Muslim world. While Musharraf was returning from Nepal on January 6, a conference of Islamic scholars and jurists opened in Saudi Arabia to discuss the current global campaign equating Islam with terrorism. It was held under the auspices of the Muslim World League. Abdullah al-Turki, its secretary-general, warned that the enemies of Islam were trying to influence world public opinion by insisting that “there is a link between this religion and terrorism.”
Who the enemy is was not said explicitly. The truth is that neither the Muslim World League nor any other Islamic organisation has the courage to name the real terrorists: the US, Britain, Israel and India. That task is left to the Islamic movement, which is struggling to regain Muslim rights, against which even the Muslim regimes have declared war.
Under US/British/zionist/ Indian pressure Musharraf is busy dismantling a 50-year-old policy on Kashmir. This is what happens to those who put convenience and expediency above principles. He justified his abandonment of the Taliban in the name of the “national interest”; now pressure is being put on him to abandon Kashmir or face India’s military might. Probably “defence of the national interest” will result in another grand retreat. Vajpayee has made it absolutely clear what he wants from Pakistan: in his new year’s message he told Islamabad not to get “bogged down in the issues and debates of yesterday.” He said that “in our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past.”
While Pakistan is being told to abandon “the beaten track of the past,” India continues to repeat the mantra that Kashmir is its “atoot ang” (integral part). India has the military muscle to make its point stick, while Musharraf shows little inclination or ability to stand up to such bullying. The question is whether the people of Pakistan are prepared to play second fiddle to a militarist India. And Pakistan’s army, air force and nuclear weapons are useless if they cannot prevent or defy Indian bullying.