Confused on Kashmir

It has been said so often by so many but it still bears repetition that Pakistan’s foreign policy agenda has only one item on it — India. For pursuit of this obsession, Pakistan has followed policies in the region that allowed itself to be in a situation where US secretary of state Hillary Clinton rebuked Pakistan while in Pakistan recently. Those of us here who delude ourselves that this would galvanise Pakistan to now quickly change policy might do well to shed this delusion. The rest of us know that Pakistan will not change its policy and indeed it cannot afford to.
Pakistan’s quest for equality, if not supremacy over India, has rested on the tripod of the nuclear option, terrorism and strategic depth in Afghanistan. The China-Pakistan nexus was and is a valuable add-on to both because it continues to give Pakistan added muscle to take on India. Although Pakistan had taken the terror route much earlier, its missile and nuclear capability with a loudly proclaimed low threshold has impressed the West enough, leading to greater adventurism. If China found a low cost option in Pakistan’s ambitions and fears, the Pakistan Army found the terrorists useful and expendable cannon fodder. The nuclear and terrorist weapon provided the Pakistan Army security and primacy.
Pakistan intransigence in meeting US strategic interests along with its duplicity has hobbled US policy rendering it unable to deal with Pakistan either as an enemy or as an ally. Pakistan’s refusal to deal with the Haqqani group as demanded by the Americans indicates the extent to which the former is willing to go down the road on this one. The stoppage of military aid and the fear of a possible stoppage of funds have not deterred Pakistan. If Pakistan can throw out US objections or ignore its protests there is no reason to believe that Pakistan will change its stance on India. The terrorist option will not be scaled down nor will the nuclear option surrendered.
Thus flummoxed by Pakistan obduracy and exasperated by its duplicity, the Americans have been looking for escape clauses, one of them being pressuring India to raise Pakistan’s comfort level on bilateral (read Kashmir) issues so that Pakistan cooperates fully with the US. That is the US position, but that does not mean that this should be India’s position too. And even if it is accepted that talks will do no harm, unilateral concessions under the mistaken belief that we should be magnanimous are counterproductive.
That said, it is worth remembering that Pakistan does not really want to resolve the Kashmir issue because if it does, then the Pakistan Army will lose its most important cause celebre that allows it to retain ownership of Pakistan. There will be a huge problem of redeployment of the jihadi foot soldiers rendered unemployed after Kashmir is “solved”. We should not expect Pakistan to shut down the 42 training camps it has in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Pakistan to train its jihadis against India. Therefore, for us to be continually making concessions reveals a confused policy both with regard to Pakistan and internally with regard to Kashmir. In Kashmir we must learn that we need patience and the urge to do something for the sake of doing something is deeply flawed. Further, that political expediency in Kashmir or anywhere else will always be subsumed by national security considerations.
Take the case of the withdrawal of AFSPA from certain districts of Jammu and Kashmir, come what may. This may be needed to show some political results in the Valley and a measure of independence from New Delhi, and also to blunt the People’s Democratic Party opposition and hastily provide a positive gesture to Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s offer to talk to New Delhi. The issue of the withdrawal of the AFSPA has been discussed in various contexts in the country. The four main provisions of the AFSPA are authority to the Army to arrest, search, engage and destroy. It is only fair that if we expect our Army to counter insurgency within our borders we must provide it legal cover. These powers are much less than what the police has in the state.
Besides, one does not see the wisdom of withdrawing the AFSPA from the border districts knowing that the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Tayyaba is forever trying to infiltrate. Partial withdrawal also means that terrorists could commit terror acts in one district and run to the other for a safe haven. One also wonders if a chief minister can take unilateral decisions on such issues. If Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah is really interested in making progress on ensuring the withdrawal of the Army, then he could begin by withdrawing the Disturbed Areas Act, which is within his power. Meanwhile, it would be best not to play politics on such issues.
There was an air of inevitability about incidents in Kashmir on the Diwali eve. To suggest that the Army itself orchestrated this is a measure of the general negativity in the country that we are prepared to believe the worst about all our institutions. Mustafa Kamal’s outburst against the Army was irresponsible and unfortunate; subsequent recantations were received with amusement at best or cynicism at worst. We ought to also factor in that if there is peace and tranquillity in Kashmir, Pakistan ceases to be relevant. Pakistan will never want that situation and more, the Pakistan Army cannot afford this.
Eventually, the AFSPA will be withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir, maybe next year but that should happen as a result of a consensus among all those involved. Till then, we must work towards that consensus. It cannot be that one arm of governance can hold the Centre to ransom. It cannot be that we want to give concessions just to look good. Or shore up domestic political standing. Emotions run high in Srinagar from time to time, but decisions cannot be based on emotion and sentiment; instead there have to be reason and realism. Partial withdrawal of AFSPA is an idea whose time may not have come yet.

The writer is a former head of the Research
and Analysis Wing

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