Kashmir: some home truths
On one of his visits to Islamabad, Abdul Sattar, at the time Pakistan’s envoy to New Delhi, told me about a talk he had been asked to give at one of the establishments in Islamabad where the audience either had a more-than-even component of brass or was perhaps entirely brass. He had been asked to speak on India-Pakistan relations and a better man they could not have found to do so, since Sattar had spent more time on the South Asia desk and in New Delhi than any other officer of the foreign service.
At the time, the insurgency in the Indian part of Kashmir was still in its early stages and what was to become the Indian rallying cry of “terrorism from across the border” was years from being sounded. Sattar told his audience: “Gentlemen, before we initiate an action, we should be aware of its political implications, its fallout, its consequences. Not to do so would be unwise and we can be sure that in time such lack of forethought would place the country and the nation in very serious difficulties. No action is free of consequences and those who initiate a given action should be more than confident that the country would be able to bear its cost and deal with its consequences.” These may not be the exact words Sattar used but I think my recollection of their content is accurate.
Sattar was essentially speaking of the decision taken not, I repeat, not, at the Foreign Office, but in the inner sanctums of the Invisible Soldiers Inc (ISI), to give the ongoing political movement in Kashmir a militant twist. The raw materials for doing so were by then available in abundance, the “jihad” against the Soviet Union having ended with the withdrawal – not the defeat as fanciful propaganda has it – of the Red Army from Afghanistan. What was to be done with these men, the great intellects in charge of decision-making at the Agency and its mother hen, had asked themselves? Instead of encouraging the CIA-designated “Mujahideen” to return, if not actually facilitating their repatriation to their home countries, they were kept back, and in time, launched. It was a reckless decision and not only Pakistan but perhaps the entire world lives with its consequences today.
A political movement is more potent and has a greater chance of success than one based on force. The movement for self-determination in Kashmir was and remains a genuine political movement. The principled support extended to it by successive Pakistani governments, but more than that, by the average Pakistani, is one of the commendable aspects of our history. The wide sympathy that the people of Kashmir and their struggle enjoyed around the world until the induction of militancy and violence was a tribute to their cause and to their tenacity. The gold of that struggle was frittered away because of short-sighted men and a short-sighted policy that was blind to history and unaware of the intrinsic strength that lay at the heart of the Kashmiri urge to be free.
Today, nearly fifteen years after that fateful decision, where do we stand and on what does Pakistan’s case on Kashmir rest, we should ask ourselves? The decision to militarise the movement was not taken either by the people of Pakistan or the people of Kashmir. It was taken behind closed doors by those deluded by a false sense of power, men who fancied themselves to be supreme strategists but were not. Some of them suffered from religious hallucinations and saw the upsurge in Kashmir that had begun with a massive protest march to the UN office in Srinagar, as some kind of a religious and revivalist crusade. The non-Kashmiri elements inducted into the insurrection were fugitives from their lands of birth and in revolt against their own governments and societies. Many of them had been deluded into believing at the time of the Afghan war that they were fighting the good fight for the glory of God and the defence of Islam. And now that the Great Infidel had fled the sacred Islamic land of Afghanistan in defeat and disarray, other manifestations of his Evil had to be confronted elsewhere. These foreigners had no understanding of either the Kashmir cause or its history or of the people on whose behalf they had picked up a gun. Therefore, they only bear secondary blame.
Look at the landscape today. The great Kashmiri movement for self-determination is now seen by the world as a terrorist phenomenon. Pakistan has had to eat humble pie and make a solemn promise not only to India but to the international community that there will no longer be any movement of fighters and equipment from Pakistan into Indian-held Kashmir. In other words, we have confessed to wrongdoing because we were given no other option. We abandoned the Taliban whom the same people who had created militancy in Kashmir had fathered when we sold them down the river when threatened by Bush’s “with us or against us” ultimatum. Should one not ask if all this was to end in such humiliation why were thousands in the first flower of their youth sacrificed? The only growth industry in the Kashmir Valley since 1989 has been graveyards. If you do not believe it, just walk around the city of Srinagar.
Gen. Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” has to be translated into actions that speak louder than words which alone will impress no one. Unless certain radical adjustments are made at home, Pakistan will remain a lopsided society groping in the dark and stumbling every time it takes a step forward. The General is fond of saying that if you want the army to keep out of politics, you have to bring it in first. On the same logic, if he wants Pakistan to become stable, he has to restore to the ISI its original charter. It must be prevented by law from operating in the domestic political arena. It must also be prevented by law from taking decisions and initiating actions that lie in the area of foreign affairs and international relations. It must have nothing to do with Kashmir or Chechnya or Sinkiang or India. Let Pakistan’s foreign policy be run by the apparatus created for that express purpose: the ministry of foreign affairs under elected leaders.
To this day, the so-called Kashmir information and publicity establishments that The Boys operate inside and outside Pakistan in pursuit of wasteful and muddle-headed policies and projects must be dismantled. I do not wish to go into details but in Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s words: Jaan jaiain gay jaan-nay wale …
But let me close what has been a “heavy” piece with a true story that is extremely funny. Everyone knows that the AK government is overseen by the General residing in the salubrious heights of Murree. Some time ago, Muzaffarabad made an appointment that had not been cleared with the brass up above. A letter soon arrived demanding to know the whys and wherefores of the step taken. “The appointment,” Muzaffarabad replied, “was made with the approval of Competent Authority (which is bureaucratese for the government itself).” The reply from Murree was short and prompt. It said, “Competent Authority is hereby instructed not to make such appointments in future.”