Lost chance

Published : Sep 12, 2008 00:00 IST

PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Agra on July 15, 2001, before their summit meeting. Indian officials have admitted that Musharraf by and large kept his promise to stop infiltration across the Line of Control.-JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP

PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Agra on July 15, 2001, before their summit meeting. Indian officials have admitted that Musharraf by and large kept his promise to stop infiltration across the Line of Control.-JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP

President Musharrafs resignation at a time of an upsurge in separatist activity in Kashmir can affect the India-Pakistan peace process.

THE pro-separatist upsurge in Kashmir, coupled with the resignation of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, has the potential to have an adverse impact on the ongoing India-Pakistan peace process. Under the former President, Pakistan had given many political concessions to India. In the last couple of years, the Kashmir issue was virtually on the back burner as Pakistan became involved in even more contentious issues that cropped up after the incidents of September 11, 2001. Since then, it is the Durand Line between Afghanistan and Pakistan that has seen most of the military action. Pakistan, in fact, has shifted most of its elite troops to the Afghan border, under pressure from the United States to combat a resurgent Taliban.

The Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan has mostly remained peaceful since a ceasefire agreement was signed between the two countries in 2003 and the peace process was restarted. Indian officials admit that Musharraf by and large kept his promise to stop infiltration across the LoC. His government shut down the training camps for militants near the border and banned several militant outfits. An important reason for the violence in Kashmir abating was that the jehadists had shifted their attention fully to the war against the American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces in Afghanistan. Though Al Qaeda leaders did at times mention Kashmir, their main focus was on Afghanistan and Iraq and the U.S. was their main target.

Recent developments, however, have not been encouraging for the Indian subcontinent. India is being increasingly viewed as a close strategic ally of the U.S. and Israel. A widespread view in the Kashmir Valley, which this correspondent encountered during a trip to Srinagar at the time of the latest round of agitation, is that the Amarnath land dispute is in line with a devious plan hatched by the Indian government. The separatists draw a parallel with the methods used by Israel to usurp Palestinian land. The fact that this preposterous view has widespread acceptability in the valley is indicative of the suspicion the Islamic world has of the growing pro-American tilt in Indian foreign policy.

It was after the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July that tensions along the LoC rose perceptibly. The Indian political establishment holds Pakistani military and intelligence officials responsible for masterminding the attack in which a senior Indian military official, who held the post of Indias defence attache in the embassy, was killed. Almost immediately after the incident, firing and skirmishes along the LoC between the Indian and Pakistani forces started. Indias Defence Minister, A.K. Antony, said that there had been 19 violations of the ceasefire since then. The Indian side said that there was firing from the Pakistani side on August 21.

The peace process in the past five years has increased transport and people-to-people links between the divided parts of Kashmir. Talks between the two sides were held regularly, but a resolution of key issues, which could lead to a permanent solution did not happen, though some progress was made in terms of confidence-building measures (CBMs). Kashmiri civil society as well as Islamabad kept asking for more concrete steps, like a reduction in the size of the Indian Army presence in the valley. Another important unresolved issue is Siachen. New Delhi and Islamabad seemed close to resolving the issue two years ago by agreeing to a plan to demilitarise the area. Strong opposition by the Indian military establishment, however, once again put the plan in cold storage.

Senior Pakistani officials as well as prominent leaders of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir this correspondent spoke to in the last couple of years said that they were willing to settle the Kashmir issue without the existing borders of India not having to undergo any change. Musharraf had talked about Pakistans willingness to look beyond the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir in the quest for a solution. The former President had even proposed joint administration of the disputed territory and demilitarisation of the region.

But the Indian government failed to reciprocate, instead demanding more and more concessions from a beleaguered Pakistani government, buffeted by pressure from its home-grown Islamists and by external pressure, from Washington. The proactive Indian policy in Afghanistan, which Pakistan considers its strategic backyard, and the perceived Indian support for separatists in Baluchistan have been major irritants in the peace process, from Islamabads perspective.

When Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Quereshi was in New Delhi in June for a new round of peace talks, he reiterated that the new civilian government was equally committed to the peace process. He said that a positive movement towards peace and security and normalisation is in our mutual interest. Now that offer may no longer be on the table because of the new political realities. Until 2006, President Musharraf, who had the full backing of the military establishment, had the power to deliver on his promises. The new civilian government coexists uneasily with the still powerful military establishment led by General Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief. Kayani headed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from 2004 to 2007. In that role, he had a strong working relationship with the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He also attended a prestigious programme for future military leaders at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, U.S. Kayani was also known as a protege of Musharraf.

In Kashmir, all signs until mid-2008 indicated that the pro-separatist feelings had waned considerably. Now, with the political turmoil in the Kashmir Valley, sparked by the Amarnath land dispute, claiming many civilian lives, the ground realities have undergone a radical change. The heavy-handed use of force by the state has rekindled separatist sentiments. Massive rallies and processions, the biggest seen in the past 20 years, were staged in many parts of the valley in August. The overriding theme, expounded by all the leaders at the rallies, was separation from India.

Thanks to the Indian government shooting itself in the foot on the Amarnath land issue, Kashmir is once again on the international radar screen. Indias National Security Adviser, M. K. Narayanan, is now lamenting the departure of Musharraf saying that the development could lead to a power vacuum and the consequent deterioration of the security situation in the region, giving radical extremist outfits the freedom to do what they like. Similar views emanated from Western capitals that Musharraf was the best bet in fighting terrorism. The Bush administration gave Pakistan $3 billion as aid in 2003 on the condition that Islamabad help Washington in its fight against terrorism and improve relations with New Delhi.

Musharraf was among the first to subscribe formally to Washingtons war on terror. The alliance with the West is extremely unpopular with the Pakistani public but Musharrafs moves to improve the relations with India had found general approval. India and Kashmir did not figure at all in the campaign for Pakistans general elections held in February this year. Many observers of the South Asian scene have described Musharrafs policy on Kashmir after 2002 as a paradigm shift in that countrys India policy. But after the recent events, Kashmir is once again becoming a factor in the internal politics of the country. Pakistans Minister for Culture, Saad Rafiq, recently accused Musharraf of betraying the Kashmiri people for his own political gains.

In the third week of August, Pakistans Foreign Minister accused the Indian government of resorting to excessive and unwarranted use of force against protesters in the Kashmir Valley. He called on New Delhi to take immediate steps to end the violence against innocent Kashmiris. Earlier, Pakistans Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing deep concern over the situation in Kashmir. The Indian government was quick to characterise the Pakistan Ministers statement as a clear interference in the internal affairs of the country. President Musharraf, in his Independence Day address to the nation, criticised what he termed as suppression of the oppressed people of Kashmir. Musharraf, however, did not mention Kashmir or the relations with India in his resignation speech delivered a few days later.

The Government of Pakistan has now gone a step further and said that it plans to approach the U.N. and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) on the Kashmir issue. The OIC issued a strongly worded statement condemning the ongoing excessive and unwarranted use of force against the Kashmiri people. The communal divide that is so evident between the people of Kashmir and Jammu today has added gist to Islamabads argument that the Kashmir issue is fundamentally a Hindu-Muslim one.

The violence in Kashmir, coming as it does in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Ahmedabad and Bangalore, has cast a shadow over the peace process. The Indian government has accused Islamabad of arming and training terrorists to carry out attacks. M.K. Narayanan went to the extent of calling for the destruction of the ISI.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, said that Pakistan should clamp down on terrorism. If this issue of terrorism is not addressed, all good intentions that we have for our two peoples will be negated. We will not be able to pursue the peace initiative, he said. He went on to add that the Kabul blast had cast a shadow on the efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan and that he had personally conveyed his concern and disappointment to the Government of Pakistan.

Islamabad has vehemently denied that it is providing support to the terrorists responsible for the Kabul attack or the recent bomb explosions in Indian cities. The Pakistan government has demanded that New Delhi provide proof to substantiate the charges. It has also denied that it is providing support to Kashmiri separatists who are in the forefront of the current protests in the valley. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Pakistan remained committed to the diplomatic path in the efforts to solve all outstanding disputes between the two countries.

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