Print edition : July 03, 1999

The Kargil crisis has multiple sources and roots; failure to comprehend the transformation of the Pakistan state has proved costly, and Pokhran was a gift to Sharif as the Afghan war was for Zia.

THE wounds of Kargil are, in some ways, as old and untended as the wounds of Partition itself. As numerous military experts have reminded us, a battle over the Kargil sector has been a prominent feature of the wars of 1948, 1965 and 1971. Limited but constant artillery duels across the Line of Control (LoC) have been a routine feature of life in this sector for many years. In the present crisis, the combination of a mass of irregulars and a smaller number of Pakistan Army regulars capturing the heights in a surprise move reminds us of a similar move in 1948. India at that time took not 48 hours, as Defence Minister George Fernandes began by promising us this time, but a year and a half to evict the aggressors. At the time of this writing, it is not clear whether India will settle for a longer time-frame as a matter of prudence or will risk a wider war by going across the LoC in pursuit of quick results and lower casualties.

At no point in this miserable history has either the mainly Shia population of Kargil or the predominantly Sunni population of Drass participated in any appreciable level of insurgency (as India would call it) or struggle for self-determination and/or independence (as the Pakistan Government and the so-called Mujahideen would call it). This fact is of crucial importance. For what this prolonged confrontation between India and Pakistan over Drass, Kargil and Siachen, in the absence of any popular insurgency, demonstrates is that the unfinished business of Partition in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has not one aspect but two, both of which are a result of the indecent and cruel haste with which the British offered the Partition of India and leaders of the Hindu and Muslim elites accepted it, with little regard for consequences.

In the case of J&K, there is of course the issue of the actual wishes of the people - all the people, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and the rest - which both the governments, and their respective allies, have interpreted according to their own objectives. But enveloping this is the larger and bloodier issue of a very conventional kind of territorial dispute between the two nation-states that emerged out of an ill-conceived and indifferently implemented Partition. If the sheer scale of insurgency and political unrest in the Valley serves to obscure the fact of the underlying territorial dispute, it is in Kargil and Siachen that the territorial issue comes into full view, since battles here are always fought over the heads of the actual population. The Kashmir problem, as we may call it, has proved to be so very difficult to resolve politically, in accordance with the actual wishes and interests of the population, precisely because the territorial dispute between the two nation-states is based on irreconcilable geopolitical objectives.

If Pakistan was really interested in issues of self-determination and 'freedom' for the Kashmiris, it could begin by granting these rights to the Kashmiris who live under its control, mostly in what it calls 'Azad Kashmir' (Free Kashmir) and what we call Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The evidence is that the government of 'Azad Kashmir' in Muzaffarabad is demonstrably less free than the State administration in Srinagar and has always been treated as a puppet. Any movement for regional autonomy there is crushed with great impunity. Over the past ten years of insurgency in J&K itself, which Pakistan too calls Occupied ('Maqbooza') Kashmir, it has again done everything to undermine the autonomous groups and to control the insurgency through groups it sponsors. Indeed, it seems that a key reason why the insurgency has been declining in recent times is that the population finds itself caught between two national security apparatuses, those of India and Pakistan, and while it may be outraged by the sheer savagery of the counter-terror that India practises, much of it has grown similarly afraid of the Islamicist terror squads coming from across the LoC.

The Dal lake in Srinagar. Whenever the military situation in Jammu and Kashmir, which has oscillated between military occupation and the cynical manipulations of parliamentary governance, was under control, India's consuming classes converged on the State to devour its natural resources and turn its crystalline lakes into cesspools of weed and pollution.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

On our part, we have never faced up to a simple question: how is it that over half a century 'infiltrators' have come only from the other side of the LoC, to find more or less fertile ground here, but none have gone from here to the other side to sow the seeds of rebellion there as well? Is it that India does not have the intelligence services to match the Pakistani ones? Or, is there something more fundamentally wrong with relations between the Indian government and the Kashmiri people? A promise not kept, a resentment never assuaged?

This is not the place to rehash that complicated history, but a certain gap between the promise and the performance can be indicated. For, in principle, Kashmir was to be our showcase of autonomous governance, endowed with a very special status by virtue of Article 370, a model of economic and social development that would demonstrate to the hostile, the sullen, the indifferent elements in the Kashmiri population that the rest of India regarded them as precious partners in the making of a free, democratic, pluralist, prosperous nation. In practice, J&K has oscillated between military occupation and the cynical manipulations of parliamentary governance, by the central governments as well as local satraps.

Much of the development funds that were meant to modernise and develop the economy were pocketed by notoriously corrupt administrations and the political middlemen who helped New Delhi keep its grip over a population whose democratic aspirations were exceptionally high, thanks precisely to the promise that was once made but never kept. Whenever the military situation was under control, India's consuming classes converged on Kashmir as if it was a mere playground for the rich who had the birthright to devour its natural resources and turn its crystalline lakes into cesspools of weed and pollution.

When this decade-old insurgency first began in 1989-90, extensive investigative reporting showed that its main social base was among the educated, unemployed youth who found themselves unrepresented in the political process and felt oppressed by the scale of military presence in daily life in the State. A number of those who took up the gun then were young men whose political aspirations had been thwarted by the corrupt practices during the elections which brought Farooq Abdullah to power in the first place. Meanwhile, those who ruled in Srinagar and those who ruled in Delhi were seen as partners in a game of collaborative competition, guarded as much by Article 370 as by the much too visible armed forces. This is classically the stuff that separatist nationalisms are made of.

Some of this cynicism can be illustrated with the current conduct of the two allies in the caretaker government, the BJP and the National Conference led by Farooq Abdullah. At a time when dissidents in J&K have to be assured that Article 370 is a lasting constitutional guarantee, and when there has to be a demonstrable movement in political and administrative reform so as to bring the various religious communities closer and guarantee greater rights of representation for everyone, the actual positions and pronouncements of these rulers are - at least - very alarming.

It is well known that the abolition of Article 370 is something of an article of faith for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) confederacy, and key leaders of the BJP itself have often campaigned on this issue. What they promise Kashmiris is not more autonomy but less; and it is only because they rely on such a large number of allies for governance in Delhi that they have not pressed this issue more vigorously, as they have also provisionally suspended campaigning on the mandir issue. We know perfectly well what they shall do if and when they get the chance.

The other side of the coin is of course the statement by Home Minister L.K. Advani on May 18, 1998, in the euphoric aftermath of Pokhran-II, that India's new-found status as a nuclear power had "brought about a qualitative new state in Indo-Pakistan relations, particularly in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem." We shall come to the significance of Pokhran and Chagai, but the mentality that sees the problem essentially as an issue between India and Pakistan that is to be settled by changing the military equation, through nuclear means if necessary, poses a danger not just to Pakistan but to India as well, the people of J&K included.

Lt.Gen. A.A.K. Niazi (right), the chief of Pakistan's Eastern Command, and Lt.Gen. J.S. Arora of the Indian Army, sign the document relating to the declaration of unconditional surrender of Pakistani troops in East Pakistan.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Meanwhile, the much needed political and administrative reforms are now envisioned in strictly communal terms, not to bring the various religious communities closer but to push them further apart. In a far-reaching but little noted report of April 13 this year, the Regional Autonomy Commission, which clearly has the blessings of Farooq Abdullah as well as of Karan Singh, recommended the creation of eight new provinces of various sizes within the State, each corresponding to a distinct religious group, so that the whole becomes a mosaic of exclusive religio-ethnic entities. (see "Broadening the base", Frontline, June 18, 1999). For decades after Partition, even as Pakistan-backed insurgents tried to poison relations between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir, our great boast was that society in J&K was not a communalised society and that the historic cultural unity of the region will help it survive the attempts to sow religious discord. During that same period, even the Pakistan-backed groups remained 'Muslim' rather than 'Islamicist'.

The phase of insurgency that began in 1989-90 was notable for a very considerable shift toward religious fundamentalism and for great efforts to communalise Kashmiri society. Selective but unremitting terror against Kashmiri Hindus, which forced a great many of them to flee to Jammu and beyond, had the effect of creating a new kind of communal violence in the Valley and, in turn, injecting doses of Hindu communalism into sections of the beleaguered Kashmiri Pandit community. If implemented, the politico-administrative reforms that are now being proposed shall stabilise and greatly extend the communal boundaries that the Islamicists themselves have sought.

The superb coverage of this episode in Frontline, cited above, already points to the fact that the plan is remarkably similar to the one that the United Nations mediator, Owen Dixon, had proposed in 1950 and which has been recently revived by the influential United States-based think-tank, the Kashmir Studies Group. It also points out that lower-level functionaries of not only the National Conference but of the BJP itself have been active in promoting it, as is Karan Singh, the Hindu-revivalist Dogra prince. Two further points need to be added.

One is that Farooq Abdullah supervised and blessed this plan while he was also so loyal a member of the BJP-dominated coalition that he threw out his close friend and a Member of Parliament, Prof. Saifuddin Soz, from the basic membership of his party for the sin of having gone against the BJP alliance on the vote of confidence of April 17, 1999. It is very unlikely that he could have blessed the plan for a politico-administrative overhaul of the State without Vajpayee's explicit approval; Karan Singh's own involvement speaks volumes. At the other end of the globe, Selig Harrison, an influential South Asia expert in the United States who is sympathetic to Indian positions, has endorsed the plan publicly.

That brings us to the second point, pertaining to the role of the U.S. We know that a key lesson that the U.S., and the West generally, learned from the competing lunacies of Pokhran and Chagai was that the time to find a 'lasting solution' to the Kashmir problem had come. This has led to constant, cryptic position-taking in public and repeated, detailed discussions at very high official levels more obscurely. The Kashmir problem has in effect been internationalised, the formal emphasis on bilateral talks notwithstanding, and India had done its own share in this internationalising. The offer by the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to send an envoy can be politely turned down but both Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Vajpayee are constantly reporting to and getting advice from Bill Clinton, the supercop of troubled waters across the world.

Indian soldiers with a captured Pakistani tank in December 1971. It was in the midst of the 1971 crisis that the Islamicist vocation of the Pakistani state was born.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Similarly, India may make all kinds of noises against 'internationalisation', but when it writes to the G-8 heads of state, asking for support against Pakistan and suggesting international pressure, including perhaps economic pressure from such agencies as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it too is internationalising the issue in the way that corresponds to the world as we now have it, after Iraq and Yugoslavia, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) either dictating to or simply ignoring the U.N. This new recognition of Bill Clinton as someone resembling the head of a unitary world government came immediately after Pokhran-II when Vajpayee singled him out as the one man to whom he owed an explanation, and the status of Clinton as the supreme supervisor has only been enhanced as the wages of Pokhran began to be earned in Kargil.

THIS grovelling before the U.S. has its own paradoxical side. The Islamicist guerillas who earned their laurels in Afghanistan before entering Kashmir are a direct product of the U.S. which is now expected to save India from them after their network has become much larger, more autonomous, ambitious and uncontrollable. The network that extends from the Taliban to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba to Osama Bin Laden is, in a sense, the Bhindranwale syndrome - or call it the Frankenstein syndrome, if you will - writ large: the proverbial truth that the monsters you make up to prove your own power and prowess may in the end return to haunt you, as your own nemesis. Part of the reason India is getting more of a sympathetic hearing from the U.S. is that the latter too is now haunted by a monster it created.

Is the U.S. merely a passive listener? My guess is that there are expert groups in various agencies of the U.S. Government putting together solutions that they can share with their clients, and the solutions are likely to be along the lines that they have been implementing in a variety of places, from Palestine to Yugoslavia: local self-governments, ethno-religious enclaves, and so on, balanced with low-intensity warfare, supervised 'bilateral negotiations', and the U.S., as the leading light of NATO, taking over from the U.N. as 'peacekeeper' of the world.

The break-up of Yugoslavia into a mosaic of ethno-religious entities and enclaves, as well as the institutionalisation of religious hatreds and communal killings, began with the pious rhetoric of 'the national question' very much with the encouragement of the NATO countries, notably Germany. And the U.S. has been very deeply involved in these processes from the very start, since well before Kosovo and even Bosnia. Closer home, both Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan and a mortal enemy of Nawaz Sharif, and Mushahid Hussain, the unscrupulous Information Minister and close confidant of Nawaz Sharif, have called for a Kosovo-style solution in Kashmir. So, there might be more of a connection than meets the eye between the rhetoric of a 'lasting solution' that is being brandished all around, and the communal plan to re-shape the politico-administrative map of J&K which has been announced with the clear blessings of so many of the powerful players. It is only to be expected that a government of Hindu communalists and its allies shall further intensify, possibly with encouragement from foreign 'experts', that process of communalising Kashmiri society which Muslim communalists from across the LoC initiated ten years ago.

With such rulers and their patrons, we need no enemies.


The Pakistan that we are dealing with today was born not once but twice, in 1947 and then again in 1971, first through its own labours for the most part, and then through the bloody surgery that India so deftly administered. Most Indian writing on the subject has found it difficult to come to terms with 1947; about the consequences of 1971 most analyses emanating from India tend to be too smug to be of any great use. The emphasis usually is on the psychological side of things: Pakistan's sense of humiliation and a reckless desire for revenge. In reality, Pakistani responses were more complex and took quite a few years and many changes in the world to get fully formed.

There was, first, what one might call a crisis of identity. The founding myth of Pakistan was that it was the second largest Muslim country in the world, after Indonesia, and the patrimonial home of Muslims of what was once British India. Its founders were not notably devout, however, and for 13 years prior to the separation of Bangladesh it was ruled by modernising Generals who looked to Turkey and Tunisia for reform models and to the Shah of Iran for patronage. The Islam of the Pakistani elites during that phase was mild, reformist, and recognisably South Asian. All of that came unstuck in the crucible of 1971.

Pakistan was now the third largest Muslim country in the subcontinent, trailing behind Bangladesh and India. Half the market for its industry was gone, as were two of its three major exports: jute and tea. Worse still for its military-bureaucratic elite, the country it contrived to administer and defend was cut to half the size.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He launched Pakistan's nuclear programme after Pokhran-I not only to attain parity with India in the nuclear field, but also to overcome through nuclear parity the sizable disadvantage Pakistan had in weapons of conventional warfare.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

It was in the midst of this crisis that the Islamicist vocation of the state was born; Pakistan was no longer the home of the majority of subcontinental Muslims, it had to be the home of the good Muslims. The markets it had lost in East Bengal had to be compensated for with markets elsewhere, and new types of exports had to be developed. The answer was 'the Muslim world', especially the socially backward, super-rich, arch-conservative Gulf kingdoms which needed everything, from onions to bureaucrats, and could pay with petrodollars.

A new vision of Pakistan was born: it was more a part of the Islamic world of West Asia than of a multi-religious South Asia. The Pakistan Army found a new vocation: training the armed personnel of these kingdoms and defending the parameters of Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Pakistani bankers took to advising the rentier kings of the desert. Doctors, accountants, engineers, teachers, the whole of the professional classes, looked forward to, or at least dreamed of, making money in places such as Dubai and Bahrain. Instead of jute and tea, Pakistan now had other, more lucrative exportables: fruits and vegetables grown in new kinds of capitalist garden-agriculture, cheap manufactures, the labour-power of the working classes, the expertise of the professional elite.

Nothing worked as magically in restoring the self-confidence of the Pakistani state and its privileged classes as the infusion of petrodollars. But this new sort of money brought with it a new and curiously effective commodity as well: petro-Islam. A hybrid thing, born of centuries of ferocious conservatism so characteristic of the desert, but also of unprecedented levels of wealth that was newly gained but was the product neither of a settled history nor of accumulated labour but of chance, that the black gold flowed here rather than elsewhere. It was a curious kind of Islam, equally ferocious in its piety and its consumerism.

IN the euphoria created by the victory in Bangladesh, few in India cared to notice that something utterly fundamental had changed in the Pakistani state's self-perception. Within a few years of the defeat in 1971, Pakistan began to see itself not as some beleaguered non-entity in South Asia, as the Indian establishment was prone to see it, but as a strategically located middle-sized power straddling the two worlds of South and West Asia, uniquely poised to take advantage of a host of geopolitical possibilities and enjoying widespread support among the Islamic states. Ironically, it was the defeat at India's hands that had forced Pakistan to find its Islamicist moorings in West Asia.

We have so far mentioned the crisis of identity and the successful reorientation of policy, with a focus toward West Asia rather than the subcontinent, as the first major consequence of the loss of East Bengal for Pakistan. The second consequence was even more far-reaching. Having gained the unique and dubious distinction of becoming the first of the post-colonial states of any international consequence - ally of the U.S. as well as China - to be dismembered and cut to half by a combination of a secessionist movement inside the country and a massive, brutal strike by a militarily far more powerful neighbour, Pakistan fell back on the old, tired adage: offence was the best defence. In concrete strategic terms, this meant that it was safer to fight all future wars on hostile, alien territory than on one's own, which then meant that the defence parameters for Pakistan's security were to be drawn inside the territory of the two neighbours that Pakistan considered hostile: India principally, but also to a certain extent Afghanistan. Pakistan's relatively successful role in the insurgencies in Punjab and Kashmir came in the wake of this new strategic doctrine of forward defence because there was fertile ground in those states for Pakistan to exploit.

These shifts in Pakistan's policies and perceptions, including the rise of new kinds of Islamism, were already in place during the Z.A. Bhutto years, well before General Zia's coup, even though more simplistic versions would tend to present Bhutto as a secular, modern, Left-oriented autocrat and would date the beginning of Islamisation with Zia's rise to power. In fact, Bhutto was ideally suited to conceive and implement these changes. As an acute student of international affairs, he knew that with the defeat of Egypt by Israel in 1967, and especially with the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser which coincided almost perfectly with the break-up of Pakistan, the centre of gravity in the Arab world had shifted from the radical regimes to the monarchical ones, notably from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. He knew also that even though Nasser-style anti-imperialist nationalism had gained a new lease on life in Muammar Qadhafi's Libya, the rapid rise in oil incomes had benefited not so much the small producers as the Gulf kingdoms, especially the Saudi and Kuwaiti monarchies. It is to them that he now turned with a whole range of schemes for cooperation.

ISLAMISM of the West Asian variety came to Pakistan during the Z.A. Bhutto years in several guises. There was the immense popularity of Qadhafi whose main achievement in the ideological sphere was to re-state Nasser's secular anti-imperialism in stringently Islamic terms. It was after Qadhafi's speech at the grand new stadium in Lahore, named after himself, that wearing the Islamic chador became quite the fashion among urban middle class girls and a whole battery of quasi-radical intellectuals set out to find revolutionary virtue in Islam, several years before the Iranian Revolution helped turn this activity into a large-scale industry. But the Bhutto who invited Qadhafi to exercise his revolutionary eloquence in the cricket stadium also invited King Feisal of Saudi Arabia to lead the Friday prayers in the grand old Badshahi Masjid, as Lahore hosted a spectacularly staged session of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

There was the petro-Islam of social conservatism and consumerist hysteria that came as part of the baggage of the workers and professionals who returned after a sojourn of some years in the oil kingdoms. And there was the puritanical Islam of Arab youth squads of the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) who made their first appearance on the college campuses of Pakistan now, as fraternal delegates to the conferences and conventions staged by the student wing of the notorious Jamaat-e-Islami, which was to play such havoc during the Zia years and especially after the onset of the war in Afghanistan. Or, there were the many Islams - tribal, academic, mercantile, what have you - that came from Afghanistan when Z.A. Bhutto started offering protection to the Islamic parties and organisations from there which left their country after Mohammed Daoud Khan's coup of 1973, well before the 1978 Revolution. One now forgets, for example, that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was to play such a pivotal role in the Islamic insurgency during the Zia period, eventually becoming even Prime Minister for a brief period before the Taliban took over, was recruited by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) not during that later phase but earlier, in the mid-1970s, when Bhutto's own flirtation with Afghani Islam had its high noon.

The birth of the nuclear programme in Pakistan was a two-faced affair. The shift in the balance of forces between India and Pakistan after the 1971 war was of such a magnitude that Pakistan could no longer even dream of achieving strategic parity in conventional weapons in any foreseeable future. This was not easy to accept after so decisive a defeat, especially if Pakistan was to recover from that defeat through the risky new doctrine of a forward defence whereby its defence parameters were to be drawn beyond its own boundaries. Then came Pokhran-I, and Pakistan saw itself falling woefully behind not just in conventional weapons but also in nuclear technology.

Bhutto now resolved to proceed with a fully fledged nuclear programme at breakneck speed, toward weapon production capability, not only in order to attain parity in a nuclear field where India had already established a clear lead but also to overcome through nuclear parity the very sizable disadvantage Pakistan had in weapons of conventional warfare. In relation to India, thus, Pakistan's nuclear programme was always of a defensive nature, a desperate attempt to catch up with a neighbour that had already slashed it to half its previous size. And this character of the Pakistani nuclear programme as a response to an India that was seen as more advanced and aggressive, remained right up to Chagai, which came only after Pokhran-II.

Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. Rhetoric aside, the nuclear policy put in place by him remained Pakistan's official policy until the BJP-led government unilaterally changed India's historic position on the nuclear issue by staging Pokhran-II.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

ALL this is difficult to comprehend for the policy-making establishments in India which suffer from a Great Power Syndrome and which reserve for themselves but deny Pakistan the right to lunacy that is said to be the birthright of Great Powers. What is particularly difficult for Indian policy-makers to appreciate, precisely because they insist on viewing Pakistan simply as some illegitimate little backwoods of South Asia, is half the reason why Pakistan launched on its nuclear programme at the very time when it was trying to shift its historic orientation from South Asia to West Asia had very little to do with India and everything to do with its ambitions in the so-called 'Islamic World'.

In a nutshell, Pakistan wished to emerge as the only nuclear power in that world, which it saw as its ticket to dominance there. For the conservative Arab sheikhdoms, a nuclear-capable Pakistan would be the great military power in their midst. To the radical nationalists, of Libya or Palestine for example, a nuclear-capable Pakistan could be presented as a counter-weight to Israel.

Throughout the Z.A. Bhutto period, this other aspect of Pakistan's race towards the bomb - which the Western media appropriately called 'the Islamic bomb' - was predominant, and it is very much worth remarking that in Bhutto's own view he was being sent to the gallows for the sin of having defied U.S. imperialism and Israeli Zionism on the nuclear issue. In early 1978, weeks before Bhutto was sent up those gallows, an aide to the Palestine Liberation Organisation Chairman told me that Yasser Arafat himself believed that there was much truth in Bhutto's assessment of his impending fate.

Why was Pakistan allowed to carry on with its nuclear programme even after Bhutto's judicial assassination? The first reason was precisely that: Bhutto had been despatched, and the man who had done so was much more reliable. Zia was possibly the shrewdest ruler Pakistan has ever had, but he was also a pious Muslim of conservative stamp, a man of kulak origins who had risen from an early career in the colonial army to high office in Pakistan's notoriously right-wing armed forces. If Bhutto had turned to Saudi Arabia for pragmatic reasons and to Afghan Islamic groups for cynical ones, Zia was to do so out of conviction. And if Bhutto was split between a certain variety of Third World nationalism and day-to-day dependence on imperialism, Zia's relationship with the U.S. was uncomplicated; many in Pakistan noted the fact that he had made his coup immediately after attending the Fourth of July celebrations at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad.

On the nuclear issue, Zia seems to have argued persuasively with his U.S. patrons that (a) Pakistan's geopolitical compulsions within the subcontinent required that it develop this capability since India already had it and was working to improve it greatly; (b) that Pakistan would not undertake tests and explosions so long as India did not do so; and (c) that Pakistan would never make this capability available to Third World nationalists, Arab radicals and so on. Rhetoric aside, this remained Pakistan's policy subsequently as well, for another decade, under Benazir Bhutto and also Nawaz Sharif, until the BJP-led government unilaterally changed India's historic position on the nuclear issue by staging Pokhran-II.


In Shame, which is surely the most compact and possibly the best of his novels, Salman Rushdie has a wonderful scene in which Zia - or Raza Hyder, the fictional character who stands in for Zia - hears the news that "the Russians had sent an army into the country of A" and promptly brings out four prayer-mats so that he and his cronies can "give thanks, pronto, fut-a-fut, for this blessing that had been bestowed on them by God" while one of those cronies begins "to fantasise about five billion dollars' worth of new military equipment, the latest stuff at last, missiles that could fly sideways without starving their engines of oxygen." We are still living with the consequences of that "blessing". For at least one of the roads that has now reached Kargil began in Kabul some 20 years, and it was at the Khyber Pass that Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Adviser, stood, an American-made gun in hand, promising his hired Mujahideen that that was the gun that was to make Islam prevail against the godless Communists. Osama Bin Laden is only one of the hundreds of thousands that came out of that gun.

What did that mean for Pakistan?

In the nuclear arena itself, the great dependence of the U.S. upon Pakistan for the conduct of the war in Afghanistan meant that Pakistani intelligence services were free to beg, buy and steal nuclear technologies from the best laboratories of the Western world without getting punished, even as the U.S. continued to blame China and North Korea for transferring this technology to Pakistan. The Americans had simply to gulp their own objections as Pakistan developed its weapons capability.

Then, there was the money! Quite aside from the countless billions that came from the U.S. as well as the Gulf monarchies, the illegal drug trade alone, which the U.S. secret service helped organise for the Afghan Mujahideen in order to finance part of their operations, was said to be bringing in over $2 billion annually during the early 1980s. A side effect for Pakistan was that for a decade or so drug addiction grew in Karachi faster than in any other city in the world, and Karachi became a major hub for gun-running by those drug-trafficking mafias. It was in those years that the social and political life in the city was first so massively criminalised. And the cancer of course spread far and wide.

In other parts of the country, in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) particularly but also in Baluchistan and Punjab, over three million Afghan refugees poured in, altering the very social fabric in the regions where they were concentrated; one-third to half of them are said to be still there. Many of the leaders of Afghan Islamic organisations had migrated to Pakistan during the Z.A. Bhutto period, and the bulk of the ruling class, minus the ones who went straight to the Western countries or went to Iran instead, now converged there as well. The refugee camps, where military training and Islamic education of the most arcane kind were dispensed in equal measure, became the source of virtually infinite recruitment for war inside Afghanistan. The combination of military expertise and the most arcane religious conservatism that the Taliban has displayed is a direct reflection of the lethal brew that was first stirred up in those camps. We might add that the seven-party alliance that was recognised by Pakistan and the U.S. as the legitimate soldiers of god and that then fought over the spoils after the Soviet withdrawal until the Taliban threw it out, was only very slightly less conservative than today's Taliban and surely no less brutal. The same applies to the Pakistanis who joined them in increasing numbers and the ones who came from a variety of other countries, from Sudan to the United Kingdom. Many of those who have tasted blood are now looking for other causes.

In the process, Pakistan's own Islamicist organisations, such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, which had remained politically marginal and militarily less than marginal, have made spectacular progress in terms of money, arms, men and expertise. There is still an immensely large pool of human beings, not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, not only Army regulars and controlled irregulars but also freelance seekers of martyrdom, from among whom guerillas for covert wars can still be recruited. Equally dangerous, perhaps, is the fact that a great many of them are men of shifting loyalties and fierce egotism, under no one's control and largely footloose. Weapons of all sorts are spread all across Pakistan and among the Afghan irregulars; no amount of effort to disarm this marauding mass can wholly succeed.

NOT only has Pakistan's social and political culture become very much more Islamised but the character of the armed forces has also changed dramatically. As a result, the numbers who subscribe to a very extreme form of political Islam is now so great that it may destabilise the inner unity of the armed forces themselves. An eventuality may yet arise in which the most extreme wing makes a coup not just against the civilian authorities but also against their own less extreme colleagues, to join up with political organisations of the extreme kind and establish in Pakistan the type of Islamicist state, suitably modified for Pakistani conditions, that Sudan and Afghanistan have already known, or the kind that may yet arise in Algeria. This is not by any means fated but it is a distinct possibility.

As the war in Afghanistan progressed, the national security apparatus in Pakistan grew in ambition and scope. The doctrine of forward defence that had initially conceived of defence parameters being drawn some kilometres into the neighbours' territories came now to include not only the whole of Afghanistan but also, as a legitimate sphere of influence, the states that have arisen out of Soviet Central Asia. By the time the Soviet troops were withdrawn, another, brand new self-image of the military-bureaucratic state emerged: Pakistan was especially chosen by the Lord to become the country that was to beat the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, out of the Cold War, out of existence. Pakistani military officers are known to have joked that they would have done the same to Vietnam if only the Americans had the sense to deploy Pakistani troops instead of their own. A third-rate military machine that is intoxicated by a self-image so very dazzling is a dangerous machine.

This is the tiger Nawaz Sharif is trying to ride.


There are powerful currents of opinion about Pakistan among academic experts, think-tanks and policy-makers in India which make too much, even when it comes to foreign policy and military strategy, of the distinction between civilian and military governments and among various centres of power in Pakistan. Defence Minister George Fernandes' statement that the Kargil operation was an undertaking of the Pakistan Army in which the ISI was not involved and which did not have the sanction of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was of course exceptionally foolish but it comes precisely out of that mechanistic sense of how Pakistan is governed or makes its policies.

We speak of the Pakistani ISI these days as we once used to speak of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as something not only transcendentally diabolical but also as some sort of a super-government that does as it wishes. It is indeed the case that the relationship between the intelligence agencies and the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Pakistan has become especially complex in the course of the Afghanistan war and thereafter; the fact nevertheless remains that the ISI is a department of the armed forces in which the chain of command remains, in the final analysis, intact. The Kargil operation was prepared in elaborate secrecy, on a scale that is yet not clear even after a month and a half of fighting. It is inconceivable that any of the key intelligence services would remain uninvolved. By the same token, what task is assigned to the ISI, the Special Services Group (SSG) or any other such agency would necessarily be determined by the chief commanders of the armed forces who are not obliged to reveal to their subordinates their actual war plans. The sort of distinction between the Pakistan Army and the ISI that Fernandes wishes to observe is at best fanciful.

What about Nawaz Sharif? Unlike Vajpayee, whose party commanded less than a third of the national vote in the last elections and who has been unable to retain the confidence of the Lok Sabha for the coalition of motley groups that made him Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif commands enough strength in his Parliament to be able to change even the Constitution if he so desires. He has used this power to get rid of a President, a Supreme Court Chief Justice as well as a Chief of the Army Staff who dared to differ with him. It is inconceivable that the current Army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, whom Sharif is said to have especially favoured because he has no independent personal base among the key commanders, would launch so large an operation without seeking the permission of his Prime Minister.

Such an assumption would rest on three other misconceptions: (a) that the various centres of power in Pakistan are so autonomous and so much at odds with one another that each pursues its own discrete objectives; (b) that the Army, in particular, pursues a foreign policy of its own; and (c) that the Kargil operation is so irreconcilable with the undertakings Pakistan gave when Vajpayee's bus lurched into Lahore that the operation must be seen either as Sharif's perfidy or as an adventure launched behind his back. The fallacy that governs each of these misconceptions is that Pakistan does not have a coherent state authority capable of pursuing fixed, long-term objectives.

It is undoubtedly true that the Army has a much bigger role in Pakistan's polity than is the case in India and that this inordinately large role remains whether a General or a civilian heads the government. That does not mean, however, that there is some fundamental cleavage between the civilian and military authorities over national interest, foreign policy and military strategy. Our own argument would suggest, by contrast, that there are of course ideological shifts, as governments come and go, and dramatic new forces emerge with the passage of time and in response to events inside and outside the country. There is, nevertheless, a basic continuity in definitions of the national interest and the strategies that are to be pursued.

Contrast this with the hallowed fantasies that now surround the Lahore Declaration and which are largely of our own making. After Pokhran-II and Chagai there was tremendous pressure from the NATO countries, principally the U.S., to take some tangible action in order to resolve or at least defuse the Kashmir crisis because Kashmir had become, as they put it, a 'nuclear flashpoint'. Unwilling and even unable to come up with creative, substantive new thinking, Vajpayee opted for a politically naive gesture symbolised by what came to be called 'bus diplomacy'. Nawaz Sharif simply obliged, though he did not go so far as to disturb his own routine and come to Delhi.

We are a sentimental people, and even the progressive and liberal commentators fell for Vajpayee's short-lived atmospherics. Not Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's Foreign Minister. On the eve of the bus trip, when Vajpayee was already over-committed, Aziz delivered much-publicised, hard-hitting speeches saying bluntly that the atmospherics must not be seen as making any fundamental difference to Pakistan's settled positions on Kashmir. When The News, an English daily published by the Jung group of newspapers, organised a meeting of Pakistani and Indian parliamentarians, where too a very great deal of poetry and sentiment flowed, a group of unidentified men broke into the compound of the house of Imtiaz Alam, the editor who had played a prominent role in organising the event, and set his new and expensive car on fire. Later, when Najam Sethi, a veteran Pakistani publisher and commentator, shared with the BBC some information on the corrupt dealings of the Sharif family, the Pakistan Government waited until he had expressed on Indian soil the dissent he routinely expresses in his own newspaper, The Friday Times, and arrested him, with the complicity of the Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi, on the improbable charge that Sethi was an agent of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The Government of India continued to speak of the Lahore Declaration, a veritable pack of cosmetics, as if some new chapter in subcontinental history had been opened.

Drunk on his own rhetoric, Vajpayee went to Minar-e-Pakistan, which stands in Lahore at the spot where the historic Pakistan Resolution of 1942 was passed, and spoke of India and Pakistan as 'separate nations'. Our media contrived to see in this gesture a historic turn where India - or was it the RSS? - had finally accepted Partition. Pakistanis were barely amused. Hardly anyone there believes that it is for India - or for the RSS - to accept or reject the reality of Pakistan, over half a century after the event. Those who make policy in Pakistan politely waited for Vajpayee to depart.

WHAT went wrong? The media hype of 'bus diplomacy' was the other face of the Pokhran lunacy. Having committed an act of extraordinary hawkishness and belligerence, which dismayed people across the world, raising the suspicion that the Government of India was losing its capacity for responsible action, Vajpayee desperately needed to reincarnate himself as a man of peace. No one in the world approved of Pakistan's nuclear blasts but most people concluded that it was an unpleasant but predictable response to Indian irresponsibility. Vajpayee had to take a unilateral initiative in going to Lahore because he had taken a unilateral initiative on the nuclear issue. A comedy of penance was sold to the media as if it was a pack of doves. And he had to move fast, before international pressure for 'internationalising' the Kashmir issue became unbearable.

Prime Ministers A.B. Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif in Lahore in February. Vajpayee, who came under pressure from NATO countries after Pokhran-II, opted for a politically naive gesture symbolised by what came to be called "bus diplomacy".-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

There lies the rub, in the haste. When Henry Kissinger journeyed to Beijing in the thick of night, he did so after prolonged and extremely careful preparations for rapprochement, which itself became possible only after historic shifts had taken place within China in relation to its attitude toward the U.S., the Soviet Union, Vietnam and itself. Similarly, when Anwar Sadat of Egypt made his dramatic visit to Jerusalem, it was done only after months and years of careful preparation and only when the historic shift in relations between Egypt and Israel had been agreed upon, between the two governments, inside each of the polities and in collaboration with their mutual patron-saint in the United States.

No such preparations, no agreement on a dramatic new turn on the Kashmir issue for example, preceded the trip to Lahore. Vajpayee seems to have persuaded himself that his alighting from a garishly decked up bus on the other side of the Wagah border could change the shape of international diplomacy as L.K. Advani's rath yatra had altered the fortunes of the RSS within the country. When Kargil exploded, Vajpayee was bewildered.

At some level, the bus diplomacy turned out to be as inept as most other things that this government has done across the board. More fundamentally, the BJP-led government misconstrues what Pokhran and Chagai have meant. On May 18 last year, Advani had claimed that Pokhran-II had strengthened India's hand in Kashmir. Writing in Frontline at the time (June 19, 1998), I had suggested that our blustering Home Minister did not seem to understand that nuclear weapons have little bearing on guerilla actions and localised, low-intensity warfare. Now, a year later, one needs to go a step further.

Pokhran was a gift to Sharif as the Afghan war had been for Zia. Since 1971, Pakistan had been trying, unsuccessfully, to overcome its strategic inferiority in conventional warfare. By opening the way for nuclear parity and competitive weaponisation, the Vajpayee government gifted to Pakistan a strategic parity that it could not otherwise achieve. To the extent that the possession of nuclear weapons capability by both sides in a serious conflict tends to put serious constraints on a full-scale conventional war, to that same extent it facilitates the institutionalisation of low-intensity, localised wars. The more the two countries move toward nuclear weaponisation, the more Kargils we shall have. In this sense, the present reality in Kargil is not only the other face of the rhetoric of Lahore, it is also a precise, necessary, repeatable consequence of Pokhran.

Aijaz Ahmad is Senior Fellow, Centre for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.

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