A different view of Kargil

Print edition : September 11, 1999

While the Kargil issue is highlighted by politicians on both sides of the border, the average Pakistani thinks that it was merely part of the machinations by politicians to keep their own business going.

PAKISTAN'S Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz calls it an "over-reaction on India's part"; a retired Pakistani bureaucrat and a former consultant with the United Nations, Ghulam Khibria, calls it a "blunder on Pakistan's part"; a Karachi-based business executive, Akhtar K. Alavi, terms it an "election stunt". But the average citizen of Pakistan feels that the Kargil intrusion and India's response to it were something both the countries have been witnessing for years. My taxi driver in Islamabad said:"Logo ko bewakoof banane ki baat hai (The people on both sides are being taken for a ride). Neither your politicians nor ours, neither your army nor ours, is interested in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. Unki tau dukan hi bandh ho jayegi (It will put an end to their business)." .

The Foreign Minister denies that Kargil was a "planned operation" by Pakistan. His version is that following "some very aggressive patrolling by Indian troops along the empty space last October-November", the Pakistani troops moved closer to the Line of Control (LoC) to safeguard it. Taking advantage of this situation "the freedom fighters moved in and took up some positions". The LoC is never a quiet place, with firing taking place much of the time, but complaints from either side are normally sorted out.

This time too it would have been the same case but India suddenly "mobilised 50,000 troops, 70 to 80 planes, 20 gunships and large pieces of artillery to displace 500 people. It was plainly an over-reaction," Aziz said.

Even though Kargil has taken Indo-Pakistan relations to an all-time low, Aziz feels that some good might come out of it in the long run. Aziz added:"On both sides there is a realisation that we cannot go on. Look at the fragility and bitterness of our relationship. We shoot down a plane for no reason and tensions again go high. How can two such large countries, both nuclear powers, live in such tension and uncertainty? The relationship has to improve and it cannot improve unless we have negotiations and deal with Kashmir, which is a reality."

As usual there are diverse voices commenting on Indo-Pakistan relations. But one thing that strikes a visitor in Pakistan is the people's incredulity about the "mass hysteria whipped up by the Indian media" over Kargil. A senior diplomat in Pakistan's Foreign Office whom this correspondent met, said: "We were amazed to see the manner in which the Kargil issue was blown out of proportion in your media, especially the electronic media."

Alleging that the Indian media seemed to have no space or time for anything other than "Pakistan-bashing all the time", he said: "To be honest with you, people in Pakistan started looking at Kargil only on June 21 after Pakistan had lost the World Cup (of cricket)." Certain that the "Hindutva government of India had influenced the media to write like that", he accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of creating "a new generation of enemies on either side of the border. We feel the whole hysteria is election-linked and it seems to have paid off too. We hear that pre-election surveys predict a comfortable victory for the BJP and its allies."

Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Minister of Pakistan.-RASHEEDA BHAGAT

Conveying the same sentiment in softer tones, senior columnist Anees Jillani said: "Kargil was not looked upon as a war in Pakistan at all. It was only the Indian media which converted it into a war."

WHEN one tries to explain that not only the Government of India but also the people feel betrayed by Pakistan responding with Kargil to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's outstretched hand of friendship in Lahore, the response is mixed.

Akhtar K. Alavi, the general manager of Adamjee Insurance, Pakistan's largest insurance conglomerate, strikes a hawkish note when he declares grandly: "We gave you a bloody nose in Kargil; that is why it rankles." After we had taken the argument back and forth for a little while about who really got a bloody nose in the end and who was forced to withdraw, he made a point, which set one thinking.

His argument is that every time Pakistan enters into a squabble with India and its politicians are forced to accept a solution, such as the withdrawal in Kargil, facilitated by the intervention of the United States, there is a backlash from the fundamentalist lobbies in Pakistan. "Such things breed fundamentalism, extremism and fanaticism. And you can see it all around you. You are a woman and a journalist who has been travelling in Pakistan. You must have seen it... women all wrapped up in hijab (veil). I am not saying there is anything wrong in it, but more than the manner of dressing, it is manifested in people's thinking and behaviour."

Maintaining that Islam had become the "new global enemy", particularly for the West which found it a convenient whipping boy after the collapse of communism, Alavi added: "If they keep hammering all the time 'Musalman ko marenge' (we'll kill the Muslim) then he will become a reactionary. Those in Pakistan who are educated, liberal and open-minded are now being pushed and put on the defensive."

One thing is certain. Every time there is... call it war, call it battle or call it skirmish... with India, voices in favour of better Indo-Pakistan ties, economic, cultural and political, tend to get silent. President of the Sindh Industrial Trade Estate, Majyd Aziz, a votary of speedy improvement in Indo-Pakistan trade relations, admitted that events such as Kargil compelled people like him to "keep a low profile".

Maintaining that every Pakistani who rented out video cassette of a Hindi movie did a Rs.10 business with India, he said: "Kargil or no Kargil, traders from both sides find a way for trading. But the role of facilitation, which can be provided by both sides, gets pushed back by a Kargil. A lot of goods go through Dubai from both sides; I would call this official smuggling which denies both governments revenue."

Ghulam Khibria, a retired bureaucrat and a former U.N. consultant.-RASHEEDA BHAGAT

Aziz was scheduled to lead a 70-member delegation of industrialists from Pakistan to India in the last week of April 1999, under the auspices of the Federation of Indian Exporters Organisation (FIEO). But the fall of the Vajpayee government meant a postponement of the programme and the developments in Kargil put a quick end to it. Businessmen like him who see a huge market in India and potential for collaboration, especially in areas such as Information Technology, are waiting for a new government to take over in New Delhi before meaningful Indo-Pakistan trade relations can resume and the much-talked about touted Indo-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce really takes off.

A Karachi-based businessman who visited Delhi in August - and was a regular invitee to Delhi's golf club during his stay in the capital - was amazed at the warmth and hospitality he got from businessmen in Delhi. "At the Delhi Customs I was made to wait unnecessarily for five minutes and I was truly amazed when the officer came and profusely apologised to me. I have decided never to come to India via Mumbai because Mumbai Customs people are always hostile to Pakistani passport holders," he said.

BESET with problems, not the least the economic crisis and the heavy foreign-debt, the Nawaz Sharif Government, despite its brute majority in the National Assembly, finds itself on the defensive as the opposition parties are getting organised against his ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

The Kashmir bogey has become extremely useful to successive governments in Pakistan which wanted to divert attention from domestic problems. The post-Kargil situation is no different. The line that the Pakistan government has tried hard to sell to the people is that Kargil was after all a result of the aspiration of the mujahideen, or the "freedom fighters of Kashmir", to get "justice for their Muslim brethren in the valley".

Of late the Government has taken a lot of flak from human rights and gender rights activists within and outside the country for allowing a barbaric concept like 'honour killings' to thrive. The essence of this concept is that if a woman in your family has compromised the family's 'honour' by either entering into a marriage of her choice or seeking/getting a divorce, or worse, by getting raped, you can kill her and even the courts will wink at the crime, as 'family honour' is involved. Such killings are prevalent more in the tribal areas but the sanction and support they get sometimes from even the urban elite is surprising.

On the overall gender or human rights front too, Pakistan does not have good record. In this background, it is with a lot of glee that Pakistan holds up the mirror unto India when it comes to violation of human rights in the valley. Forever challenging India to a plebiscite in Kashmir, the average Pakistani asks: If the people of Kashmir really want to stay with India, why do you need such a massive concentration of troops in the valley to "control the Kashmiri Muslims"? Or, if Pakistan is really fomenting terrorism in Kashmir, as India claims, how come it is able to succeed only in Kashmir, and not Rajasthan?

Akhtar K. Alavi, general manager of Adamjee Insurance.-RASHEEDA BHAGAT

GHULAM KHIBRIA is a strident critic of all Pakistani regimes and has written books in which he argues that the country has been destroyed by its "privileged classes". It is with a lot of bitterness that he talks about those "like Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah taking both India and Pakistan to the brink of disaster".

He bursts into tears as he says in a choked voice: "We should have been far, far ahead. Ahead of China, with the best among the developed nations of the world."

Attacking Nawaz Sharif as an "elected dictator" and accusing Vajpayee of "exploiting Kargil for electoral gains", he says that Pakistan committed a blunder in Kargil. "Because it is an amateur government they did the whole thing like amateurs. In Kargil they shouldn't have sent their own people. When there is guerilla warfare you shoot the enemy and run back. You went there and you were strangled. That was a bad military strategy."

Coming down heavily on the Sharif government for first being 'stupid' and then indulging in 'double talk', he wondered how any mature government, after saying our army is not involved, "honour its defence people over PTV for their involvement in Kargil? This shows they have no political foresight at all".

SURPRISINGLY enough, one found a lot of faith in Vajpayee in both Islamabad and Karachi. The Sangh Parivar would be stunned to know that many Pakistanis are praying for the return of a BJP government in India as they feel that a "Hindutva Prime Minister" will have better credentials back home to solve the Kashmir issue rather than a Congress Prime Minister who is bound to be slammed for "selling the country to Pakistan", in case of any deal over Kashmir.

However, Khibria has little faith in Vajpayee. "It will be very good if he displays any maturity. But even if he is mature, he is surrounded by very stupid people, just like Sharif. I was very happy when the Lahore Declaration was signed. But either directly or under some pressure, Sharif succumbed later."

While Khibria feels that Pakistan has all the right in the world to "go and assist the Kashmiri people fight for freedom if they don't want to stay with India", he is all for an early solution to the Kashmir issue. "Can't both India and Pakistan - one is 50 per cent illiterate and the second 90 per cent illiterate - realise how much of the taxpayer's money they are spending on defence?"

According to him, a workable solution on Kashmir would be to decide through dialogue that "Azad Kashmir in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir in India will be independent. Let them both form a confederation with both India and Pakistan looking after their foreign affairs and defence."

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