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Vol II Issue I

The 1st Anniversary Edition

May 2003

I N S I D E


Spotlight 

Romeet K Watt

 

Editorial

 

Feature     

K.T.N.S

                   

View Point      

K P S Gill

 

On Track

Sumer Kaul

         

Exclusive

Spl. Report

 

Analysis

Sawraj Singh

 

State Craft

Yashwant Sinha

 

Perspective

M V Kamath

 

Last Word

Ram Puniyani

                            


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V I E W P O I N T

Towards a permanent peace

K P S Gill


The conflict over Kashmir is not, as is widely believed, a quarrel over territory; it is, rather, an irreducible conflict between two fundamentally incompatible ideologies.

There has been an enormous burst of activity and accompanying euphoria since India's Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, visited Srinagar on April 18 and made an offer of renewed talks with Pakistan over the vexed Kashmir issue. The move has been greeted with a crescendo of international approval, and has drawn enthusiastic responses from the US as well, with Secretary of State Colin Powell declaring: "All this is very, very promising at a time when we were beginning to wonder whether or not we were not going back to the potential of conflict."

More significant has been the response within Kashmir and in Pakistan. While there are dissenting voices in the Valley - there would be reason for suspicion if there were none - the political response has been largely positive, even eager. As for Pakistan, the sheer rapidity of the reactions has been remarkable. There is currently little available intelligence on the background of Prime Minister Vajpayee's offer, but the consensus in the popular media appears to be that this was an off-the-cuff gesture, not a well-thought-out and planned policy shift.

Nevertheless, the character and velocity of responses from Pakistan, and the speed with which a graduated peace process appears to be emerging, suggests that the probabilities of substantial behind-the-scenes activities preceding these developments cannot be entirely discounted. This is borne out further by the timing of the appointment of N.N. Vohra as the Centre's new interlocutor in Kashmir, and several reports over the past months regarding the creation of the groundwork for official-level talks between the two countries.

Whatever be the case on this point, the fact is that the present process has a far greater probability of success than any of the preceding attempts, and the reasons for this are rooted in the radical transformation of the geo-strategic context of Asia, the impact of the US coalition campaign in Iraq, and the progressive 'denial of plausible deniability' by the international community - and specifically the US - to Pakistan on its role in international and cross-border terrorism.

Among the most significant of these factors has been the humiliating defeat inflicted on the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. This has sent a very strong message to the extreme elements of political Islam, and to the rogue states bound to this ideology and supportive of the terrorist campaigns inspired by it. It has long been the position of the Institute for Conflict Management that military defeat is a critical element in the delegitimisation of the terrorists and their state sponsors, and the defeat in Iraq has had an inevitable impact on Pakistan and the Musharraf regime, as well as on at least a segment of those who had thrown in their lot with the Islamist extremists in the anticipation of a great and proximate victory.

For Pakistan, this impact has been multiplied manifold by a number of secondary inputs, including repeated and strong statements from the highest echelons of the US leadership that - while they continued to appreciate the country's assistance in apprehending Al Qaeda elements operating in the country and 'cooperation on the war against terror' - had also clearly confirmed Pakistan's role in supporting terrorism in J&K, and had emphasized that the Musharraf regime had failed to fulfill its promises and had not done enough on this count.

There has also been a strong media buildup in the US - fuelling urgent speculation and apprehensions in the Pakistani media and policy circles as well - regarding the possibility of Pakistan becoming the next target of American 'pre-emptive action', though this has been firmly denied by US authorities.

Subtle signs of a clear shift in the US policy have also emerged as, for example, in the redrawing of the CIA's map of Kashmir that earlier showed the entire area - both Pakistan and Indian controlled Jammu & Kashmir - as a 'disputed territory'. The recently revised maps - which would have gone through an extended process of review by various Government Departments, and would certainly reflect the consensus of the present Administration - mark out the areas east of the Line of Control (LoC) as the "Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir", while the territories to the west are designated "Pakistan-controlled areas of Kashmir", correctly reflecting the position of the 1948 UN Resolution that it was, in fact, only the "Pakistan-controlled" area that was in dispute. The message to Pakistan cannot have been ignored by the Musharraf regime.

There is, moreover, a growing awareness among Pakistani commentators that the ongoing terrorist campaign cannot upset the status quo in Kashmir, and a certain measure of pragmatism is now clearly replacing the delusional strategic overreach that has dominated Pakistani military thinking over the past decades.

Crucially, it is clear that, after Iraq, the US would like to see peace in the Palestine-Israel conflict, and the conflict over Kashmir. The shift in strategy on both these areas is now visible, and the US is reportedly exerting extraordinary pressures on Syria and Lebanon to stop covert support to Palestinian terrorist groups. It is clear that parties in the conflict are now being forced into isolation from the networks of their clandestine supporters in order to facilitate a clear focus on the actual issues in the conflict, with terror being pushed out of the negotiating equation. This, precisely, is what the US would seek to secure on Kashmir.

With America's unarguable status as the world's sole superpower, and the inevitable impact of its policies on the economic and security future of this region, US interests, perspectives and responses will certainly weigh in on the decisions of the South Asian leadership. In any event, Musharraf has tended to go along with America on all major decisions since 9/11, and though he will be reluctant to be seen as withdrawing too suddenly from his strident position on Kashmir - "Kashmir is in our blood", as he put it - it is apparent that, once the US position is stated clearly, he will fall obediently in line. He may, of course, use the puppet Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali government, and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, as a front to make the more distasteful of about-turns, but compliance would tend to be inevitable.

Lest all this appears to be a matter of course, it is important to strike a note of extreme caution. The situation remains complex and immensely uncertain, and there is no surety that the peace process will last. Indeed, if another madcap military adventurist emerges on the Pakistani political scenario, if a few fundamentalists run amuck, or if renegade terrorists unwilling to comply with the shifts in policy of their state sponsors in Pakistan engineer a few dramatic strikes in J&K, the entire process could well be derailed, yielding another cycle of escalated violence.

The greater danger in the present peace process, however, is that it fails to address underlying character of the 'enduring rivalry', the 'intractable conflict' between the two countries. The conflict over Kashmir is not, as is widely believed, a quarrel over territory; it is, rather, an irreducible conflict between two fundamentally incompatible ideologies - a pluralistic democratic ideology, on India's part; and an authoritarian-fundamentalist-exclusionary Islamist ideology that asserts that different belief systems cannot coexist within the same political order.

A permanent peace in South Asia will only result after one or the other of these ideologies succumbs - and these are crucial to national identity, consciousness, and even the existence of these two nation states. A permanent peace is, consequently, contingent on Pakistan abandoning the ideology of hatred and exclusion that lies at the very foundations of its creation.

Failing this, the only other option, as I have suggested before, is the de-nuclearisation and de-militarization of Pakistan, or the creation of a tremendous military imbalance in the region that makes it impossible for Pakistan to engage in the military adventurism that has characterized much of its independent existence.

K.P.S. Gill is President, Institute for Conflict Management which runs the South Asia Terrorism Portal and brings out a weekly - South Asia Intelligence Review - courtesy which this piece appears here.

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