September 1999 News

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A strategy for peace

8 September 1999
The Asian Age
By: B. G. Deshmukh

Unless there arises a strong middle class in Pakistan, which will challenge the dictatorial authority of the Punjabi elite, I do not think there will be any durable peace between India and Pakistan. Fortunately this process has already started, though in a very small insignificant way because of the tyranny and oppression of the ruling elite. The Pakistani newspapers many a time somehow manage to give expression to this discontent. Of course, we cannot and should not be seen to be supporting this movement but then somehow convey our support to it. For this purpose, India should encourage people to people contacts and exchange more free travel, more cultural intercourse and more free trade. Hopefully, this should help the democratic movement in Pakistan.

The Punjabi elite and especially its civilian-military complex fully exploited the war in Afghanistan. It allowed Pakistan to be used by the Americans as a conduit for funds and military hardware to set up resistance and insurgency against the Russians in Afghanistan. The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) set up training camps for the Afghan militants and also recruits from all over the world to fight the Russians. It also by hoodwinking the Americans managed to keep a substantial portion of the aid in Pakistan itself. This was the beginning of the Taliban movement which ultimately took over Afghanistan, but in this process the Punjabi elite has created a Frankenstein which is going to threaten themselves. This Taliban philosophy has taken deep roots even in Pakistan itself and I was told that it has infiltrated the Pakistan Armed Forces and has secured a firm foothold amongst the junior officer cadre.

The Punjabi elite is using the Taliban philosophy and approach to send trained men as mujahideen in Kashmir. Many of them are not at all Kashmiris but consist of Afghan tribals from Frontier Province and even recruits from West Asia and North Africa. We should make it clear to the whole world the devastating implications of this action of Pakistan. They are encouraging the Taliban movement which would not remain confined to Pakistan and Kashmir but would create disturbances in the whole of Central Asia and even in Iran and West Asia. Russia is already aware of this and is therefore fighting against this menace. China is also becoming aware of this new danger in its Central Asian province. We should therefore ask the whole world to be very firm with Pakistan for indulging in this international terrorism.

We should also try to persuade World Bank, International Monetary Fund and G-8 countries not to give financial help to Pakistan unless it improves its ways. The usual argument made is that if such help is not given the Pakistani economy would collapse and anarchy which would benefit only the fundamentalists. But the fact is that the Punjabi elite is using the financial help not to improve the national economy but only to perpetuate its grip over the country. If therefore such financial help is withheld, it could only result in helping the democratic forces in Pakistan.

We should take very effective steps to educate the Kashmiris about this situation. The Punjabi elite would like to have Kashmir but only as their fiefdom like Sind and Baluchistan. The Shia community in Kashmir would be gravely threatened by the Sunni community. Of course, the minorities like the Kashmiri Pandits would be almost wiped out. The history of terrorism by Pakistan should also be explained to the Kashmiris. In the beginning Pakistan encouraged an autonomous independent Kashmir for which the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front was fighting. The Punjabi elite did not like it afterwards as they wanted Kashmir to be in Pakistan. It therefore put up militant organisations like the Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, etc. which wanted Kashmir to accede to Pakistan. many of these organisations had a strong base in Kashmir and Pakistan came to realise that this was not in its interest. By the end of 1988, the ISI had realised the potential of Taliban philosophy  and methodology.  They therefore created militant groups outside Kashmir but firmly based in Pakistan who were then used as mujahideen groups for creating insurgency in Kashmir. We should explain all this to the Kashmiris by bringing out clearly the Pakistani strategy of capturing Kashmir but only to make it a fiefdom of the Punjabi elite.

At the same time, we should also accept that we have to do a lot in Kashmir ourselves. We should take immediate steps to give a clean, uncorrupt administration which will really carry out poverty alleviation and other development schemes. It must be admitted that we have tolerated large-scale corruption in Kashmir. We have also misused our authority like putting the Sheikh Saheb in custody, dismissal of Farooq Abdullah in 1986, rigging of the elections in 1998, and again dissolution of the state Assembly in 1990. We have also not handled the Kashmir problem imaginatively. We did not give funds to Farooq Abdullah to take over the primary schools from the Jammat-e-Islami in 1988-89 which were paltry, looking to the importance of the step. I also wanted to introduce the system of leave-travel concession so that at least the Kashmiri government servants and their families could come out of Kashmir and see what India is, once every third year. But even I could not push this through for lack of grants from Delhi. The unnecessary provocation of suggesting abrogation of Article 370 should be avoided scrupulously. We must accept our responsibility for creating a fertile ground in Kashmir -- for Pakistan to launch successful militancy and insurgency. This should not be lost sight of in our advocacy against Pakistani proxy war.

Whether we cross the LoC and destroy the bases and training camps of the militants in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has been under discussion for a very long time. But we should also honestly admit that such a luxury is now available to only the very strong nations. The Americans could do this when they blasted Osama bin Laden's base in Afghanistan or bombed a factory in Sudan. China could send its divisions into Vietnam to teach the latter a lesson. Theoretically we also could have done so in POK but we missed the chance. We could not even do what is called as hot pursuit. And now we and Pakistan being nuclear weapon states, this is just not possible. Pakistan considers J&K with us as disputed territory but treats PoK as part of Pakistan. Any attack on PoK would therefore be considered by them as attack on Pakistan and they would retaliate accordingly. In the bargain we would lose international sympathy and would give Pakistan a chance of almost creating a nuclear holocaust in the subcontinent. Let us therefore forget about crossing the Line of Control into PoK.

At the same time we should also accept that converting the LoC into an international border is the only solution to the Kashmir dispute. I would not like to repeat as to how Indira Gandhi could not do so at Shimla in 1971, but that is history. I know no Indian political party or for that matter no Pakistan political party would say so on public platform, but there is a very good chance of the international community standing by us in this regard. We may not directly approach any foreign nation or even the United Nations for this as our policy is to treat this problem as a bilateral issue based on the Shimla Agreement. But then there is no objection if we informally brief some countries and statesmen friendly to us to float this idea and give it a push on the international circuit. This is not interference or internationalising the issue. There is a good chance of this strategy succeeding at least at the present juncture.

These countries are beginning to realise, and if they have not we should make them to, that the Pakistani strategy of encouraging fundamental Islam at home and to export international terrorism is a powerful destabilising force not only in the Indian subcontinent but even the whole of the Central Asian heartland. There are therefore good prospects of our objective of getting the LoC converted into an international border being achieved. Of course, for this purpose there will have to be a national consensus in India on this approach, otherwise any party in power advocating this would suffer heavy flak from the opposition parties.

While dealing with the Kashmir issue, we cannot and should not forget the large Muslim community in India. They have suffered from the consequences of Partition in 1947. It is most unfair that many in the Hindu community came to look with suspicion on this Muslim community for no fault of theirs. They are as good Indians as anybody else and it does not do them justice if they are asked to justify and prove their loyalty. It only alienates them. When therefore the Kashmir issue is discussed or when Pakistan tries to internationalise it by consciously and deliberately heightening the proxy war, many in the Indian Muslim community became unsettled and uneasy. It is said by many that if Kashmir is given to Pakistan it would reopen the Partition wounds  and might even lead to a mass exodus of the Muslim from India into Pakistan. This is most unfair to the Muslim community. India has been their homeland and they are not going to leave it whatever the provocation and allegation. We should also ensure that no political party is allowed to propagate the philosophy of holding the present generation of Muslims responsible for what their forefathers might or might not have done in the past. There should be a national consensus  as to how to deal with this so called question of the Muslim community and especially as to how not to exploit them as pure vote banks. It should be especially ensured that the Kashmir issue is in no way linked with the loyalty and patriotism of the Muslim community.

Even if the Kashmir issue is resolved there is no guarantee that there would be no tension between India and Pakistan. One of the prominent militant organisations in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Toiba is on record saying that they would like to have Kashmir as a base  and then destabilise India by exploiting the large Muslim minority in India. A military solution by India of breaking Pakistan is also not practical. it would only create more unstable countries  in the neighbourhood of India. It would be worse than the geo-political situation as is today. We must therefore try to negotiate bilaterally with Pakistan and our objective should be to make LoC as an international border. We should also bring to the attention of the international community the dangerous game played by Pakistan by adopting fundamental Islam and sponsoring international terrorism. But as I have already said a lasting peace is possible only if the Punjabi elite is removed an its place is taken over by a strong vibrant middle class in Pakistan. We should do all our best to help create and strengthen such a situation.

(B. G. Deshmukh is a former bureaucrat of the Government of India)


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