March 2003 News

US expert says Kashmir is not a 'terrorist issue'

8 March 2003
The Daily Times
Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: A leading US authority on Kashmir has called India's depiction of the Kashmir dispute as a 'terrorist issue' 'a profound misrepresentation of the situation.'Prof Robert G Wirsing, author of a number of highly- regarded books on Kashmir who has studied the issue for over 30 years and written a number of books and several academic papers on it, states in his latest work 'Kashmir in the Shadow of War' that terrorism is 'commonplace' in Kashmir, some of it state-sponsored, some of it not.He also thinks that the alleged forging of links in recent years between Al Qaeda and militant groups operating in Kashmir should not be 'airily dismissed.' He adds that neither, however, should New Delhi's 'relentless exploitation and magnification of these links' be ignored.Writes Wirsing, 'It is a profound misrepresentation of the situation, in fact, to describe Kashmir as being simply or even mainly a terrorist matter. Indeed, the Kashmir dispute if not at bottom a terrorist issue, even less an Islamic (or for that matter, Hindu) terrorist issue. Religious identity will persist indefinitely not only as an integral component of Kashmir's political chemistry but also as a powerful took for political mobilisation and opinion formation in regard to it.'He believes that the multiple and conflicting religious identities of Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris are 'deeply and unavoidably implicated in the Kashmir dispute,' which cannot be described entirely or even mainly in 'secular' terms. 'Like it or not, the Kashmir dispute is, in no small part, a dispute over religion.' He calls religious extremism only one of the elements and not necessarily the larger of the most important one of religion's role in the dispute. Religious identity, he argues, figures prominently in the state strategies of both India and Pakistan as well as in those of their 'Kashmir-level proxies', namely Indian-held Kashmir and Azad Kashmir.Turning to possible solutions, Wirsing maintains that in the political environment of the Kashmir dispute, autonomist solutions are virtually bound to fall victim to political expediency and distrust. 'They succeed only in the abstract. They cannot materialise on the ground in Kashmir in anything like an ideal form,' he adds.He does not see a practical and peaceful solution in sight 'at all' and believes that Kashmir's 'final status' must be 'indefinitely postponed.' He argues 'conflict resolution has to shift its sights from militancy to the negotiation of reduced tension in the political- military rivalry between India and Pakistan. This is an urgent necessity and a practical possibility. It also happens to promise major benefits, long and short term, to all sides, including the militants.' He is of the view that to succeed, the negotiation of reduced tension between India and Pakistan has to be 'internationally mediated, robustly institutionalised, long term, and motivated largely by positive incentives for all sides.' He is of the opinion that in bringing this about the United States 'must play a major role.' He adds that the solution of Kashmir has to be sought 'ironically in its indefinite postponement and simultaneous internationalisation.' Wirsing believes that the Kashmir dispute is not 'mainly' about Kashmir but is an 'inclusive metaphor' or 'cover story' for the 'multifaceted interstate power struggle between India and Pakistan.' He calls it a symptom of India-Pakistan rivalry, which is not Kashmir-dependent. It is about 'far more than a contested piece of territory.' Its recent 'nuclearisation' has been a more recent addition to its 'composite character. Nuclearisation, he maintains, has not brought Kashmir any nearer to a settlement, neither has it reduced the risk of war. It has, on the other hand, increased the dangers inherent in war.The author believes that the 'global war on terrorism' launched after 9-11 carries some potential for moderating Pak-India rivalry in Kashmir as both countries said they were committed to the fight against terrorism. However, their definition of terrorism was and remains local rather than global. He is of the opinion that Pakistan is 'most unlikely to cave in entirely' to New Delhi's definition of terrorism or, in other words, admit that all those fighting in Kashmir are terrorists. If Pakistan did that it would undermine if not entirely destroy its case on Kashmir.Wirsing notes that major global powers have been 'conspicuously reluctant in recent decades to become seriously engaged in the tasks of peacemaking between India and Pakistan' and even the punitive measures they have taken have been puny. In recent years, these powers have tended to 'embrace' India and follow an 'India first' policy. Because of the post-September 11 situation, Pakistan has been restored to its erstwhile role in America's 'strategic frontline.' Thus the change in Pakistan's fortunes from 'pariah to prized ally' has compelled Washington to engage in an exceptionally ticklish regional balancing act, with its success in bringing that about 'far from assured.' One major consequence of the changed situation has been that Washington has had to abandon its post-Kargil plans of 'decoupling' India and Pakistan in terms of its regional policy. 'Never a practical option in the face of interlinked pattern of sub-continental security issues, decoupling in the current environment had to be understood as being too terribly reckless,' he adds.'Unwelcome as the idea may be in foreign capitals, major international, especially US, involvement in the search for a more stable and secure relationship between India and Pakistan is both urgent and inescapable,' Wirsing suggests.

 

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