Pakistan's Paranoid Great Gamers
7 July 2004
The Indian Express
Asma Khan Lone
New Delhi: For Pakistan, if Afghanistan has meant strategic depth, then Kashmir always means historic defeat. As Pakistan jostles to gain control over Kashmiri politics, the people are left out of their State's destiny Of the many analogies between Kashmir and Afghanistan, the most distinctive is the imposition by Pakistan of an elite group of seven on the political horizons of these respective places, in stark negation of the prevailing realities. After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghan soil, the logical end game seemed the return of sovereign power to the people of Afghanistan followed by a process of national reconstruction. However, not so for the covert agencies of Pakistan which had 'better' alternatives in the offing. (It is important to differentiate between the people of Pakistan and a minuscule albeit powerful mindset within its establishment.) The turn of events characterised for these agencies the unique opportunity to capitalise on the fluid political situation of its neighbourhood and materialise its cherished doctrine of 'strategic depth' - securing and control over its western border which in the eventuality of an Indian attack from the East would provide tactical territory and time to absorb a first strike and reinforce for a follow-up response. As a corollary, the border dispute over the Durrand Line would also be laid to rest, enabling Pakistan to retain the vast expanse of its North-West Frontier region. All through the Afghan war the CIA-backed mujahideen were based in Peshawer, Pakistan, which served as their base camp. At the time of the Soviet retreat, 21 major mujahideen organisations were based in Peshawer, not all amicable to the new Pakistani Great Game. This posed a dilemma for Pakistan, which at no cost was ready to forego such a strategic prize. Thus began a spate of negotiations, which after the spending of $25 million in a week and other carrot-and-stick tactics, finally yielded the desired results. A group of seven lesser known, with lesser public support hence lesser stakes, coalition was cobbled together and placed at the helm of a new political dispensation in Afghanistan with its command structure firmly in Pakistan. This was bound to create resentment, triggering a bloody civil war and thus setting the stage for the next round of turmoil within Afghanistan. At about the same time a mass-based armed struggle erupted in Kashmir. After decades of political suppression, the Kashmiris were left with no other discourse. 'Azaadi' became the buzzword, epitomising Kashmiri pride and aspiration. However 'azaadi' in certain quarters of Pakistan became misconstrued to mean accession to Pakistan. Though Kashmiris had welcomed the 'moral support' extended by Pakistan, they were in no way ready to repay by a merger with it. As this reality sank in in Pakistan so did the desperation to secure its gameplan in Kashmir. If Afghanistan had represented 'strategic depth', Kashmir symbolised 'historic defeat'. After a series of high-profile purges, the mantra of the magic seven was transported to the Valley and thus was born, in 1993, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). The APHC was a motley group of various organisations having various ideologies. The APHC's all-powerful Executive Council comprised the 'mighty seven', constituting both heavyweights and non-entities. Some joined the conglomerate out of the tactical need to forge a united front, others due to ideological proximity, still others to simply have a slice of the accruing pie. Ostensibly established to strengthen the ongoing movement and provide it the much needed focus and organised direction, the APHC increasingly came to denote Pakistani interest, often to the detriment of the indigenous Kashmiri cause. This till a point where Pakistani interests and the Kashmiri struggle unfortunately came to symbolise two diametrically opposing notions. This in turn bred a fresh set of dissidents both within and outside the APHC, only to be conveniently 'silenced' like their predecessors. Meanwhile, for the remaining APHC it was 'business' as usual, only now with the tragic departure of the balancing voice within its ranks it further became a prisoner of its myopic vision, faltering like a pack of cards to the earliest machinations directed at dividing and weakening it, thus finally imploding its inflated myth. Like its counterpart in Afghanistan, the legacy of the APHC in Kashmir has been that of devastation and destruction. Also like its counterpart in Afghanistan, the APHC ultimately met its nemesis, robbing itself of a sobering epitaph. As the reigns of the movement shifted from the indigenous leadership to Pakistan, so did the character of the movement, from its secular nationalism to a parochially interpreted fundamentalist Islam - a paradigm alien to the common Kashmiri. The notion of Jehad catapulted to the centrestage in all its rhetorical finery, in actuality reduced to the clausewitzian 'continuation of policy'. Islam is an all- pervading belief system. In order to preserve its dynamism and relevance to changing realities, its teachings have been dealt in a broad framework avoiding detailed specifics so as to accommodate a wider range of issues. This open-endedness has often led to varying and conflicting interpretations, giving rise to the debate 'Spirit vs Ritual' - is the essence to have precedence or the sheer act of undertaking a certain exercise. The concept of Jehad also runs into this debate especially in the context of Kashmir. Jehad is a central concept of Islam. The word Jehad has been derived from the Arabic word 'Jehd' meaning, to exert. In Islamic tradition, Jehad means to exert against evil, for good to triumph over bad and truth to prevail over fallacy. Jehad has further been divided into various types, organised into a hierarchy based on importance and obligation. The primary and most intrinsic kind of Jehad is 'Jehad- al-nafs' or Jehad against one's desires, against the innate human traits of deceit, temptation and lust. Jehad-al-nafs in a way sums up the core of Islamic teachings, the practical embodiment of its reigning spirit. Jehad-al-nafs is mandatory upon every Muslim, the pivotal aspect of his everyday life. It is later that Jehad-al-saif or Jehad by sword follows, again an important concept but not central. Where Jehad-al-nafs signifies the spirit, Jehad-al-saif represents the ritual. Though Jehad-al-nafs is mandatory upon every Muslim Jehad-al-saif is obligatory, and that too with Jehad-al-nafs as its cornerstone. In Kashmir, Jehad-al-saif was undertaken against the forces of oppression to restore the Kashmiri's right of self- determination. However, as the Kashmiri movement metamorphosed from an indigenous struggle to a limited war by proxy, so did the nature and objectives of the Jehad. From a cause it transported to a livelihood. Perceived as a means to salvation it became a mode of power. While the indoctrinated young starry-eyed fighter spilled his blood on the ground, the 'sipah-i-salaar' at the higher echelon indulged in stratagem perpetuating his authority and that of the vested interests. This fractionalised the movement into factious 'warlordism' - with one group pitted against fellow comrades of another. Starting with the elimination of ideological rivals JKLF vs Jamaat (which at a plane could be read as pro-Kashmir vs pro- Pakistan), it further splintered into obscure sectarianism with Barelvism vs Wahabbism, stripping the movement of its fundamental cohesion and purpose. Jehad also became subjected to selective derivation. The provision of a social security net for the affected - schools for the orphaned, vocational self-sufficiency for the widows and healthcare for the maimed - a practice undertaken by groups like the HAMAS in Palestine, so central to the concept of Jehad, was conspicuously missing in Kashmir. With the volume of funds being funnelled into Kashmir, a successful model of the Islamic Welfare System could have been set up. However these unaccountable funds had other utility. The essence of Jehad gradually evaporated from the exercise leaving behind a sorry caricature of the ritual. The impetus of the movement progressively shifted from combating the oppressor to conservation of peculiar interests. This eroded not only the credibility but also the legitimacy of the Jehad, an essential pre-requisite to continue it under the premise of Islam. With its moral justification long lost, its legal pretext too lay at stake. What had started off as a noble cause against human suffering degenerated into an unholy alliance of interests, its sole achievement the tainting of the sacrosanct institution of Jehad. The changed regional and international dynamics post-9-11 had directed greater focus on Kashmir. This was a cause for cautious hope. Where Pakistan had its internal interests to allow peace in Kashmir, India too had its stakes. Years of turbulence and pain, alongwith a freedom movement gone dreadfully awry, had taken its toll on the Kashmiris. Internal turmoil within Pakistan had further forced them to reassess their predicament. Matured by the cruelty of events, they were ready to take a more realistic and probably futuristic stock of things. Psychologically, this was a fluid and transitory phase for the Kashmiris. Though still suspicious of Indian overtures, they were ready to give peace a chance and play ball. For India, this represented a unique opportunity to reach out to the Kashmiris and win their trust, if not their hearts. Instead, the Indian establishment, unable to break from its traditional mould, committed itself to the same mistakes. Driven partly by the compulsions of electioneering, partly the desire to mount pressure on Pakistan and overwhelmingly the urgency to showcase to the diplomatic community Kashmiri support for its peace process, New Delhi rushed into a dialogue with a group of Kashmiri politicians, in the process eroding its own credibility and that of the Kashmiri politicians within Kashmir. The old cycle of events was once again being resurrected. What seemed a more plausible and long-term proposition was the engagement of representatives of a wide section of society, which in turn would be able to mobilise an entire public opinion. However, the Indian government chose to talk to a select few, with ironically nominal collective public support. This not only drew a large question mark over the entire process, limiting its appeal to a few individuals, but also alienated other more potent forces. The inability on the part of the Kashmiri leaders to chalk out a substantive and forceful agenda for the talks further undermined the process. However the singularly most overwhelming implication of the whole exercise was the breeding of a Generation Next of rebellious youth. Unable to legitimise the talks with the masses, these leaders resorted to double and often contradictory talk, the hallmark of all Kashmiri leaders. At a recent rally in Srinagar marking the death anniversary of a religious leader, also ostensibly a show of strength for the talks process with India, there emerged besides the understandable slogans of 'Azaadi', simultaneous pro-Pakistan slogans. This was reminiscent of the 1977 elections, when fresh on the heels of the Indira-Abdullah accord these very leaders waved green handkerchiefs at the people, signifying affinity with Pakistan. The contradicting loyalties then had resulted in the cataclysmic eruption of the generation that followed; the contrary pulls of the dogma practiced by these leaders now will only result in the same. History has to be allowed a natural course. A truce with the people, not a few individuals, is required. The writer is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar.