Delhi Deaf To Islamabad's Overtures
22 November 2004
Asia Times Online
Chennai: Since the visit undertaken by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's former prime minister, to Islamabad in January last to attend a regional conference, there were indications of a seeming thaw in India- Pakistan relations, particularly with reference to bilateral talks over the future of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The first of these indicators related to Pakistani support to Kashmiri and Pakistani terrorist groups operating not only in J&K, but also in other parts of India. During Vajpayee's talks with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, the latter undertook what Indian officials projected as a commitment not to allow any acts of terrorism from any territory controlled by Pakistan against India. Indian leaders and officials, trying to sell this to Indian public opinion as a diplomatic gain for India, interpreted this as a Pakistani pledge to stop the use of terrorism to achieve its long-standing objective of gaining control of J&K. A careful reading of the joint communique issued at the end of the visit and the subsequent statements emanating from Pakistani leaders and officials would have shown that the written commitment, as phrased in the joint communique, did not specifically relate to India. It was a general commitment relating to terrorism, without specific reference to India. By avoiding a specific reference to India, Musharraf had managed to keep an exit out of this commitment available to him if he so decided. This was vintage Musharraf - keeping open a 'wriggle-out option'. One has seen this repeatedly in his handling of domestic affairs too, the latest example being his commitment to political parties in the beginning of the year to shed his uniform by the end of the year if they supported his proposals for constitutional changes to strengthen his powers. Having achieved his objective, he is now wriggling out of it. It is possible that in the talks between the two leaders, Musharraf was more explicit and assured Vajpayee that he would not allow any territory controlled by Pakistan to be used for acts of terrorism against India, but such an explicit commitment was not to be found in writing. However, despite this, one notices that there has been no major incident of jihadi terrorism by any of the Pakistani organizations in Indian territory outside J&K since August 25, 2003. That day, terrorists associated with the Lashkar-e- Toiba (LET) of Pakistan had carried out two well-synchronized explosions in Mumbai resulting in the deaths of many innocent civilians. Since then, Indian territory outside J&K has been free of any major act of jihadi terrorism. However, during this period, police in different states unearthed and neutralized sleeper cells of jihadi organizations. For example, the Hyderabad police in Andhra Pradesh neutralized a cell of the LET, which, according to them, was planning to carry out a terrorist strike on a Hindu religious occasion. While one should take note of this decline in jihadi terrorism in other parts of India for over a year now, available evidence would not permit a definitive conclusion as to whether this decline is due to the successes of the counter-terrorism drive of the police or due to undoubted action by Musharraf to rein in the jihadi terrorists in conformity with his commitment, or both. In J&K, one has been witnessing a mix of both positive and negative indicators. Among the positive indicators, one could mention the continuance of the bilateral ceasefire on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border, the apparent Pakistani acquiescence in the Indian construction of a fencing along the LoC-international border to prevent the infiltration of Pakistan- trained and sponsored terrorists into the state and the noticeable decline in the number of successful infiltrations, particularly since January last. In the past, the Pakistani firings across the LoC, which separates the Pakistani- and Indian-administered sections of Kashmir, and the international border were meant not only to facilitate infiltrations by diverting the attention of the Indian security forces, but also to prevent the construction of a huge fence by Indian engineers. Fears that the Indian attempts to take advantage of the ceasefire for resuming and completing the construction could provoke Pakistan into breaking the ceasefire have been belied. Similarly, expectations that Pakistan might make it a major diplomatic issue - just as the Palestinians and some Arab states had done over the construction of the Israeli security wall - have also been belied. Apart from voicing proforma protests from time to time, Pakistan has refrained from any other action on this issue. Both India and Pakistan have claimed credit for the decline in the infiltrations. According to India, it is due to the fencing and other counter-infiltration measures taken by it. According to Pakistan, this is evidence of its sincere implementation of the assurances given by it to Vajpayee and the George W Bush administration in the US. The truth probably lies in a mix of both. Has the Indian-admitted decline in infiltrations led to any significant decrease in acts of terrorism in J&K? Jihadi terrorists of various hues - Pakistani as well as indigenous terrorist organizations operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan - continue to be active in J&K. There have always been ebbs and flows in Pakistan- sponsored acts of terrorism in J&K and any periodic decline of a marginal nature could not be interpreted positively in Pakistan's favor. Media reports quoting statistics from the Ministry of Home Affairs of the government of India have cited a 21% decline in acts of terrorism in J&K. Even after this decline, the number of incidents is large, with over 500 fatal casualties. Available evidence clearly suggests that there has been no change in the Pakistani policy of using terrorism as a weapon against India to achieve its objective of forcing a change in the status quo, which, it hopes, will lead to its acquisition of the Muslim-majority areas of J&K, if not the entire state. A careful analysis of the terrorist incidents reported from J&K indicates that the jihadi organizations are now concentrating on attacks on the security forces and targeted attacks on political leaders, who are perceived as their adversaries. There has been a significant decline in terrorist strikes resulting in the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians - such as attacks involving the use of hand-grenades and landmines, explosive devices planted in public places etc. Thus the overall ground situation is characterized by a decline in infiltrations from Pakistan, an absence of major incidents in Indian territory outside J&K, a decline in incidents in J&K and an avoidance of incidents resulting in the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians. These were also the features of the ground situation as it prevailed between 1989 and 1993, when terrorism in the state was largely due to indigenous terrorist organizations. It was only from 1993 onwards that Pakistani jihadi organizations started entering the state in large numbers and indulging in indiscriminate attacks. They also spread their attacks to Indian territory outside J&K, starting with the explosions in Mumbai in March, 1993, which killed more than 250 civilians. After the army under Musharraf seized power on October 12, 1999, the situation became even worse, with the large-scale resort to suicide and suicidal terrorism by the Pakistani members of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front. While large credit should go to the Indian counter-terrorism agencies for the decline in serious acts of jihadi terrorism since the beginning of this year, the variations in their pattern could not have been possible without some positive action by Musharraf in keeping with his commitment of January last. US pressure on Islamabad to honor the commitment to Vajpayee has also definitely played a role in this matter. These variations induced from the army's General Headquarters in Islamabad also prove once again that the levers of control over the jihadi terrorists operating in Indian territory are in the hands of Musharraf and his staff. The positive factors noticed since the beginning of the year should not be interpreted as indicating the beginning of the end of Pakistani-sponsored terrorism. Musharraf has retained his capability to step on the terrorism accelerator once again, if needed. The terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory in the form of training camps and sanctuaries remains intact and he has not taken any action to arrest the over 20 Indian and Pakistani terrorists, including Dawood Ibrahim, wanted for trial in India and hand them over to Indian authorities. While the US has definitely pressured him to reduce, if not stop, the infiltrations, its pressure, if there has been any, on him to put an end to the terrorist infrastructure and arrest the Indian terrorists in Pakistani territory and hand them over to India has not produced results. Musharraf's calculation is that so long as he keeps the jihadi terrorism confined to J&K and concentrated on the security forces without indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, the international community in general and the US in particular will remain inclined to agree with his projection of the happenings in J&K as a freedom struggle and not terrorism and will not exercise undue pressure on Pakistan to stop even this. One should not be surprised if his calculation proves right. Pakistan has been steadily infiltrating trained jihadi terrorists into J&K and other parts of India since 1989. The infiltrations used to take place in large number across the LoC and the international border and in small numbers by the overland routes from Nepal and Bangladesh, by sea from Karachi and Dubai and by air from Kathmandu, Bangkok and Dubai. Though the infiltrations across the LoC and the international border might have declined noticeably, there is no evidence of a similar decline in infiltrations by other means. Moreover, as I had pointed out in an article titled 'The terrorists in our midst' written in 2002, even if Pakistan totally stops fresh infiltrations, it has enough trained and armed terrorists already in position inside Indian territory, who would be able to maintain a fairly high level of terrorism. Moreover, the terrorist infrastructure still retained by Musharraf in Pakistani territory would enable him to step up terrorism through fresh infiltrations whenever he feels the need to do so. Just as the Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism has been a recurring theme of the Indian case on Kashmir since 1989, there have been three recurring themes of successive Pakistani governments, whether headed by civilian leaders or the army - namely, the need to reduce Indian troop deployments in J&K, an improvement in the human-rights situation and the implementation of the UN resolution for ascertaining the wishes of the Kashmiri people through a plebiscite. Over the years, successive Pakistani governments, in their propaganda against India, have given exaggerated accounts of the Indian troop presence in J&K. The pre- 1999 Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments used to allege initially that India had deployed 200,000 of its troops in J&K to allegedly suppress the so-called freedom struggle. They subsequently started projecting this number as 500,000. Since seizing power in 1999, Musharraf and his army have projected this number as about 700,000. Until now, India, while refuting the Pakistani allegations in general terms, had refrained from giving its own estimate of the actual deployments in J&K. In breaking with this policy, Pranab Mukherjee, India's defense minister, for the first time indicated the actual deployments in J&K as approximately 100,000. In a significant move by the cabinet committee on security on the eve of Manmohan Singh's first visit to J&K as the prime minister last Thursday and Friday, the government decided to reduce troop deployments in J&K, and this has already started, from Thursday, November 18. While the exact number of troops to be moved out of the state has not been mentioned, some media reports have estimated it as about 9,000, that is, about 9% of the present strength. The government projected the withdrawal as a gesture to the Kashmiri people before the prime minister's visit. It was also possibly an underplayed gesture to Islamabad, keeping in view its past insistence on a troop reduction as a possible confidence-building measure. While public opinion in J&K, as reflected in the media, has welcomed the reduction as an important gesture, Musharraf himself, in an interview to the Agence France-Presse news agency on Friday, dismissively described the Indian gesture as a tactical, but not a strategic step forward and as 'good optics' and nothing more. When he talks of the need for a strategic step forward and for what he describes as 'good vibrations' from India, what he apparently means is an admission by India that the status quo, de facto or de jure, cannot be a satisfactory solution and that any discussions on Kashmir should involve a search for a mutually acceptable solution other than the status quo. In what was projected by Pakistani officials as loud-thinking by the general with some media personalities on October 25, in order to encourage a domestic debate on the possible options, he suggested a possible solution based on administrative rearrangement and not division as the basic unit for deciding the future of J&K. At present, the state of J&K consists of three divisions - the Srinagar division, the Jammu division and the Ladakh division. While the Muslims are in a majority in Srinagar, the Hindus are in a majority in the Jammu division and Buddhists in the Ladakh division. However, even in these non-Muslim majority divisions, the Muslims are reportedly in a majority in three areas of the Jammu division and in one of the Ladakh division. There are no Hindus or Buddhists in the two administrative units under the occupation of Pakistan, namely Azad (Free) Kashmir, which India calls Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan). Musharraf proposed a formula in three steps - first agreeing on the basic unit of decision-making, then agreeing on its demilitarization and then on its future status, which could be under India or Pakistan or even the United Nations. In Musharraf's obvious calculation, his final solution would ultimately result in the entire Srinagar division, plus the Muslim majority areas of the Jammu and Ladakh divisions going to Pakistan, with only the Hindu majority areas of the Jammu division and the Buddhist majority ones of the Ladakh division remaining with India. India will have status quo minus and Pakistan status quo plus. Even though he projected this as a possible solution based on a geographical and not a religious division, keeping in view India's opposition to any solution based on a religious division, it was nothing but an application of the two-nation formula that led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947. This formula was based on the premise, propagated by the Pakistan Muslim League, that the Hindus and the Muslims of the subcontinent, though largely ethnically the same, cannot live together because of their different religious beliefs. The idea of a solution to the Kashmir issue based on a sub-regional formula is nothing new. It has been cropping up from time to time right from the days when the issue was engaging the attention of the UN in the 1950s. The International Commission of Jurists, a non-governmental organization of Geneva, which used to be funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War, and a so-called Kashmir Study Group in the US had revived it in the 1990s. This idea has some support in the think-tanks of the West, particularly in the US, and Musharraf is calculating that the US will respond positively to his proposal and exercise pressure on India to consider it. He has been projecting this as an indication of Pakistan's flexible approach to the problem, illustrated by its non-insistence on the holding of a plebiscite and its willingness to be satisfied with only a part of J&K, instead of insisting on its getting the whole of it. Musharraf should have known that India would not touch this proposal, due to the following reasons. First, it would amount to reviving the two-nation theory, and second, it could encourage Muslim separatism in some districts of Assam adjoining Bangladesh, where Muslims are in a majority. Yet he publicly voiced it in the hope of bringing pressure on India from the US to give it serious consideration. Indian rejection was not slow in coming. Addressing a press conference at Srinagar on Thursday, Manmohan said: 'I have made it repeatedly and extensively clear that any redrawing of borders is not acceptable and any suggestion which smacks of further division of the state is also not acceptable.' India's rejection of the ideas coming out of Musharraf's loud-thinking has elicited strong reactions from him. Musharraf told Agence France-Presse: 'Pakistan would not drop its life-long demand for a plebiscite unless India showed flexibility on its own long-held positions, such as not changing the de facto border or the Line of Control. Both sides should make up their minds first on what is the way forward and they need to discuss that first. The more important issue is to decide on the blocks or segments or regions first of all, which ought to be demilitarized and then status-changed.' Even though through a careful public relations exercise Musharraf has been trying to project himself as flexible and forward-looking and India as rigid and stonewalling, a careful examination of his statements and interviews indicates that his final objective remains inflexible, namely, acquisition of the Muslim-majority areas of J&K. The flexibility, if at all there is any, is not in respect of his objective, but of the means to be used for achieving that objective. While he would not renounce the use of terrorism to achieve that objective, he would be prepared to consider peaceful means provided India agrees to discuss a peaceful change of the status quo. What he wants to discuss is how to change the status quo through mutual agreement. What he tries to play down is the fact that the continuation of the status quo is the only solution which would not be to the detriment of the two countries. Any change in the status quo on the lines proposed by him would be to the detriment of India's national interest. Musharraf and his army think that through the use of terrorism against India, they are for the first time in a position to make the international community come out in favor of a change of the status quo and are not prepared to let go of what they perceive as the opportunity which the jihadi terrorists have won for Pakistan. The hard line adopted by him under the pretext of flexibility need not necessarily bring the thaw in bilateral relations to an end. However, it underlines the dangers of a fresh stepping-up of terrorism ahead. Musharraf is confident that as long as he continues to cooperate with the US in its operations against al-Qaeda, keeps the Taliban under control and helps President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan consolidate his position, he does not have to fear any adverse consequences of his re-accelerating jihadi terrorism in J&K, provided he keeps it confined to the state and projects it as the continuation of the Kashmiris' freedom struggle because of India's obduracy. India has two options: making the status quo de jure by converting the LoC into an international border, or continuation of the de facto status quo without making it de jure, and at the same time working for an improvement in bilateral relations through confidence-building measures and normalization and strengthening of economic ties. The second option was also supported by Jiang Zemin, China's former president, in a speech during his visit to Pakistan in 1996, but the government of Benazir Bhutto, then in power, rejected it. This has again been advocated by Altaf Hussain, the leader of Pakistan's Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), in his statements and interviews during his current visit to India. Though Musharraf is dependent on the MQM for continuing to maintain the political legitimacy of his rule in Pakistan, he is unlikely to accept his suggestion. Despite this, India should keep up the pressure for the normalization and strengthening of economic relations and for promoting people-to- people contacts among the Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC and the international border. Among the proactive suggestions already put forward by India is the one for a bus service between Srinagar, the capital of J&K, and Muzzafarabad, the Capital of POK. The proposals presently under discussion mainly relate to promoting people-to- people contacts between J&K and POK. There is an even greater need for promoting people-to-people contacts between the Buddhists and Shi'ites of the Ladakh division and the Shi'ites of the Northern Areas. This has to be taken up earnestly. Another idea which could be examined is the advisability of setting up a small Eminent Kashmiris' Council consisting of elected representatives of the legislatures of J&K, the POK and the Northern Areas to discuss periodically among themselves the problems and difficulties of the Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC and the international border and come out with agreed recommendations for implementation by the governments on both sides. B Raman is additional secretary (retired), cabinet secretariat, government of India, New Delhi, and currently director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and distinguished fellow and convener, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail email@example.com.