Where We Go From Here

Pakistan Kashmir
Islamabad, June 23, 2002: Mother and child at a rally in support of Kashmiri militants (Photo: AFP).

When Gen. Pervez Musharraf did a swift about-turn on a 20-year-old Afghan policy last September, he justified it on the basis of a “pragmatic” assessment of “changed ground realities” (an American ultimatum). However, despite well-meaning domestic views to the contrary, he refused to acknowledge the uncomfortable organic links between the jihad in Kashmir against India and the jihad of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban against the United States and the West. Indeed, he was adamant that the Pakistan army’s Kashmir policy vis-à-vis India would not be adversely affected, perhaps even going so far as to imagine that he might be able to raise the ante with India because the United States would be constrained not to jeopardize its alliance with Pakistan.

Now we know that that assumption and the policy that flowed from it—it is alleged that training camps were activat-ed and plans were underway to infiltrate thousands of jihadis—were wrong. Washington and the rest of the world have been compelled to declare that Pakistan’s “freedom fighters” in Kashmir are “terrorists.”  Thus Pakistan has been compelled once again to respond in a “pragmatic” way to the “new ground realities” (another American ultimatum) by putting a unilateral lid on cross-border infiltration into Kashmir without any apparent quid pro quo from India.

This is another example of bad policy planning by Pakistan’s national security establishment. The Agra summit a year ago foundered precisely on the point of cross-border terrorism.  Vajpayee had invited Musharraf to smoke the peace pipe and discuss Kashmir and all other outstanding issues. This was already a minor coup for Musharraf because mention of Kashmir was conspicuously missing during the Lahore summit in 1999. At the last minute in Agra, however, Vajpayee fished out the issue of cross-border terrorism and stunned Musharraf by insisting it was as much a core issue for India as for Pakistan. Musharraf returned home in a huff. The dialogue was ruptured and later overtaken by Sept. 11.

A year later, however, India has caught Pakistan on the wrong foot and extracted a commitment to end cross-border terrorism without giving anything in return, not even the public assurance of a dialogue on Kashmir, which was conceded at Agra. The calibrated strategy of pressuring India via the jihad that Pakistani hawks and establishment types so love to articulate has once again rebounded on them.
Musharraf’s May 27 speech and the world’s reaction to it may be a pointer in one direction. Apart from some unnecessary digressions on the referendum, it was bang on target. Compelled to retreat on the
foreign-policy question of cross-border terrorism, Musharraf sought to deflect potential criticism on the domestic front by denouncing India and announcing a date for free and fair general elections. His defense of the liberation struggle in Kashmir was aimed not so much at warning India as it was at ensuring that the Kashmiris would not be demoralized by Pakistan’s impending policy shift. And his demand for an implicit quid pro quo from India was aimed at the international community that has underpinned his pol-icy retreat: de-escalation of Indian troops along the Pakistan border; reduction in India-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir; and initiation of a dialogue with a view to finding a just solution to Kashmir. In other words: a plea to return to Agra and pick up the pieces.

India’s careful response (“disappointing,” “we shall wait and see”) shows that all this is within the realm of the possible and desirable. As if on cue, Russian President Vladimir Putin  invited Musharraf and Vajpayee to a conference in Almaty, June 3-5. This makes sense. India is more comfortable exploiting Russian “facilitation” than American mediation.

Irrespective of what transpires at Almaty, India will take its time to de-escalate. It will wait to confirm that Musharraf has kept his word on cross-border terrorism so that it can justify its pullback before the Indian public. An opening dialogue may follow in time to come.

Eventually, the two sides will have to sit and grapple with the short-term Indian objective of holding elections in Kashmir with which New Delhi is comfortable, and the long-term Pakistani objective of ensuring transparently free and fair elections so that the voice of the people of Kashmir can be heard loud and clear. Both sides need to trade incremental political gains and reduce military or terrorist options. If rogue elements in Pakistan and Kashmir succeed in throwing a spanner in the works, or if India misreads Pakistan’s gesture as a sign of weakness and persists in its aggressive intentions, then the war clouds are likely to reappear on the horizon.