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Surrender Of Good Sense

If India had even a trace of a policy on Kashmir, the Hizbul's deputy commander wouldn't have been killed.

Surrender Of Good Sense
illustration by Saurabh Singh It is not just in the realm of economic policy that the Vajpayee government has lost all sense of direction and purpose. The abdication from governance is even more apparent in its policy towards Pakistan and Kashmir. Vajpayee confirmed recently that he would meet President Musharraf at the UN in New York. But the latter responded saying that whether in Agra, New York or Islamabad, he would talk to Vajpayee only about Kashmir. This doesn't lead to any reconsideration of the wisdom of such a meeting in New Delhi.

Vajpayee made the commitment despite the fact that jehadi attacks have multiplied dangerously in J&K, with more and more aimed at 'soft' targets. The Kashmir police has responded by killing the one man who might have held the key to a peaceful resolution of the dispute, on terms acceptable to this country. This was Abdul Majid Dar [This was an error; it was actually his deputy, Commander Abdul Masood Tantray, who was killed -- Ed, www.outlookindia.com] till recently head of the Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir.

To make matters worse, the Delhi police arrested the leader of the jklf, Yasin Malik, on his return from abroad after prolonged medical treatment, and beat him up while in custody. It did this despite the fact that the jklf is the only large-scale organisation that has stood up to every pressure from Pakistan over 12 long years to declare itself in favour of a merger with it.

Vajpayee reiterated his decision to meet Musharraf even after the latter's hasty retreat from an attempt to crack down on jehadi organisations in Sindh, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Al-Badr Mujahideen, which shows that the implications of his defeat have still to sink in, in New Delhi. His failure highlights the true depth of the support the jehadis enjoy in the Pakistani army and in the country. The reason why they do so is their willingness to be martyred in the cause of Islam (and territorial gain) in Kashmir. Thus his retreat is an unambiguous signal that he neither can, nor intends to reduce the intensity of cross-border terrorism.

It is against this background that Delhi needs to assess Musharraf's statement. Musharraf wants India to accept that Pakistan has a legitimate claim to involvement in Kashmir, i.e. that India's sovereignty over Kashmir is in dispute. But following his defeat by the jehadis, he is even less capable than he was at Agra of meeting India's requirements—that Pakistan accept responsibility for cross-border attacks, and accept the Simla Agreement as the starting point for the resolution of the dispute.

New Delhi's silence, and the steps being taken by its high commissioner in Pakistan to set up a "structured dialogue" in New York, amount to tacit acceptance of Musharraf's pre-condition. To go ahead with the dialogue in these circumstances will reinforce the prevailing view there that India is desperate for a settlement because the mujahideen have the Indian army on the run. What's worse, in the eyes of the world this will further devalue the Instrument of Accession on which India's sovereignty over Kashmir is based.

This suicidal policy of appeasement cloaked as reasonableness has been extended in a different form to Kashmir also. Two years ago, Pakistan stumbled onto the military strategy used by General Vo Nguyen Giap with complete success against the Americans in Vietnam. Giap's policy was to maintain the initiative relentlessly and the element of surprise. He did this by concentrating on massed attacks when the latter had dispersed their troops in the expectation of guerrilla warfare, and to revert immediately to the same when the Americans massed their forces to face the conventional one that he had threatened.He thus succeeded in demoralising the Americans, eventually catching them completely by surprise with the massive conventional Tet offensive in 1968.

In Kargil, Pakistan launched a conventional attack that failed, but succeeded in drawing away a division and more troops from the Kashmir Valley proper. This opened the way for a massive infiltration of jehadis. Since August 1999, the jehadis have been killing two to three members of the security forces in guerrilla attacks everyday. The right response would have been to take the war into Pakistani territory, giving the forces more room to intercept the jehadis before they reached Indian Kashmir. Instead, it chose cravenly to fight them in Kashmir. This has not only surrendered the military initiative to the jehadis and put the army permanently on the defensive, but the often excessive brutality of counter-terrorist operations has immeasurably deepened the alienation of the helpless Kashmiris. Pakistan has thus gained both ways—the soldiers are in danger of becoming demoralised and the people are once more tilting towards that country.

Had India even the glimmerings of a counter-insurgency policy in Kashmir, Abdul Majid Dar would never have been killed. He had not only spearheaded the Hizbul Mujahideen's move for a ceasefire in Kashmir in July last year, but had welcomed Vajpayee's peace initiative in November, going so far as to support the idea of elections if held under international supervision. From Pakistan's point of view, therefore, he had become unreliable. It is therefore entirely probable that, as in the case of Hamid Shaikh, the jklf president in 1992, his death was engineered by passing on information of his whereabouts to the Kashmir police. Be that as it may, there can be no doubt that his death served Pakistan's purpose by removing a potential thorn and putting an end to any possible schism within the Hizb in the foreseeable future.

It is still not too late for India to go on the offensive against the jehadis, while adopting a policy of reconciliation and restoration of trust in Kashmir. The task is not easy and will be resisted tooth and nail by the jehadis, but Operation Sadbhavana in Kargil and Leh has shown that it can be done. If it does not do so and continues with its present policies, India may well suffer in Kashmir the fate that America suffered in Vietnam.
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