PAKISTAN has expended a great deal of ammunition on rhetorical and artillery barrages in recent weeks in a bid to impress the world that it must act now to avert an imminent nuclear holocaust in or over Kashmir. Such episodes may well recur, punctuated with more efforts at ethnic cleansing in Jammu and Kashmir by foreign mercenaries, aimed at securing external intervention through more demarches on "both sides" to cool things or, better still, international mediation. Occasions for such "guns salutes" could be provided by the next round of talks with Strobe Talbott in Washington, the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in South Africa, the opening of the UN General Assembly session, the 51st "anniversary" of the Pakistan-sponsored invasion of J&K and its accession to India, and the scheduled panchayati raj poll in J&K—all within the next three months. Then General Winter will take over and there will be a lull until the snows melt and more foreign mercenaries are sought to be infiltrated.
None of this will work. The cross-border war is a losing game with home-grown militancy rapidly shrinking in will and capability, even turning against the increasing number of Pakistani and Afghan marauders. Crying wolf about nuclear war will go the way of the earlier campaign to project Kashmir on the international stage as a human rights issue whereas human rights violations were and are largely concomitant on an environment of ruthlessly instigated intimidation and armed violence against innocent citizens.
India and Pakistan must talk. But Pakistan's agenda will have to be a lot more realistic than what it proposed in asides and nonpapers in Colombo, some of which read like terms of surrender. However, it is not Pakistan alone that needs to be realistic. Others too need to be far better briefed if they are not again to become part of the problem.
Listen to Bill Clinton addressing Democratic campaign supporters to Aspen on July 26: "One big problem is India steadfastly resists having any third party—whether it is the United States or the United Nations or anybody else—try to mediate on Kashmir. It's not surprising. India is bigger than Pakistan, but there are more Muslims than Hindus in Kashmir—the same reason that Pakistan, on the flip side, is dying to have mediation because of the way the numbers work."
Again: "Almost no one knows this. But most—most, but not all—the various minorities (sic) groups in India live along the borders of India in the north. And it would be, I think, a terrible tragedy if Hindu nationalism led to both estrangement with Muslim countries on the border and the minorities—Muslim and otherwise—within the borders of India...."
This would locate Kashmir (and its alleged nuclear connection) within a communal Hindu-Muslim context. No history, no principles are seemingly involved. The Washington Post echoed the same communal divide with Kashmir being a "predominantly Muslim state" and Pakistan "a South Asian Muslim homeland" in an editorial titled "The Kashmir Puzzle" (August 4). "In the (Kashmir) war, the local prince, ignoring the United Nations call for a plebiscite, on his own acceded to India. Part of Kashmir ended up under Pakistan and part under India. The latter (and larger) part constitutes the core of the problem." Apart from having got the facts and sequence totally wrong, the Kashmir question, insofar as it relates to the part occupied by Pakistan, is simply wished away.
Why have President Clinton and the Post gone astray? Partly because for long, the facts on Kashmir were determined not objectively but in relation to whose side you were on. The Indian government too bears a heavy responsibility for its consistent failure over the years to put across the Indian case. This has been heightened by its strange reticence in discussing Kashmir with Pakistan, which has been given centrestage to mouth its lines on what now passes for the Kashmir question. India says it is for a "sincere, substantial, sustained and simultaneous dialogue" with Pakistan on all issues, including Kashmir. This "composite" dialogue must ultimately square with ground realities and come up with "do-able" prescriptions. This is the right stance. Ironically, India's plaint to the UN in 1947 was on the "Kashmir question" which Pakistan insisted be amended to the wider-focused "India-Pakistan question".
Kashmir is today both the consequence and cause of Indo-Pakistan discord. The vicious circle must be broken somewhere. If Pakistan wants to start with Kashmir, why not? What is more urgent than cross-border terrorism? Pakistan must choose between proxy war and talks. Absolutely nothing is lost once it is agreed that Kashmir is only part of an eight-point agenda and, as the Pakistan high commissioner has publicly stated, progress on Kashmir need not hold up progress on other fronts that would be confidence-building. Pakistan has painted itself into a corner and needs an exit. National interest demands that India give it one. Let the proposed Indo-Pakistan summit in Durban in late September and any preparatory meeting of foreign secretaries not be wasted opportunities.
Meanwhile, following the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif to the Taliban, fears have been expressed that Pakistan may divert some of its proteges from its ranks to Kashmir. This depends, first, on whether the Taliban is able to consolidate its hold as the Afghan war was won less by brilliant military campaigning than by buying up the opposition. However, assuming that happens, how better to keep the Islamist hordes occupied than by sending them on further jehads. The Central Asians, stiffened with Russian troops, are preparing to confront such a possibility. Another destination could be Kashmir. But apart from those already readied for infiltration, others may have to wait until next spring before they can make a crossing.
The Indian security forces should be able to deal with them effectively, particularly if the political agenda of autonomy and good governance through panchayat elections and otherwise moves steadily forward. The Kashmir problem is no longer military but political. The enhanced militant activity in Poonch-Rajouri-Udhampur (and Doda) indicates a retreat from the Valley, barring fringe areas in Kupwara, to the mountains and forests. Soft targets can be hit to create terror but will further alienate the people from militancy.
The answer to the Taliban therefore is not to be diverted from political to military action but to conduct the panchayat polls as planned (even if it is not feasible in all the districts) and not postpone them. To do so would be to play the militants' game.