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A Prime Minister with an Olive Branch
Prime Minster Vajpayee’s recent visit to Kashmir has brought about a euphoric mixture of stale rhetoric, patent political claptrap, far-fetched poetic interpolations and contradiction of sorts. Little, it seems, did the PM know that the Kashmiri verses of Mahjoor that he quoted were the battle cry of Kashmiri nationalists in their fight against autocratic rule in the 1930s and 40s. To an ordinary Kashmiri these verses carry the same import today, although in a play staging different actors.
He declared that Kashmir would remain part of India until eternity. We know of no Indian Prime Minister during this half a century who did not make that assertion. Yet, in the same breath, he offered to hold talks with Pakistan. Did he mean to say that in the proposed talks, Pakistan would endorse his claim of keeping Kashmir as part of India until eternity? We saw that an immediate and confident response from Islamabad forced Mr. Vajpayee to come back to the realm of ‘practicable’ politics and qualify his offer with conditionality.
Mr. Vajpayee alluded to the much-trumpeted rhetoric of Kashmiriyat and peaceful coexistence. Yet, he was unwilling to say a word about the 25th March 2003 Nadimarg carnage against the Hindu Kashmiri community for fear of “reopening the wounds”. Mr. Vajpayee therefore implicitly recognises that down at the bottom of Kashmiriyat remain embedded the festering wounds (inflicted by whom upon whom?); but he chose not to touch the subject. As a result, contrary to what the PM said he was aiming at, the mute message conveyed to those who suffered these wounds that they would not be the beneficiaries of the State Government’s “healing touch” doctrine, which Mr Vajpayee endorses.
The Prime Minister did not speak a single word about the 400,000-large internally displaced Pandit minority living in exile since 1990. He did not speak even of the charade of “return with honour and dignity” - the fulcrum of hypocritical secularism. The mute message again conveyed – hopefully wrongly - not only to the beleaguered Pandits but also more importantly to the Indian civil society, that the secularist democracy of the Indian Union could even reconcile to the process of de-secularisation and even Islamization of Kashmir within its fold.
He came to the Valley bandaged in hefty packages, which he unfolded one by one. His predecessors had done nothing less. Moreover, dutifully true to precedence, he did not pose the question of accountability. For an ordinary Kashmiri, the difference lies not in approach or practice but in the class and cadres of the recipients of the Centre’s largesse. Kashmiris remain oppressed not by New Delhi’s alleged miserliness but by its misplaced munificence.
Sections of the national and regional press have made exciting stories out of the large number of people who gathered to hear the Prime Minister in Srinagar. Whether State’s transport lorries ferried them or that they came of their own is not the issue. Have not hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris gathered umpteen times to listen to local and national leaders in the past? Has not a million-strong crowd walked behind Sheikh Sahib’s coffin to his burial place? We hope the PM`s advisors will not hesitate to analyse this phenomenon in historical perspective and finally get to the bottom of Kashmiris’ unrequited psyche of victimization before they try to make a fetish of this last visit.
Vajpayee’s government had promised fair elections and the expectant masses responded to it. Various identities, hitherto sidelined or ignored, have more or less found representation in the present administrative structure of the State. This augurs well for the future of its political landscape. However, how are the promoters of ‘negative peace’ likely to react? Like it or not, by force of circumstances, Kashmir is an international affair. Forces that wish to see it in perpetual turmoil are many and active.
Rumours are afloat of Washington looking for a radical change in the Kashmir situation. We hope policy planners in New Delhi do not remain complacent with the mere holding of fair elections in Kashmir, the installing of a coalition government and hefty developmental packages.
Two important and recent developments should not go without a notice. These are the passing of the New Hampshire Court resolution and the resignation of US envoy to India, Ambassador Blackwill. The latter event comes at a time when two senior officials of the State Department, namely Christina Rocca and Richard L. Armitage, will be visiting Islamabad and New Delhi. Notably, Pakistan’s importance to the US has suddenly shown an upward swing again. In an overall assessment, would the US not feel the need for a balancing act after its rather unwitting projection of the Shia factor in post-Saddam Iraq? Would the US not need a Sunni majority country, overtly if only pointedly, on its side as a balancing chip after having mollified the Iranian Ayatollahs by unexpectedly bombing basis of the Iranian political opposition, Mujahideen-e-Khalq, north of Baghdad? The US has a compulsion of weighing scales between the Shia elements in Iraq and Iran and the Sunni extremists in Pakistan and elsewhere. The point to understand here is that the US is engaged in a serious and historic task of waging a civilizational war by employing the double strategy of tactical muscularity and sophisticated international blackmail.
This prescription, although originally meant at containing religious extremism, finds its strategic implementation in playing religious identities one against the other and therefore, spills over to Kashmir as well.
Kashmir, with an overwhelming and sensitized Sunni population has been reeling under the virulent propaganda of Islamic radicals. In the long run, it may not withstand the impact of so momentous a development unfolding in the broad Islamic fraternity. The next question is, why would external powers, hardly conversant with the day-to-day life of this distant land, not be prompted, willingly or unwillingly, to manipulate the sentiments and aspirations of a people. Would the US resort to any retrograde balancing act, the consequences would be dire.
It is to be seen, whether the restoration of ‘positive peace’ in Kashmir fits in the game plan of international actors involved in South Asian strategic permutation and combination. For, it would be a great delusion to believe that Pakistan; or the United States or any external power is concerned with the fate of the Kashmiri society; destruction of life, culture, and civilizations, howsoever priceless, matter a trifle in this crusade. Mr. Giuda and the Honourable republican members of the New Hampshire delegation, which visited the capital of only a third of Pakistan Administered Kashmir, should not misguide the US and the world’s public opinion in their hope that charitable feelings alone guide the adoption of a resolution by the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. What matters to the United States highest legislative body is that India and Pakistan are hitherto untamed members of the nuclear club. Kashmir has been deceivingly but adroitly projected by Pakistan as a nuclear flash point. As much as the New Hampshire legislators have been deceivingly but adroitly made to believe they could serve the purpose of peace in Kashmir.
In this broad scenario, Pakistan is an important player whether whole-heartedly on the side of or against the US. No political commentators and much less the Indian policy planners should be under the delusion that Pakistan remains isolated or that Pakistan is brow beaten by the US/UK’s warnings on cross–border infiltration (an idiom that carries new connotation in the wake of the latest ground situation on the Pak-Afghan border). Islamabad knows which side of its bread is buttered. Indian policy planners should also forget that Pakistan is financially in straits. Her foreign reserves have swung to $ 10 billion over the last year and half. Furthermore, the oil rich Shiekhdoms of the Gulf and the Saudis are seriously thinking of investing massively in Pakistan’s privatised corporations, (largely in the hands of the country’s generals), because of their mistrust of the US action in Iraq and its futuristic fallout.
In a final analysis, one can hope that, in a bid to pursue her unilateral mission in the name of democracy and disarmament (peace and justice are hardly substantiating US pro-active policies), the United States, will make a wise assessment of the ground realities that alone can forestall a potential nuclear exchange between the two Sub-Continent estranged neighbours.
(The writer is the former Director, Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University)