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Volume 2, No. 6 - November 2002

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Beyond Subcontinental Elections: Stabilizing Kashmir and Redefining Restraint
Subodh Atal, Ph. D.

The recently concluded elections in South Asia have highlighted the sharp contrast between democracy and pluralism in India and religious fundamentalism and terrorism.  In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state in India, Pakistan did its utmost to disrupt elections and expression of democracy by sending terrorists tasked with killing civilians and politicians, and attacking campaign rallies and voting booths.

The people of the state displayed their disdain for the 13-year old Pakistani terrorist onslaught by coming out in better than expected numbers to vote, defying the terrorists. The defeat of the National Conference wasn't an anti-India vote, as many in the international media have insinuated, but rather a democratic replacement of a government that had failed to keep its electoral promises. Several opinion polls earlier in the year have demonstrated that even most valley Muslims have little affinity or stomach for Pakistan's designs.

In Pakistan, the situation was almost a mirror opposite. Government resources were leveraged against the popular PPP party of Benazir Bhutto, who herself along with another ex-PM Nawaz Sharif, was kept out of the country to prevent their participation in the elections. The nation's politics now resembles that of Uzbekistan or Kazakhastan, where staged elections are regularly held to display a veneer of democracy, while real power is controlled by a dictator and his clique.

India has no reason to believe that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism will end in J&K as well as other states into which it is steadily encroaching. In 1996 and 1997, Pakistan responded to similarly successful elections in J&K by reorganizing the jehadi terrorist movement and handing over its leadership to the deadly Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) group. Violence escalated again in the state, to be followed by the Kargil invasion in 1998 and the hijacking of Indian Airlines plane leading to the release of Pakistani terrorists Masood Azhar and Shiekh Omar in 1999. Since September 11 last year, the terrorists, on the run from US operations in Afghanistan, have found sanctuary in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), and a secure escape hatch into India with Pakistani support. In fact, Musharraf is likely to use the strong showing of Islamic parties in Pakistani elections as the latest rationale for sponsoring
jehad in Kashmir.

With the J&K elections now over, India needs to recognize the scope of the jehadi terrorism problem, and deal with it accordingly in a two-pronged manner. First of all, it needs to work with the J&K state government to ensure that fundamentalism and corruption are steadily rooted out. These two together provide the foundation upon which Pakistan has been able to build a secessionist movement. Furthermore, political and civil rights of minorities need to be as much respected as those of the vociferous Kashmiri Muslim majority which has hegemonized the state. Lack of representation of Hindus and that of Jammu and Ladakh in the state's political and bureaucratic apparatus needs to be rectified. Abrogation of Article 370 is an absolute essential before any of these issues can be tackled. For a serious tackling of the situation, the Indian government needs to involve the state leadership
in consideration of such a course of action, in conjunction with devolution of powers. Mere autonomy with continuation of Article 370 is bound to strengthen the walls between J&K and the rest of India, that have been built since independence. The anointing of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is troubling in this context. Sayeed has too many links to the terrorists himself, and his stated agenda pointedly ignores the state's minorities.

The second prong of the approach should be to erode Pakistan's ability to export terrorism into India without any fear of reprisal. With India having overcome terrorism to complete the electoral process in J&K, it is now time to cross that self-imposed line of restraint. India can and should retaliate for terrorist infiltrations and actions by striking just across the Line of
Control in quick, surgical operations. India should simultaneously release evidence and pictures of Pakistani terrorist camps or concentrations it attacks. This will finally put the onus of restraint on Pakistan. In order to prevent escalation, US and other countries will be forced to put immense pressure on Pakistan to dismantle its jehadi apparatus. While overt action will have to be limited in scope, it will only work if accompanied by a broader mandate for covert action aimed at destabilizing Musharraf. An outwardly stable military regime that can continue to sponsor jehad is much more dangerous than an unstable, explicitly extremist government that will force the world to deal directly with this 'nuclear Yugoslavia'. Let the Pakistani terrorist infrastructure and its real jehadi face become the international bone of contention, not Indian restraint.

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