Virtual Homeland of Kashmiri Pandits

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Volume 1, No. 1 - June 2001

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Whither Kashmir Peace Process: International Jehad vs. A Soft Nation
Subodh Atal, Ph. D.        

50 Years of Freefall Down the Fundamentalist Path

The general antecedents of the "Kashmir Dispute" are well known to many international observers who follow South Asian politics. A half-century old standoff continues into the year 2001. Pakistan's quest to snatch the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is sold to the rest of the world as the unfinished business of the 1947 Partition of India. While most states followed their religious leanings, Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by the Hindu maharaja Hari Singh, opted for India after Pakistan orchestrated an invasion to force its hand. The Pakistani invaders settled for the one-third of the state that they had occupied, driving out Hindus and pro-Indian Muslims. During the half century since, Pakistan has settled Punjabi Muslims in Kashmiri territory occupied by it, driving down the Kashmiri-speaking population to a negligible number. On the other hand, India, keeping true to its secular nature, accorded a special status to the state, embodied in Article 370. The article prevents people from the rest of India from settling in or freely carrying out business in the state. It also allows the state to ignore equal protection of minorities as enshrined in the Indian constitution.

Kashmiri Pandits Caught in The Islamic Vise

A result of this special treatment of the state was a socio-economic disaster for minorities, especially Hindus in Kashmir valley between 1948-1989. Over half the million strong population of indigenous Kashmir Pandits fled to other parts of India as valley Muslims converted their status into hegemony across the valley as well as the entire state. Due to Article 370, the sobering and secular influences of the rest of India never permeated the state, while fundamentalist influences from across the border built up ominously. By 1987-1989, the peaceful valley had taken a Talibanic turn long before the term became notorious for the extreme style of Islamic nation born in Afghanistan. It was no longer safe for a kafir (non-believer).

As the Soviets started to exit Afghanistan during the same time period, Pakistan rapidly switched its attention to Kashmir. Logistical know-how acquired from the CIA in guerilla warfare was successfully transferred against India, including the use of religious fundamentalism. The Kashmir valley was ripe for upheaval, having already been allowed to lose its diverse composition and character for four decades. The mix exploded in 1989, with the ethnic cleansing by Pakistan-supported Kashmiri Muslims of almost the entire remaining population of Pandits, about 300,000. The Indian government has since severely compounded their problems, and its own chances of bringing about normalcy, by ignoring their voice in the future of the state.

Countering Jehad: The Challenges

The insurgency has been sustained since then by Pakistan, and its brainchild the Taliban, with an increasing emphasis on fundamentalism and jehad, and liberal use of dozens of well-funded international terrorist bases in both countries. In 1991, India looked to repeat the history of 1965, when it opened up a broad-based war to force an end to a Pakistani invasion of the state. However, Pakistan had by then acquired nuclear weapons, and effectively used the threat of nuclear strikes to avert what would have been certain war to end the invasion. Since then the Pakistani nuclear card has been a standard blackmail tactic to keep its support for the largest international terrorist operation alive.

The Indian government has tried different means to counter the onslaught, hoping each time to capitalize on the local population's fatigue with the endless violence. In 1996-1997, popular elections were held at the state and central levels, and a trend towards normalcy became evident, forcing Pakistan to rethink its strategies in sustaining the insurgency. Predictably, Pakistan responded by turning up the heat, handing over the reins of the insurgency to the most extreme of the terrorist groups, Lashkar-e-Toiba, in collaboration with Osama Bin-Laden's Al Qaida group. It also formed the United Jehad Council to ensure unity and focus among the myriad terrorist groups operating from its territory.

This refueling of the fires of Kashmir has proved to be self-sustaining and reticent. Now tens of thousands of madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan that train young impressionable minds combined with a collapsed inward-looking economy that gives the impoverished population few other choices for its children.

The second attempt began in 2000, after Hizbul Mujahideen's temporary ceasefire. Hizbul, the only indigenous Kashmiri terrorist group, felt the fatigue of the Kashmiri population and offered a unilateral ceasefire. It did not last, however, as Pakistan set loose the Lashkar in an orgy of killing. After the Hizbul, under intense pressure from its Pakistani sponsors, withdrew its ceasefire, India followed up with its own unilateral ceasefire in the last weeks of the year. The idea was to tap into the palpable Kashmiri fatigue with violence. The Indian military ended all offensive operations.

Peace Process: At What Cost?

The "peace process" has essentially consisted of avoidance of offensive operations by Indian security forces, attempts to engage Kashmiri separatist politicians, and official invitations to various Kashmiri groups to start discussions on resolving the issues. The most visible result has been the utter disregard for the ceasefire displayed by Pakistan's terrorist groups, which have increased killings of civilians including pro-India politicians and minority Hindu and Sikhs, as well as security personnel deployed to protect them. Deaths among terrorists have decreased, easily attributable to lack of new Indian offensives. Thus the short-term cost of the ceasefire has been borne out by civilians and hapless security personnel who have their hands tied behind their back against the deadliest terrorist forces of the world.

Behind-the-scenes efforts were carried out to send feelers to the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a conglomerate of pro-separatist parties. After a charade of discussions among its executive committee, the Hurriyat summarily rejected the talks offer of the central government. What was their excuse to shut their eyes to the glimmer of hope? That the central government had invited too many groups from across the state. Abdul Ghani Bhat, leader of the Hurriyat used the word "fish-market" to describe the government's approach. Thus effectively all separatist organizations, militant and most of the political ones, have rejected the ceasefire.

Getting to the Heart of the Kashmir Dispute

This last episode serves as a window into the reasons for the intractability and the violence that the state has suffered for decades. When Bhat used the term "fish-market", minorities in the state knew all too well what he was talking about. For five decades, valley Muslims have enjoyed total hegemony over the entire state, squeezing out minorities whether religious, ethnic or regional. When the Indian government invited a cross-section of groups of the state for negotiations, it signalled a break from the Indian policy followed the past half century valley Muslims were not accorded recognition as the sole representatives of the state. With the Indian government looking the other way, all minorities had been sidelined before and during the insurgency.

Clearly, what rankled both Hurriyat and the voice it really represents that of Pakistan, were unhappy that India wanted to deal with other groups in the state. This was a blow to their long-established strategy - establish total hegemony over most of the state to the point where it looks, talks, and acts more like Pakistan and hence the solution will become evident. While the "peace process" appears indeed headed on a "train to nowhere", the crux of the Kashmir dispute stands thoroughly exposed.

Is There Hope?

The question now is whether a significant section of Kashmir valley's population will break free of the shackles of fundamentalism, jehad and violence that it has locked itself in since 1989. The prospects are grim and the reasons are to be found in two places Pakistan and India. Pakistan's entire identity now depends on its fight to grab Kashmir. It has created a self-sustaining jehad industry that keeps large sections of its military, religious and political bodies gainfully occupied. The grooming of children in madrassas from a very young age will keep the flames burning for generations. Collaboration with Bin Laden's network, recruitment of Muslims from around the world, and promises to create "more Pakistans" in India are ominous signs.

The other side of course is India itself, which has soft-pedaled valley Muslims since Sheikh Abdullah bullied through a special status for the state soon after its accession to India. India has allowed valley Muslims to attain a highly exalted view of themselves, as a result of Article 370 and regular coddling. In 1965 and 1971, India frittered away hard-fought gains back to Pakistan. In 1999, the Kargil invasion was met by a self-imposed ban on crossing the LOC. In December of the same year, India caved in to Indian Airlines hijackers and released top Pakistani terrorist leaders. A hundred odd lives were saved momentarily, at the cost of thousands of civilians and security personnel who have since been butchered by the rabidly extremist Jaish group formed by released terrorist inspiration Masood Azhar. Even tiny Bangladesh has taken advantage of the soft Indian state, recently capturing and then torturing to death more than a dozen Indian border guards.

The ceasefire is ill-timed and reveals the bankruptcy of Indian strategic thinking. Such a step would have been on the dot if it had been taken after a prolonged offensive that decimated Pakistani terrorist ranks and had them on the run. However, the many terrorist groups have simply recognized the current ceasefire as weakness on India's part, and are now preparing to enlarge their operations in the coming warmer season. This explains the reflexive rejection of the ceasefire and negotiation offers by these groups as well as by Hurriyat, which simply follows their diktat.

Conclusion

Jammu and Kashmir, and in fact the entire Indian nation, is at a crossroads today both due to Pakistan's ability to create a massive, self-sustained terrorist enterprise, as well as the soft nation characteristics of India. Caught in between are many sections of the state's population, such as the Hindus who are in exile, and others who live as virtual hostages of terrorists and their supporters in the state. At this juncture, India can cave in further and agree to handing over some or all of the state to fundamentalist elements controlled by Pakistan, or it can dig in its heels acknowledging Jammu and Kashmir as the last frontier in the fight to prevent further Talibanization of the subcontinent. The latter choice may seem to be more painful, and will require long-term measures such as abrogation of Article 370 and recognition of equal rights of Pandits, Sikhs, Gujjars, Bakerwals and residents of Jammu and Ladakh. Reorganization of the state, and its full socioeconomic integration with the rest of India will be requisite steps in such a scenario. The former choice will undoubtedly result in a new satellite state of Pakistan, and the establishment of secure bases to export Talibanization and insurgency into the rest of India. Whether India can reverse its well-deserved "soft-state" status and take the tough steps needed is open to question.

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