June issue 2002

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 22 years ago

A barber in Srinagar tells correspondent Mark Tully in a BBC programme on Kashmir, ‘Paradise Lost,’ that the Kashmiris want to have no part of either India or Pakistan. They desire azadi from both. Ironically, both India and Pakistan are teetering on the brink of a possible nuclear conflagration over Kashmir. Around one billion people in India and 140 million people in Pakistan face the grim prospect of a holocaust of inconceivable proportions. In the last 54 years, the two countries have fought two wars over Kashmir and stood on the brink of two others. Yet both sides have stuck to their guns, literally, and refused to step back in order to move forward, towards a permanent solution of a dispute which has claimed the lives of over 60,000 Kashmiris.

And now, taking the cue from the US war on terrorism, Vajpayee’s government has amassed its troops along the borders and is gearing up for a decisive battle against cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. It has very cleverly zeroed in on this issue, to the exclusion of everything else, including the genesis of the Kashmir dispute. And by doing so, has successfully managed to deflect attention from the real problem and emerged as the long-suffering victim. Pakistan meanwhile,has been pushed into a tight corner: it is being portrayed as a major sponsor of terrorism in the region. The past is finally catching up with us.

To further their ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan and conquer Kashmir, some self-professed Goliaths of the Zia years teamed up with increasingly militant extremist groups, and jihad became the catchword for almost two decades. Unfortunately, those skewed policies remained in place till September 11. With the US war on terrorism, Pakistan, under Musharraf, was pressured to do a total volte face. And that requires some doing. In the past two decades, the militants have spread their network far and wide and Musharraf is finding it increasingly difficult to reverse the trend.

Meanwhile, the international community, led by the US, is handling India with kid gloves and showing increasing impatience with Pakistan, demanding that it do more to rein in the militants. Yes, Pakistan definitely needs to wield the whip, but that is only one aspect of the problem. The issue of cross-border terrorism that India harps on is one reality. The indigenous struggle of the Kashmiris for independence is another. The imposition of non-representative governments in Kashmir by the centre is yet another reality, as is the gross violation of human rights by Indian law enforcement agencies.

While there is no denying the fact that the Kashmiri freedom movement has been hijacked by religious extremists, who are attempting to settle a political dispute through the barrel of a gun, their actions draw sustenance from the Indian government’s obduracy and intransigence. It continues to maintain that there is no problem in Kashmir, except that of cross-border terrorism. In the relationship between India and Pakistan, far too much time and energy have been invested in the blame game — Siachen, Kargil, Agra continue to dominate the debate — and very little attention paid to effecting a lasting peace. Bilateral talks in the past have failed, and third party mediation is anathema to Vajpayee. So where does one go from here?

The international community will have to move beyond the short-term goal of achieving de-escalation along the Line of Control. It will have to make a serious and concerted effort to force the two sides to thrash out a final solution to the Kashmir dispute. One that takes into account the aspirations of the Kashmiri people, on both sides of the divide.

The stand-off cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely and hold the life of a billion people in the subcontinent hostage. In the eventual analysis, the international community will have to step in and pressurise the two countries to reach for a viable solution. If a solution is not found now, the world might well be faced with yet another crisis six months down the road. And next time round, we might not get that lucky.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.