Whatever the merits of Gen. Pervez Musharrafs latest suggestion on Jammu & Kashmir, there is no avoiding the conclusion that India has accepted the Pakistani position that the State is disputed territory. This is a dangerous development, but in fairness to Dr. Manmohan Singh it must be said that it is not a new one. J&Ks status as an integral part of India was first jeopardized in the 2001 summit with the Pakistani dictator.
Although former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh has denied a US role in facilitating (read pressuring) India into talking to Pakistan, there is no other rational explanation for the NDAs volte face after the horrible price paid to regain Kargil in 1999. Worse, citizens monitoring the Agra show on television were dismayed to find the BJP-led regime overly anxious to accommodate the usurper-turned-Presidents desire to talk Kashmir on Indian soil. The heavy duty sound-bytes from members of the Pakistani delegation created fears that New Delhi would concede actual territory to Pakistan.
It seems this was narrowly averted. But Pakistan succeeded in projecting Kashmir as disputed territory, and the Indian public has since received shocks regarding possible surrender of territory. In Mr. Vajpayees time there was talk of converting the Line of Control into an international border with adjustments giving Pakistan a town falling on both sides of the LoC. Recently, there has been talk of giving Islamabad two key towns that would facilitate a hostile takeover of the Valley.
And now the General has proposed that the two countries grant autonomy (whatever that means) to parts of Jammu & Kashmir. What this really means is that New Delhi walk out of the State district by district so that the Pakistani army can move in without bloodshed. And instead of snubbing the General, the Foreign Ministry lamely asserted that serious proposals should not come through the media! Does this mean India will consider the proposal when the US State Department next visits?
In my view, we must urgently scrutinize the US-Pak axis and its potential to damage our security. The American failure to control the ground situation in Iraq has rejuvenated the Islamic fundamentalists. According to Al Qaeda's online fortnightly magazine, Voice of Jihad, the US is in a greater strategic mess in Afghanistan and Iraq than the Soviet Union was in Afghanistan in the 1980's (New York Times 27 October 2004). It is said that for all practical purposes Washington has abandoned the war. The excitement of the jihadis is reflected in their websites which regularly broadcast images of Western hostages pleading with their abductors as well as their respective Governments to spare their lives before being beheaded live to shock and awe civilians across the globe.
The US-Pak axis comes into play here because, according to western analysts, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Pakistans largest militant group, seems to be shifting its focus from Kashmir (no doubt only temporarily) to Iraq. Recently LeTs online Urdu publication gave a call for holy warriors to go to Iraq to avenge the tortures at the Abu Ghraib prison and the alleged rapes of Iraqi Muslim women. The site alleged that Americans were dishonoring our mothers and sisters, and hence jihad against America had become mandatory. While it is difficult to assess the impact of this appeal, the Americans have already captured Pakistani members of LeT in Iraq. Hence the State Departments desperation to turn to canon-balls back towards India, howsoever cynical, makes sense.
Of course, even a weak Indian Government cannot accede to such a blatant assault on our sovereignty and interests. Dr. Manmohan Singh will greatly enhance his credibility if he unambiguously asserts Jammu & Kashmirs Indian identity, and puts curbs on the absurd policy of open border or soft border, which only facilitates Pakistani access to secessionist elements in the State. This is all the more necessary because, since Gen. Musharrafs 2001 visit, discerning citizens have observed a broad accord between ideologically disparate political parties to undermine the traditional consensus that Kashmir is an inalienable part of India. Prior to Gen. Musharrafs arrival in New Delhi, the principal Left parties discussed Kashmir with the then Pakistani High Commissioner, even though former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had questioned the Generals legitimacy and authority to discuss such sensitive matters with the Indian Government.
Since then, selective voices are being propped up to clamour for a soft, de-militarized border, even though the Army is emphatic that infiltration has not declined. The officially-sponsored proponents of India-Pakistan bhai bhai are, however, unwilling to heed this warning. Those who think the Kashmir border is too porous have been rendered politically incorrect and ineffectual.
It is shocking that neither the UPA Government nor the principal opposition party has asked the General to apply his formula to Occupied Kashmir, and allow India to observe its success. There can be no question of parity or quid pro quo on this issue because Occupied Kashmir is mainly populated by non-Kashmiris such as Punjabis, Mirpuris and Pashtuns, who were settled there as part of a deliberate policy of demographic rearrangement. The native Muslim population of PoK is truly oppressed and figures nowhere in the Generals proposals. Indias Jammu & Kashmir is occupied by its indigenous population, barring of course, the Kashmiri Pandits who have been driven out.
With Al Qaeda cells being unearthed in almost all parts of the country, New Delhi cannot be perceived as soft on Pakistans jihadi generals and mullahs. Certainly, we cannot pander to a hare-brained American scheme to placate Pakistani fundamentalists with Indian blood and territory. Nationalist Indians would do well to petition President Abdul Kalam to advice Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to keep the Indian people fully informed about the nature of talks with Pakistan or third parties like the Americans or British on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir.
On his part, Dr. Manmohan Singh would do well to remember that he heads a coalition Government and that the people of India have not given him a mandate to cede territory to hostile neighbours. Indeed, no political party has such a mandate. Politicians of all hues should know that so long as our Generals and soldiers tell us they are willing to shed their blood for the defense of the motherland, so long as they do not publicly declare that they can no longer face the war of a thousand cuts, we will stand firm. The fatigue of old and tired men cannot be attributed to the nation; hence no political party or coalition has the right to take action inimical to the national interest.
Of course it complicates matters that Jammu & Kashmir is now ruled by the very family that gave terrorism a boost by sacrificing national interests in the Rubaiya Sayeed so-called kidnapping episode. Mr. V.P. Singhs refusal to sack Mufti Mohammad Sayeed encouraged Islamabad to up the ante and declare Kashmir a core issue between the two countries. But the roots of the problem go back to 1948, so it is time to stop perpetuating Mr. Jawaharlals Nehrus dangerous legacy of special status to a strategic region. And having dismissed the UN resolutions, we must stop entertaining third parties with private agendas. As a start, the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline which has the potential to eternally fund the anti-India jihad should be consigned to the dustbin.