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Kashmir: no miscalculations please!

By I. K. Gujral

If anything goes wrong regarding the credibility of the elections, neither the Kashmiri people nor the international community will take it lightly.

COLIN POWELL has observed that Indo-Pakistan tensions, after getting threateningly close to a serious conflict, are out on the de-escalation ladder. This could not have been possible without the active and intense efforts of the international community. The key factor in this respect was the belated but acute realisation on the part of the world that the war on terrorism cannot be pursued in a differentiated manner, separating Pakistani sponsored terrorism in Kashmir from the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban's jehadi terrorism. More so because the ISI has been the key link in supporting both the jehadi (Al-Qaeda and Taliban) and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Sources for training, sustenance and supply of weapons of violence of both the terror operations have been the same. One could not be dealt with effectively while keeping the other alive and kicking.

Exploiting the complexity of the Kashmir issue, Pakistan persuaded the international community to believe that violence in Kashmir was a manifestation of internal alienation of the Kashmiri people. The Western powers bought this as their mindset on the Kashmir issue is mired in their lingering Cold War perceptions of the Subcontinental conflicts. They failed in distinguishing the terrorism that was sponsored by Pakistan since the 1990s and the persisting historical complexity of the Kashmir issue from 1947. Only after the September 11 events, the international community and more specifically the U.S. started accepting the indivisibility of the forces of terror based in Afghanistan and playing havoc in places such as the WTC and Kashmir. However, the fear of losing Pakistan's so-called strategic partnership and compliance in the "war against terror" kept the "community" looking on the other side of the reality of terrorism in Kashmir. It was indeed an erroneous assumption that an Islamised Pakistani regime which was a part of the basic problem in Kashmir terrorism could be a part of the solution for the same terrorism elsewhere. It is good that at long last the international community has shed this untenable assumption and come out to plead with and pressure Pervez Musharraf that his loud promises of fighting terrorism must be acted upon credibly in relation to Kashmir as well.

Voices raised by the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, the French President, Jacques Chirac, the Almaty congregation and the G-8 powers could be recalled here.

Gen. Musharraf is a mature military commander. He should have realised much earlier that his inherently contradictory approach of fighting terrorism with the international community and promoting its perpetrators at home was bound to be short-lived and fraught with immense costs for his own country. Now the Pakistani media is pointing out that the strategy of "running with the hare and hunting with the hounds" has lost its breath. How could he fight the jehadi forces at one place and promote and protect the same forces at another. On his Kashmir strategy, a senior Pakistani journalist has said: "Although our generals have yet to swallow this bitter pill, the fact is that Kashmir cannot be liberated by force". It is therefore advisable for Gen. Musharraf, if he wishes to keep South Asia free from conflicts, that he shows courage to end the instruments of terrorism in Kashmir. This will open possibilities of constructive and cooperative engagement between India and Pakistan. It will also help him deal with his real domestic challenge of curbing effectively the destructive and dangerous forces of jehad at home.

There is no doubt that Kashmir is an important issue between India and Pakistan and India must walk half the way to once again engage with Pakistan for the resolution of this issue in a tranquil atmosphere sans terror. One of the basic steps in this direction is to candidly deal with the misgivings and alienations of our own people in Kashmir. The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has been taking some steps in this direction but unfortunately he lets his cohorts frequently change the interlocutors and the policy postures. There is an urgent need to move on the political front to sort out issues related to the nature and extent of the autonomy. The autonomy report was prepared by the ruling party's coalition partner and it has also been endorsed by the elected legislature of Jammu and Kashmir. The Constitution of India is inherently accommodative as is evident in Articles 371(A) to 371(I) that make special provisions for the States of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh etc. There is no reason, therefore, to believe that whatever applies to one State must be applied to the rest. In saying this I am not suggesting that the wheel of history be turned back full circle but surely some basic aspirations and frustrations of the people can be met through dialogue and in a spirit of accommodation. It would be advisable for the Union Government not to let the BJP's philosophies in this regard prevail over the national interest.

The coming elections in Jammu and Kashmir provide an excellent opportunity to the Central Government to show its political resolve to address the question of alienation of the Kashmiri people particularly when Mr. Powell has asked Gen. Musharraf to ensure that these elections are free from cross-border terrorism and externally instigated sabotage.

The Prime Minister has promised that the elections will be transparently free and fair. These have not only to be free and fair but also seen to be so, both by the people of the State as well as, and this is even more important, the international community. According to the media, the Election Commission had at one stage said that there would be no bar on any prospective observers', including foreign nationals and the foreign media, access to the polling stations, except of course that such persons will not have, nor may claim, any official status or recognition. The presence of credible observers will ensure transparency and acceptability of the results to the world. We have to understand that if anything goes wrong regarding the credibility of the elections, neither the Kashmiri people nor the international community will take it lightly. It is interesting to see the opinion of the enlightened civil society and the Pakistani media.

The editorial of the Daily Times of Lahore says, "the holding of elections, especially the Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir, should be the necessary prelude to the initiation of the bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan. It is very obviously in India's interest to hold discussions with credible interlocutors from the Kashmiri side whether the subject to the discussed be described as devolution of powers or greater autonomy. An election, which foreigners and especially the international media are free to observe — just as they would elections elsewhere in India — is without doubt the proper mode for identifying such interlocutors".

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