Obama should not surrender to jehadi blackmail on Kashmir (Comment)
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may have overstated his case when he said that George W.Bush was loved in India. But there was a reason for the accolade. Bush was the only American president who understood India's special place as a multicultural society in the midst of dictatorships and hobbling democracies.
Not surprisingly, there is a sense of unease in India as to whether Barack Obama will show the same appreciation of India's distinctiveness or whether he will return to the old American, and Western, policy of equating India with Pakistan and trying to bind India with routine restrictions of the nuclear order.
The signs so far have indicated more of the second approach. The US envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, for instance, has echoed the earlier observations of the Western world about Kashmir being a nuclear flashpoint. Before she compared Kashmir with other 'hot spots' like the Balkans, Liberia, East Timor, et al, there were reports about the possibility of the Obama administration appointing an emissary for South Asia.
What these initiatives underline is a revival of the belief in Washington that a solution to Pakistan's jehadi adventures lies in 'solving' the Kashmir problem. Considering that the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, also said that Kashmir provided a 'call to arms' to the terrorists, it is not only in the US that such an attitude prevails.
Needless to say Pakistan will be delighted with this approach. Since India believes that Islamabad has been sponsoring terrorism, overly and covertly, to blackmail the West in order to secure concessions on Kashmir, Pakistan cannot but welcome the change of guard in America.
The same satisfaction has also been expressed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the Pakistan-based terrorist organisations, which has said that it may call off its jehad if there is a solution to the Kashmir 'problem'. Pervez Musharraf, too, had said while addressing the UN General Assembly a few years ago that Islamabad could use its influence to restrain the 'freedom fighters' of Kashmir if there was a solution. Obviously, Pakistan's links with the 'non-state actors' are not so hidden after all.
Although Bill Clinton partly agreed with India's case on Kashmir when he said that Pakistan must understand that borders could not be redrawn in blood, how far this assessment is shared by the new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is not clear.
The West's perception of the Kashmir issue is shaped by the belief that India runs a repressive regime there and that all will be well if self-determination is allowed. The fact that there isn't much 'self-determination' in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and that the present democracy in Pakistan itself is a mockery considering that the army still runs the show is forgotten. Nawaz Sharif's characterisaton of the Asif Ali Zardari government as a dictatorship will probably be seen in the West as overblown oppositional rhetoric.
What the US and the West do not seem to understand is the fateful consequences of a surrender to jehadi blackmail on Kashmir. First, any such step will at one stroke bring the spectre of Talibanisation from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border right up to India. Far from dousing the flames of terrorism, any retreat by New Delhi will be a huge morale booster to the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, one of whose first tasks may well be to close down all education facilities for women in Kashmir.
Secondly, the threat of the religious extremists will not be only to India but also to Pakistan, where the few tottering civil institutions will face the danger of being subsumed by harsh Islamic tenets.
Thirdly, it is unclear how true is the belief that the Pakistan Army will be better able to fight the terrorists in the north-west if there is a 'settlement' in Kashmir. Instead, the Islamic elements in the force and in Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who were encouraged during Zia-ul Huq's dictatorship, would be as emboldened as the jehadis by any sign of India's humiliation and become even more defiant of the West.
The recent offer made by the terrorists that they would fight side by side with the Pakistan Army in the event of a war with India would then become a reality as the distinction between the two disappears.
In India, a setback in Kashmir will spell the ruin of any secular government. The poisonous fruits of the bitter harvest will be reaped by the Hindu fundamentalist forces which, in turn, would boost the growth of Islamic militants. The resultant communal conflagration will mean the end of India as a multicultural society.
However, in its present belligerent anti-Pakistani mood, India is unlikely to yield any ground on Kashmir. Instead, it may point out that the basic reason why the West does not understand the implications of its simplistic line on Kashmir is because none of the countries there lives next door to an epicentre of terrorism, where an army indoctrinated with Islamism has long been smarting under the two defeats it suffered under Ayub Khan's and Yahya Khan's dictatorships in 1965 and 1971 and also during Musharraf's Kargil misadventure in 1999.
As Manmohan Singh has pointed out, India's very pluralism and democracy are a threat to the jehadi worldview and army dictatorship. If Pakistan were to accept the prime minister's earlier offer of making borders irrelevant, it would have meant the slow infusion of liberalism into Pakistan, complete with girls' schools and video shops.
The terrorists and the army in Pakistan cannot allow that. Their only objective, therefore, is to incorporate Kashmir into the terror heartland. The Obama government must avoid this trap.
(24.01.2009-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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