Kashmir: Mounting Cost of Over-Commitment

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While the Musharraf government has persistently supported militancy in Kashmir and acknowledged the support in public, increasingly it is showing nervousness from inside. Recent statements of the Interior Minister clearly indicate the discomfort the government feels over the cost of militancy to Pakistan. The Minster did not shed any light on the next step he might recommend or carry out, but it is sufficient to reveal the thinking in the government.

It is no secret that most of the political parties, with the exception of Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif and the religious groups, do not support militancy either. Some of these parties oppose Pakistans open support for the militants for their genuine concern of escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan. Others, such as Benazir Bhutto and Altaf Hussain, are doing it either to please India, or out of fear that so-called Jihadi elements may eventually take over the country, eliminating any chances of their ever seeing Pakistan again.

It is no secret either that the American and other western governments have decided to support the Musharraf government for the same very reason: they do not want Pakistan to slide into a political abyss where what they terms as fundamentalists will take over the reigns of a nuclear power.

What is not being discussed and hidden behind over-emphasis on the clash of interests among various interested parties is the psychological, economical and social fallout of the militancy, which seems to be exacting far higher cost from Pakistan then the troubled country can afford.

There is no doubt that militancy, dubbed as Jihad, has become very costly to the Indians, but no one has seriously looked at the balance sheet to know how it has come to hurt Pakistan, disproportionate to its size and strength. Often it seems that the military in the past has used young armed men of many of these Pakistan-based guerilla factions to carry out its own revenge of many losses to the Indians, without having any long term plan or understanding of where it might lead to.

The revolt, which began in Kashmir, started with home grown political agitation. Soon it turned violent with Kashmiri youth of the Indian-occupied Kashmir taking up firearms. However, the movement really gathered momentum when Pakistan based groups joined in with financial, tactical and material support of the Pakistan army.

Gradually, not only has there been an increase in the number of militants, they have become ruthless in the process as well. Many of them kill the Indian soldiers, chop their heads off and bring them in a sack to show off their kill. While the Indian government is one of the least trustworthy one around, its complaint of mutilation of the bodies is not entirely without substance.

While India has suffered in Kashmir, it is engaged in a massive plan to terrorize Pakistanis living within the nations porous borders. The culprits of bomb blasts are hard to catch because there is no shortage of friends of India within Pakistan, often associated with the disgruntled political parties. With added dimension of events in the neighboring Afghanistan, it is not difficult for a traditional foe like India to make a case of terrorism against Pakistan.

Regionally, the Jihadi side of the militancy plays in the hands of those countries, which see it as a threat. Central Asian republics, China and even Iran do not feel comfortable with the rising influence of these groups.

Domestically, the most troublesome aspect of these groups is that they are not made up of educated individuals. They are given traditional training at Madressas, which produce merely foot soldiers: ill equipped to be anything but militants. The spread of gun and drug culture is further exacerbated by the activities of these groups.

Pakistan cannot close its eyes to the mounting cost of this militancy with no end in sight. Had Pakistan been a prosperous country – free from the economic burden it currently carries, such ventures could have made sense. While she has carried out this just campaign against India at great cost, the politicians and their cronies have plundered the nation. Slowly but surely Pakistan is sliding into a social, moral and economic crisis where even its existence and often reason of its foundation is being challenged.

Fighting for the rights of the oppressed is our Islamic duty, but even the basics of Islam suggests strengthening the house before engaging the hostile neighbor much bigger in size and strength. Pakistan came to aid when Kashmiris took to the streets and took up arms, but she has become over-committed to the uprising.

India is too big to be bogged down as a country with the insurgency in Kashmir. Let there be no mistake about it. On the other hand, Pakistan is too small to stave off the consequences of even low level warfare, which India has engaged Pakistan in, on the borders and inside. In absence of political discourse and vibrant institutions, people with hungry stomach are fast losing any interest in Kashmir. The trend in the smaller provinces is very obvious for all to see.

That, however, does not mean that Pakistan should stop supporting the political uprising in Kashmir. It is just, prudent and affordable and perhaps more effective when the uprisings is mostly indigenous with Pakistan playing a quite role, limiting its support to moral, political and humanitarian context of the conflict. The indications are that Kashmiris will not accept any compromise, which will leave them in the Indian union and would continue to resist any solution. While this struggle goes on, Pakistan should set its own house in order and that can begin with bringing the plunderers to justice and prisons, holding elections without those parties still hanging on to their convicted leaders, and last but not least, reign in the militants.

Nuclear deterrent is valuable as long as it stays a deterrent. However, India has many cards under its sleeve, which she can employ without ever going to an all out war. While Pakistan can defend herself in a limited or full-scale war, the question is, can she afford such a war? Even after a successful defense, Pakistan would have only survived, not won.

Sometimes the strongest hand is that which is never played.

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