Powell Mission and The Kashmir Issue

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Washington: Two different CNN news strips announcing US Secretary of State Powell’s visit to Pakistan and India have regularly appeared on the bottom of the television screen. One reads that the “Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves for Pak and India to deal with escalating tensions ” and the other “the Secretary will visit Pakistan and India with the goal to keep India and Pakistan tension from complicating the Afghan-US campaigné” In an early October television interview Powell himself said “I will, hopefully, have an opportunity to speak to both leaders about the continued need for restraint, for them to begin dialogue … I will remind them of their responsibilities as states that do possess nuclear weapons.” Although issues including the future of Afghanistan and the assistance package relevant to the post-September 11 phase of Pak-US cooperation will be discussed , Washington has been keen to frame the Powell trip as one primarily dedicated to pacifying two quarrelsome neighbors. It is the rising political and military temperature over Kashmir, as projected by India, that the US administration believes can be lowered through Powell’s intervention. In Washington there is nervousness over the possibility of a conflict erupting between the two members of the US led anti-terrorism coalition.

Many in Washington hope that Powell will succeed in “keeping the lid on” over Kashmir. It is from Pakistan that the US administration appears to expect moves that will help to keep “the lid on.” The underlying assumption is that Pakistan is responsible for the escalation and hence the onus of preventing an eruption is on Pakistan. Expectations from Pakistan come through in comments like exercise of restraint by Pakistan is required, that President Musharraf should recognize that “side shows” like a skirmish over Kashmir will create problems for the US’s mission” in Afghanistan, Vajpayee needs Musharraf’s help since the October 1 attack on the State Assembly in Srinagar has generated too much political heat, that Musharraf should know that aggression will not work, that Musharraf has to control the situation Indian Held Kashmir, aggression in the Kashmir theatre will not be to anyone’s advantage.

The significance for Pakistan in the framing and to some extent the goal setting of the Powell trip is that both the framing and the partial goal setting is a response to many weeks of incessant Indian complaining. This latest round of vigorous complaining against Pakistan began post-September 11 after Pakistan announced its decision to join the US-led anti-terrorism coalition. The central message of the complaining Indians is simple; ‘Pakistan is a country that promotes terrorism in Afghanistan, in Kashmir and in India, we can provide you with evidence, Pakistan should therefore be targeted by the anti-terrorism coalition Instead of letting it be in forefront of an anti-terrorist coalition.’ At home, abroad and especially in Washington, the Indian media and Indian officials are systematically relaying this message.

This campaign began with non-stop televising of programs on Indian television channels showing footage of “terrorist camps” operating inside Pakistan, establishing connection between the December 1999 hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane which landed in Kandahar and between the al-Qaida group, claiming evidence exists to prove that there was money transfer from an al-Qaida member to one of the three hijackers involved in the December 1999 hijacking, repeated airing of interviews “militants”, captured by the Indian forces in Indian Held Kashmir, describing the involvement of ISI’s involvement in the training “militants” and sending them into Indian Held Kashmir, ‘revealing’ the link between Indian Muslims supposedly responsible for bloody Hindu Muslim riots in various Indian states. The themes pushed through this Indian campaign are hence multiple. Woven together they place the Pakistani state as a major player in the terrorist camp. Interesting even the Indian Prime Minister has personally entered the fray to state that there was a similarity between the December 1999 hijacking of the Indian plane and the September 11 blowing up of the four US planes.

India has considered it an opportune moment to press for action by the international coalition against the Kashmiri freedom fighters .In recent weeks Delhi has deployed all its diplomatic and political skills to convince Washington to declare the legitimate armed struggle in Indian Held Kashmir as a terrorist campaign. Also Delhi argues that since Pakistan harbors terrorists Pakistan should be expelled from the international anti-terrorism coalition. India has indeed sought US involvement in the Kashmir issue; insofar as it would ‘get India off-the-hook’ in Kashmir by declaring armed Kashmiri movement as a terrorist movement. It exposes the inconsistency of the Indian position on Kashmir.

Indian Home Minister L.K..Advani in his October 1 comments that “for the common Indian terrorism is associated with Pakistan, for him and the government of India also Pakistan is a terrorist state” leave no doubt India’s current goal of putting pressure on Washington to ‘rein in’ Pakistan over Kashmir. Also buoyed by Washington’s move to put HUM on the post-September 11 terrorist list it hopes Washington canbe convinced to categorize other movements including Jaish-I-Mohammad and Lashkar-I-Tayaaba as terrorist organizations. This would force Pakistan to shut down their offices, restrict their movements and freeze their accounts. Delhi also wants Pakistan out of the coalition. “We are going to tell Powell that the US has made the problem a part of its solution (by including Pakistan in the coalition), which we will not accept as long as Pakistan supports cross-border terrorism in Kashmir,” a senior Indian foreign ministry official told AFP last week.

Delhi’s complaining campaign peaked with the Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s letter to the US President George. The Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh arrived in Washington early October with the letter. The letter written after the attack on the State Assembly in Srinagar which left 34 dead stated that “There is a limit to the patience of the people of Indiaé Ironically it comes only a day after the president of Pakistan announced on television that Pakistan has no groups operating in its territoryéIncidents of this kind raise questions for our security , which I have to address in our supreme national interest.” Also in its effort to popularize this theme of Pakistan “a weak state and a perpetrator of terrorism deserving of punishment ” the Indian government was also assisted by three defense analysts including K. Subramanyan and two retired generals. This team has been giving talks at the Washington-based influential think étanks and also briefing various branches of the US administration including the State department and the National Security Council.

Interestingly true to an established pattern of a major attack causing many civilian deaths coinciding with important events like the beginning of Pak-India Foreign secretary level talks late 1997, President Clinton’s February 2000 visit , the conclusion of the Agra summit taking place, the October 1 attack on the State Assembly in Srinagar took place .This was the very day when the Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh arrived in the US carrying a letter from his Prime Minister. The attack on the Assembly which left over thirty people dead was widely criticized including by Pakistan. Still indirectly all fingers pointed towards Islamabad. This helped India to build its case more effectively, the owning up by Jaish-I-Mohammad’s group and subsequently denying responsibility for the attack all worked in India’s favor. Also ever since September 11 there was a slowing down of the military aspect of the freedom struggle. By all accounts since the Assembly was not in session only the support staff busy cleaning the Assembly were killed. Mostly Muslims were killed. It is difficult to conclusively say who was behind the attack on the State Assembly yet the logical question would be who gains from such a move ? Certainly neither Pakistan nor the Kashmiri freedom fighters.

Rather amusing has also been what can easily be categorized as a hijacking drama, which took place after the attack on the Assembly. Indian media and government first announce that a plane was hijacked after take off from Bombay and was being brought to Delhi. Subsequently the word from the government was that there was no hijacking! The question however remains as to who planned the hijacking and why? Who failed to pull it off? All these require answers from the Indian government. Clearly India’s effort has been to bring a negative focus on Pakistan.

Invoking the precedent-setting action by the US to initiate sustained military attacks against country in which terrorists are allegedly harbored , India too appears keen to follow the US and indeed the Israeli examples maintains it will do the same. Arguing in favor of a cross-LOC strikes G.Parthasarthy a former ambassador to Pakistan questioned “if the US can travel thousands of miles to take out terrorist camps I don’t see why India shouldn’t do so when our cities are bombed and legislatures attacked.” Senior Indian officials Indians have also reportedly informed the US administration that India would not hesitate to cross the LOC to carry out military strikes hitting at sanctuaries located in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian Minister in his meetings with Bush,Vice-President Dick Cheney, Powell and the National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice sought urgent action against the Kashmiri freedom fighters and Pakistan.

All these assertions and steps taken by India make ample sense for India in the immediate context. While remaining defensive on the ground, taking heavy casualties and facing acute alienation Delhi was satisfied with its efforts to establish a nexus between international terrorism, Pakistan and the Kashmiri freedom struggle. For this purpose alone Delhi has established bilateral anti-terrorism groups with the US and Russia. With China and Iran too the Indians were cultivating commonality of interest over the terrorist issue. Clearly in the present scenario with Pakistan a key member of the international anti-terrorism coalition the bottom has fallen out of India’s painstakingly developed Kashmir policy. Also all international pressures on Pakistan, at least in the short run have eased off. In such a scenario Delhi has used all diplomatic and political tools at its disposal to discredit Pakistan by establishing its “terrorist” credentials.

How would Washington respond to such an Indian campaign. This is the key issue. From Pakistan’s perspective the Indian ‘doings’ come as no surprise. How would Washington respond to the India’s complaints and demand list against Washington’s newly found ally ,will be instructive for Islamabad. This indeed is the first test of whether there is sensitivity in Washington to Pakistan’s legitimate security interests or will it relapse back into the old pro-Indian position of lecturing Pakistan to discontinue supporting “terrorist” groups inside Indian Held Kashmir.

Islamabad must also recognize that US sees India as a long-term ally with intrinsic strategic value of its own. It is not a country whose importance is primarily linked to what happens around it. Given India’s economic and military assets its value as a partner is therefore not of a derivative nature. This inherent value of India would compel the US to respond to the incessant Indian complains against Pakistan. Naturally India’s demand that Pakistan be excluded from the coalition is will not be entertained Pakistan’s role in aspects of the anti-terrorist operation. However India has managed an assurance from the Secretary of state about dealing with India-focused terrorism. Following his October 2 meeting with the Indian Foreign minister Powell emphasized that “We are going after terrorism in a comprehensive way not just in the present instance of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden but terrorism as it affects nations around the world, to include the kind of terrorism that affects India.” On other occasions Powell has refused to be drawn into questions about Pakistan and its alleged support for “terrorism.”

However whether the Bush administration can qualify as being objective on the Kashmir issue will depend on how Powell addresses this issue during his trip to India and Pakistan. In formulating his position the Secretary of State must recognize four factors: one that India through its anti-Pakistan rhetoric and not Pakistan has attempted to escalate the tension in the region; two that India has seized on the US anti-terrorism drive hoping to press for its expansion to include freedom fighters in Indian Held Kashmir who it qualifies as “terrorists” New Delhi accuses Islamabad of harboring terrorists; three that despite the provocative anti-Pakistan propaganda emanating from Delhi the Pakistani President confidently picked up the phone to condemn the October 1 killing of 30 people in the bombing of the State Assembly in Srinagar, to invite Vajpayee to visit Pakistan to resume bilateral dialogue bomb invite India for a dialogue and to suggest that both countries should exercise restraint given the international community’s efforts to deal with the Afghanistan issue; Four that at the Agra summit Pakistan demonstrated unprecedented flexibility on the Kashmir issue by not referring to the U Security Council resolutions hoping to encourage India to engage substantively on the issue. But India refused.

Given these factors it would be wrong of Washington to establish parity between Pakistan and India in their post September 11 conduct. While Pakistan has exercised restraint, Delhi has been overly aggressive in its posturing towards Pakistan. The India propaganda war began immediately after September 11 culminated immediately after the attack on the State Assembly. That attack provided Delhi an opportunity to forcefully make its case in the letter he wrote to Bush.

Indian moves like threatening to take military action against Pakistan and by pushing for Pakistan’s expulsion from the coalition against terrorism are clearly aimed at scaring the US. Some skirmishes along the LOC India does not have the nerve to undertake a major military operation cross the LOC, it understands that Pakistan possesses a nuclear deterrent which India never wants used in a war theatre. On the coalition issue India cannot have a major say. The US President has repeatedly said “the mission will define the coalition and not the other way around. At this juncture Pakistan is indispensable for the US. India’s propaganda cannot alter this. Infact despite all the complaining India itself will never walk away from the coalition. Washington should stand firm against such black mailing. By ignoring India’s incessant complaining US should call the Indian bluff. By engaging with it Washington does get deeply influenced by it. Powell ‘s contribution canbe to encourage Pakistan and India to undertake three immediate steps which would help to de-escalate on the military front. One to station UN monitors along the LOC to check cross-LOC movements, allow third party mediation not only when India believes it canbe to its advantage but when India and Pakistan are sincere about finding a political solution to the Kashmir problem and three resumption of a bilateral dialogue, with Kashmiri participation, on the Kashmir issue.

The only credible role the US Secretary of State can play within the Pak-India context is to reiterate the obvious. That the international community’s expectation from India is that engage in a tripartite dialogue with Pakistan and the Kashmiri representatives to settle the internationally recognized Kashmir dispute. Vague talk of ‘pressing India and Pakistan to reconcile their differences” will not advance the cause of peace. More importantly continued attempt by the “international community” to indulge India by helping it to maintain the existing status quo will perpetuate the festering wound of Kashmir.

There will also be the temptation within US policy making circles to follow the old bureaucratic policy pursued by the US State Department since the fifties of viewing India as the key player in South Asia and hence seeing South Asia from the Indian prism. The lessons of recent history do dispel the notion of equating military and economic might with victory when such might is confronted with an enraged people’s uprising against illegitimate and repressive might. The 50-year-old unresolved Palestinian issue is a powerful reminder that military might alone cannot always prove decisive.

If Washington continues to view Kashmir from the Indian prism it will have contributed towards the Kashmir issue becoming the Palestine of South Asia, India handed down a carte blanche over its handling of Kashmir, encouraging it to dismiss its international obligations as spelt out in the resolution of the fifties and subsequently the UNSC resolution 1172 of June 1998 calling upon Pak-India to settle the Kashmir dispute. Above all India will become the Israel of South Asia; flouting all laws to live by the rule of the jungleémight is right. Only fortunately a nuclear armed Pakistan and the absence of a Sadaat will continuously challenge India’s hegemonic designs. Peace will become a casualty as India pursues its ambitions in the region.

Any expectation that Musharraf will settle for the containment hence status quo of the Kashmir issue as opposed to working for its solution is unrealistic. A unilateral compromise on Kashmir will not be acceptable to any section of the ruling establishment. Kashmir is after all about a peoples’ right and about Pakistan’s national security. It is these considerations that have compelled successive Pakistani government to not sign a “Camp David Accord” with India. Any government that does not deserve to survive. What is required on Kashmir is a settlement of the issue which takes into account the legitimate concerns of the Kashmiris ,of Pakistan and of India. This must be Washington’s bottom-line on Kashmir.

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