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Kashmir: India’s Gateway to Greatness

How does Kashmir affect the development of South Asia?

January 9, 2002

How does Kashmir affect the development of South Asia?

How can one aspire for international leadership when one is not a leader in one’s own backyard? For India to become a great power, it needs the recognition and support of crucial states in its region — and Pakistan is one of them.

If Pakistan were to become an ally of India, not only would India be more secure vis-à-vis China, but it would also find it easier to realize its goal to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. India would have greater international influence, which always translates into economic and material benefits.

All of these considerations underscore why a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute is so vital for India. But such a turn of events would not only make India an important global power. South Asia, including Pakistan, would become more secure in the process. And the resulting lower defense budgets would mean more trade and more prosperity for the region as a whole.

But the Kashmir dispute has persisted in a rather intractable fashion for over 54 years now. It has stunted growth in the region and limited the scope of Indian influence.

It all goes back to the days of independence and Hari Singh, the Hindu Maharaja of the predominantly Muslim state Kashmir. In 1947, Hari Singh saw himself forced to join the Indian union in order to secure his power. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru — whose family ancestors hailed from Kashmir — was only too willing to help out. India sent airborne troops to aid the Maharaja against Pakistani supported insurgents.

Since then both Pakistan and the Muslims of Kashmir felt that the partition was unfair. It did not help matters that Nehru retracted on earlier promises for a plebiscite.

The dispute over Kashmir festered for decades and then erupted when Kashmiris — clearly with the help of Pakistan — launched a military insurgency against India in 1986. Since then, India has used its military to fight the uprising and keep Kashmir within its fold, often committing brutal human rights violations against Kashmiri Muslims.

But with the growth of the Mujahideen phenomenon and the emergence of the Arab-Afghans, Kashmiris have benefited from the support of Muslim fighters hailing from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Arab world. India has responded by accusing Pakistan of facilitating a campaign of terror against India.

In the last ten years, the two nations have engaged in several low-intensity conflicts. The struggle between India’s military in Kashmir and Kashmiri militants (and their international allies) has also continued as a corollary war between the two regional nuclear powers.

India’s present belligerence, in response to the terrorist attacks on India’s parliament on December 13, 2001, is partly designed to make the most of the current global “no tolerance of terror mood.” India is using the event to coerce Pakistan into taking strong steps against Kashmiri militant groups within Pakistan. It is a risky proposition. If India pushes too hard, its use of coercive diplomacy could trigger an atomic reaction.

India must find a diplomatic route out of this military hole that it is digging for itself. After all, even the biggest on India’s side realize that Pakistan will prefer to escalate, even use nuclear weapons, rather than surrender to India. For this reason, war is not a real option.

Plus, even a war that does not escalate and remains a limited conventional war is still bad for India. India’s present economy would be badly hurt and its high-tech leap potential badly stunted if the country had to sustain large-scale military operations indefinitely.

And yet, despite all these gloomy considerations, there is a window of opportunity for diplomacy to prevail. Pakistan under President Musharraf after the September 11 attacks clearly is not the same obscure Pakistan that was a close ally of Taliban in the west — and of Kashmiri militants in the East.

George Bush’s war on terror has tipped the balance of power inside Pakistan in favor of General Pervez Musharraf and his secular nationalist agenda. Pakistan, the only true ally of the Taliban made an about turn — and became the most important U.S. ally in its war in Afghanistan.

Pervez Musharraf was able to make a case for national interest and so far managed to contain the Islamic militias within Pakistan. Still, the assassination of the brother of Pakistan’s interior minister, who is working against religious extremists within Pakistan back in December, only shows how dangerous the path ahead is.

Yet, to some extent Musharraf was successful in creating a wide cleavage between the international agenda of radical Islamists — establishing Islamic states and helping Muslim separatists — and Pakistan’s national interest — security, internal stability and development.

Musharraf’s successful containment of militant Islamists in Pakistan has enabled him to respond more pragmatically, and less rhetorically, to Indian demands.

India has demanded that Pakistan not only take action against the two groups — Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) — which it suspects were responsible for the attacks. India also wants action taken against a list of terrorist groups and individuals which it has given to Pakistan.

Musharraf’s response has been unprecedented. He claims that he has frozen the resources of these groups and he has also placed JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar and LeT founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed under arrest. President Mushrraf has also arrested over 50 members of these militias.

And most importantly, he has ordered ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which has been a major player in the creation and nourishment of Islamic militias, to break its ties with Kashmiri groups. These are major steps and they are indicative of Pakistan’s new-found desire to shut down violence emanating from groups within.

Pakistan has never before acted in any fashion that would remotely treat Kashmiri Mujahideen as anything but freedom fighters. It is clear that Pakistan is willing to deal with the issue very differently than it did in the past.

Musharraf has a reputation for being secular — and may be interested in reducing the growing power of Muslim militias in Pakistan for his own reasons. After the events in Afghanistan, he surely is not interested in becoming a safe haven for Al-Qaeda type organizations that specialize in provoking powerful nations to attack and bombard their hosts.

In addition, President Musharraf was able to turn his back on the Taliban — so far without any lasting domestic repercussions. Perhaps he is now feeling emboldened enough to rescue Pakistan’s Kashmir-India policy from the clutches of pro-Kashmir and anti-India radicals in his own country.

All of this adds up to an opportune moment for India. India must work with, rather than against, Musharraf to fight terrorism. It must give diplomacy a serious chance — and use the new nationalist agenda of Pervez Musharraf to resolve the problem of terrorism and also the problem of Kashmir.

But it must also realize that it cannot walk the path towards greatness by trampling on the legitimate aspirations of its own people. It will have to address the concerns of Kashmiris more honestly. Ultimately, India stands to gain more by resolving the Kashmir issue than by keeping it on the boil.

The day the nuclear threshold was reached in South Asia, that day all military solutions to the Kashmiri issue evaporated. The gateway to greater international influence for India is through Kashmir. The sooner New Delhi realizes this, the quicker it will get there.