The ceasefire in Kashmir will hold until Gen. Musharraf is done with Afghanistan
Even as the first round of composite dialogue between India and Pakistan has shown little progress on the core contentious issues of cross-border terrorism and the future of Jammu and Kashmir, it is certain that this approach will not be abandoned by Pakistan soon. The ceasefire on the Line of Control will continue to hold, at least until the presidential elections in Afghanistan slated for October 9. Chances are that guns on both side of the divide may remain silent until January 2005, when the new US administration would be sworn in, and President Hamid Karzai’s gamble of not naming his defence minister Muhammad Fahim as one of the two vice-presidents in the coming elections in Afghanistan would have borne results.
There will, however, be a steady spurt in infiltration across the Line of Control to indicate that Islamabad is not too happy with the slow pace of bilateral talks. Gen. Pervez Musharraf, after all, in recent interviews has made his mind on Kashmir clearly known to the world. He wants a final resolution of the Kashmir issue in a maximum time frame of a year or so; bilateral Confidence Building Measures between India and Pakistan must match with progress on the Kashmir issue; and he has implied that Jehadi camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir will shut down only when there is a resolution on the Kashmir issue.
The general’s remarks are noteworthy for two reasons: One, he and not India are setting the pace of bilateral talks. This is because he perceives himself in a position of strength, and importantly, he feels that he would remain so in the months ahead. His assessment is predicated on the fact that India’s military option has been blunted by Operation Parakram when Delhi miserably failed to coerce Islamabad, and internal peace in Jammu and Kashmir is a far cry. Unfortunately, most Indians refuse to see the writing on the wall and live in a make-believe world. For example, a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan writes that India should raise the stakes for Pakistan. How, he is unable to explain convincingly. And two, it is implicit in the Pakistani ruler’s statements that he has the support of the US and China, the two countries which agreed to work together for stability in the sub-continent after the 1998 regional nuclear tests. It is, therefore, certain that Gen. Musharraf will be unsparingly undiplomatic when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 21.
The question is why is Pakistan continuing with the peace process when it is less than satisfied with the progress on the composite dialogue?
The answer is that like a good military commander, Gen. Musharraf has a well marked action plan. His immediate priority is to beat the Al Qaeda in Pakistani tribal areas along the Durand Line with US material support, and to make sure that Washington tells Karzai to align himself completely with the Pakistani ruler. Worse, Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran have been permitted by the UN to vote in Afghanistan’s presidential election. Considering that Afghans living in Pakistan and Pakistanis themselves do not have proper documentation, nothing stops Pakistan from inventing hundreds of thousands of Afghan Pushtuns in Pakistan who would be eligible to vote in Afghanistan. On the one hand, Karzai’s action would beget more bloodletting by warlords during and after the elections. On the other hand, Pakistani Pushtuns’ role in Afghanistan would become pronounced. Both Karzai and the US dependence on Gen. Musharraf would increase exponentially, and Gen. Musharraf would use the US, Nato, the UN and EU forces to his advantage in the coming days when civil war in Afghanistan would intensify. It is a foregone conclusion that Gen. Musharraf is set to gain much more than any of his predecessors: control over the regime in Afghanistan, which will translate into strategic space and enormous other benefits which require little elaboration. Considering the US’ and Gen. Musharraf’s immediate involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistan is doing well by keeping the other front in Kashmir cool. As in the case of Afghanistan, Gen. Musharraf holds the key to peace in Kashmir. The terrorists’ infrastructure in PoK remains intact, almost all terrorists including the so-called Jehadis are under Musharraf’s tight control, the Pakistan-backed Geelani faction has overwhelmed the Hurriyat which is groping for a foothold in Kashmir, and chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is himself on slippery political grounds. Unfortunately, the onus for durable peace in Kashmir is on India and not Pakistan.
On the key twin Indian issues of Siachen and cross-border terrorism, Pakistan has stood its ground rejecting any compromise. Pakistan’s position on demilitarisation of Siachen is predicated on the fact that India is losing more human lives and finances fighting weather, and will continue to do so. Islamabad wants Delhi to pull back its troops to 1972 position. It is another matter that no one knows these positions on ground. In reality, Pakistan has linked the Siachen issue to the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Regarding terrorism, Islamabad maintains that difference between terrorism that it is fighting alongside the US in Afghanistan, and the freedom struggle which it supports in Kashmir. Unfortunately for India, the US endorses Gen. Musharraf’s viewpoint. By making a virtue of necessity, Pakistan is projecting itself as a paragon of peace during the recent bilateral composite dialogue. It is almost certain that Gen. Musharraf feels that in a year or so, he would have a firm control over Afghanistan. After that, he will be set to tackle the India front by calling off the ceasefire there. This is the time he has given India to mutually resolve the Kashmir issue with him. The US will press India on the matter even as Delhi will find it impossible to find a Kashmir solution outside the Constitution.