Pakistan’s talk of ceasefire notwithstanding, there are several factors that will stand in the way of resolving the Kashmir issue
Rajen Harshé | June 21, 2018
The declaration communicated through the director general of military operations (DGMO) of Pakistan and India on May 29, 2018, to implement the ceasefire agreement of 2003 between the two countries in “letter and spirit” has opened up an opportunity to restore peace in the disturbed Kashmir valley. Indeed, the positive atmosphere generated by the 2003 agreement had not merely cleared the decks for opening up of the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad and the Poonch-Rawalkot routes between the two countries but also allowed India to fence the Line of Control (LoC). More recently, the Pakistani army has said there’s no space for war with India.
However, in spite of the ceasefire agreement, after 2008, and especially during the last two years, there have been repeated violations of the LoC in Kashmir. If the LoC is for all practical purposes treated as the de facto international border, then approximately 980 incidences of ceasefire violations have been reported so far in 2018 and there were 860 in 2017. In addition, there is also the actual ground position line (AGPL) that currently divides Indian and Pakistani forces on the Siachen glacier. So far, constant shelling and firing across the border by Pakistan has led to the loss of hundreds of civilian lives in the border districts. Much property has been damaged too.
Indo-Pak ties began to deteriorate steeply after the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) attacked an army base in Uri and killed 19 Indian soldiers on September 18, 2016. In response, India launched surgical strikes, quite successfully, on the launching pads of terrorist outfits in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) on September 29, 2016. It also moved ahead to isolate Pakistan internationally. A favourable response to India’s initiative from the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member-states such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka led to the cancellation of the SAARC summit scheduled for November 2016 in Islamabad. Although the current bilateral initiative to normalise the LoC appears to be a positive step, maintaining peace at the borders is going to be a challenging task. Pakistan’s fragile polity, the growing menace of Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism in India, the overall atmosphere of mistrust between the two countries and the acute alienation of some sections of Kashmiri youth will obstruct peace-building processes.
Pakistan’s fragile polity has always alternated between civilian and military regimes. Even if civilian supremacy over the military is gradually getting institutionalised after the ouster of the Pervez Musharraf regime in 2008, the military still plays an overwhelmingly dominant role in Pakistan’s polity. Till recently a constant tussle for supremacy between democratically elected Nawaz Sharif regime (2013-17) and the praetorians of the army offered evidence of the same. Irrespective of this tussle, military as well as civilian regimes have always taken full advantage of Pakistan’s strategic location. With the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan became a frontline state in the new Cold War. Consequently, the US and Saudi Arabia poured arms and money into Pakistan, which in turn sheltered Afghan refugees and harboured and trained about 1,00,000 militants/mujahideen. Eventually, it was the mujahideen who forced the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in 1988. In the 1990s, Pakistan exploited the chaotic political conditions in Afghanistan and actively supported the Taliban regime (1996-2001).
Paradoxically, Pakistan, once again, became a frontline state and the US’s ally in the global war on terror after 9/11. In return, from 2002 to 2017, the US gave more than $33 billion in aid to Pakistan.
However, in the process of lending its soil to external powers and taking the responsibility of training Islamic militants to wage holy wars, Pakistan began to face serious problems of governance, emanating from skewed and uneven development. Gross neglect of Baluchistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and most rural parts have impacted overall development.
Consequently, the political process in Pakistan has been characterised by inter-province, inter-ethnic and intra-religious tensions. To cap it all, the predominance of the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), together with the mushrooming of terrorist outfits, have kept civilian regimes on edge.
Pakistan has for expedient reasons maintained it is committed to fighting terrorism, but over the years, it has also emerged as the hub of terrorism institutionalised through what has come to be known as the ‘deep state’. Unequivocal condemnations of acts of terror have been rare because its military and the ISI have been guilty of supporting terrorist activities of outfits such as LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). Afghanistan and India have had to bear the brunt of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. In order to reduce India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan has provided safe haven to radical Islamic groups such as the Afghan Taliban and its Haqqani branch. Pakistan has also been supporting them with weapons and intelligence because it has often banked on Taliban regaining formal political power to ensure its own stability. Likewise, the role of terrorism and terrorist outfits has always been potent enough to impede any peaceful settlement of Indo-Pak ties.
The Kashmir question continues to be at the heart of strained ties between India and Pakistan. India has not been able handle, effectively, the disturbed youth, protracted internal disturbances and the frequent breakdown of the law and order in Kashmir in the last three decades. In order to ‘liberate’ Kashmir from India, Pakistan has set up terrorist camps in PoK. Leaders of terrorist outfits, such as Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), and the founder of LeT have consistently mobilised youth in Kashmir as well as in Pakistan, all in the name of ‘freeing’ Kashmir from India. The LeT sprang up with the support and funding from Al Qaeda, which was then led by Osama bin Laden. As the largest terrorist outfit in South Asia, the LeT has been held responsible for the attack on Indian parliament in 2001, the Mumbai train attack of July 2006 and Mumbai attack of 26/11 that killed 164 people. By now, LeT has been designated a global terrorist outfit and banned by major powers including the US, UK and India in 2001, Australia in 2003 and the European Union in 2010. The United Nations brought it among the listed terrorist outfits in 2008. By formally banning the LeT in 2002 and later its new avatar, the JuD, in 2018, Pakistan has only paid lip service to its alleged commitment to eradicate terrorism. The US, having put Hafeez Saeed on the list of most wanted terrorists, had announced an award of $10 million on him in April 2012. Furthermore, in August 2017, the Trump administration offered aid to Pakistan with strings. Accordingly, Pakistan could access aid worth $255 million only if it had taken concrete steps to counter terrorism in Afghanistan. Trump also appealed to India to enhance its developmental role in Afghanistan. Despite president Trump’s admonishment of Pakistan for supporting terrorist groups and growing international pressure through the United Nations (UN) on Pakistan to contain terrorism, Hafiz Saeed has been, generally, moving freely in Pakistan with tacit state support and his activities are steadily becoming a part of mainstream politics.
Like the LeT, the JeM, with roots in the Deobandi terrorist organisations like the Harkat-ul-Mujahidin (HuM) of the late 1990s, was another deadly terrorist organisation committed to the ‘liberation’ of Kashmir. Both HuM and JeM had full backing from the ISI. In 1999, the HuM had hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 from Kathmandu to Delhi to Kandahar and had slit the throat of one of the hostages. In order to ensure safe release of the hostages, India agreed to the HuM demands and released three deadly terrorists. The HuM, in its new avatar as the JeM, was not merely supported by the ISI but was firmly aligned with Taliban and the Al Qaeda before it was banned in 2002. Subsequently, the JeM resurfaced under different names. In 2016, immediately after prime minister Narendra Modi’s informal visit to Pakistan, the JeM is suspected to have attacked the Pathankot military air base in India with the support of Pakistan’s military, although Pakistan denied offering such support. What is more, Hafiz Saeed has links with Hurriyat and terrorist leaders such as Sayed Salahuddin, who leads terrorist outfit Hizbul Mujahidin from Kashmir. People in Kashmir and Pakistan also publicly celebrated the ‘martyrdom’ of Burhan Wani, a young terrorist from Kashmir who died in an encounter in July 2016. Wani’s death inspired 35 young men to join terrorist outfits in Kashmir itself.
Besides, there are two significant problems that could further obstruct normalisation of Indo-Pakistan ties. First, the terrorist outfits in Pakistan are well connected with multinational terrorist organisation such as Al Qaeda, which has been a major non-state actor in world politics. Hence, ‘liberating’ Kashmir has become a cry of the entire radicalised Islamic groups. Evidently, India has to contain state sponsored terrorism from Pakistan as well as radicalised Islamic forces from the Muslim world while defending its sovereignty over Kashmir. Second, a piece of land in PoK, adjacent to Aksai Chin, has been ceded by Pakistan to China. Besides, China’s initiatives to build One Belt One Road (OBOR) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Pakistani territory have firmed up the durable ties between the two countries. Since the OBOR is likely to pass via PoK, India has expressed reservations about it in no uncertain terms. Although India treats Kashmir strictly as a bilateral issue, it cannot remain indifferent to China’s presence in Kashmir.
In a word, apparently the process of normalisation of Indo-Pakistan ties has commenced but it has to counter byzantine complexities before attaining any noteworthy success.
Harshe, a former vice-chancellor of the Central University of Allahabad, is president of the GB Pant Institute of Social Science, Allahabad.
(The article appears in the June 30, 2018 issue)
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