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Kashmir Today
Real and Shadow Wars

There are few certainties in the miasma of unending violence in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), and the truth is hard to put a finger on. Overwhelmingly, it is the theatrics of each new political statement or posture that defines the popular assessment of the trajectory of events, and the most recent of these has sought to focus on the ‘historic breakthrough’ of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with President and General Pervez Musharraf at New York on September 24, 2004, and the unexpected joint statement issued as a result. The optimist points, equally, to the ‘progress’ that has been made in the negotiation process, the continuing ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC), the confidence building measures agreed upon, and the declining – though still distressing1 – levels of violence in the State.

The enterprise of terror has certainly suffered some reverses over the past three years and this has impacted visibly on J&K. There are, of course, many claimants to the multiple ‘successes’ that are supposed to have contributed to these trends. Indian diplomatic, military and ‘political’ initiatives are all variously touted as factors that have wrought the necessary transformations that have ‘beaten back’ the terrorists and their state sponsors across the border.

The truth, however, is that these trends have been independent of, or even, in cases, in spite of, Indian policy, and are the consequences, primarily, of global developments and their specific impact on Pakistan. This is borne out by the fact that the trends remain ‘secular’, and have persisted despite several phases of alternating ‘escalated tension’ – including the massive military mobilisation of Operation Parakram – and of ‘détente’ between India and Pakistan. At no point during the post-9/11 period have the killing rates in J&K demonstrated any consistent correlation with shifts in Indian policy.

Significantly, moreover, it is crucial to understand that these trends are not unambiguous and do not represent a necessary and permanent reversal of the movements of, and support to, terrorism in J&K. Indeed, a wide and countervailing dynamic is currently unfolding in various theatres across the country, in the region, and globally, and this could create unprecedented vulnerabilities that would lend themselves to exploitation by the sponsors of Pakistan’s proxy war and by various Islamist extremist forces.

As regards Pakistan and the Islamist extremists, it must be clear that there has been, over the intervening years, no change in strategic intent and ideological perspectives or objectives. The changes that have been witnessed are essentially tactical and coerced by the circumstances emerging in the post-9/11 world order.

What emerges, consequently, is a pattern of the calibration of terrorist violence in J&K at volumes that best conform to Pakistan’s transient interests and intent, on the one hand, and its fluctuating capacities, including the scope of ‘deniability’, on the other. Within this context, the ‘cease fire’ along the Line of Control (LoC) and the ‘peace process’ are simply used as instrumentalities to press for a ‘resolution’ of the ‘core issue’ of Kashmir in Pakistan’s favour. Under present circumstances, with a clear ‘victory’ impossible on the ground, rising international intolerance of terrorist adventurism and its state sponsorship, and increasing internal pressures within Pakistan, an extended process of ‘negotiations’, even if it remains no more than a charade, creates the spaces that may yield future opportunities for gain, even as it generates occasions to keep the issue ‘alive’ and in international focus as one of the unresolved and ‘dangerous’ conflicts between ‘nuclear powers’ within a ‘volatile region’. Terrorist activities, within such a tactical framework, are calibrated to the exigencies of both bilateral and international developments, but tend to be held at maximal levels at which ‘credible minimal deniability’ can be maintained.

This naturally implies certain changes in the patterns of terrorist activities. State support by Pakistan to terrorist organizations, and their visible presence and activities on Pakistani soil, have been driven deeper underground; some symbolic – but ineffectual – action has been taken against some of the groups to demonstrate Pakistan’s ‘seriousness’ in ‘tackling terrorism’; cross border movements into J&K have diminished, and more circuitous routes for terrorist ingress and egress may gradually be adopted – including increasing movement through Nepal and Bangladesh, as well as across the Western borders in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Over time, terrorist strikes will increasingly be engineered outside J&K to project the idea of ‘oppressed Muslims’ in ‘Hindu India’ resorting to extremism as a result of their political frustrations, and to create a greater distance between Pakistani sponsorship and acts of terrorism in India. Pakistan’s intervention in the troubles in India’s Northeast, with the active collaboration of the Bangladeshi Directorate General of Field Intelligence (DGFI), are also known to be rising, testimony of the unwavering and hostile intent with regard to India. Within Kashmir, these tactics translate into somewhat lower levels of terrorist violence, but any such decline tends to be retained at the minimum possible within the scope of international ‘deniability’. Transient escalations and declines are, moreover, often engineered to coincide with specific international events, with regional political developments, and with stages and schedules of the ‘peace process. Spurts in both infiltration rates and in terrorist activities have also been used to indicate Pakistani dissatisfaction with the pace of the ‘peace process.’

These patterns have been backed by Pakistan’s overt interventions in the internal politics of the overground secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), and every effort has been made, in this context, to strengthen the hardline pro-Pakistan faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, as also to force a ‘re-unification’ of the splintered organisation on his terms. A campaign of intimidation and selective assassination – including the murder of Moulvi Mushtaq Ahmad, the uncle of the ‘moderate’ Mirwaiz Maulvi Umer Farooq, in May this year – has also been orchestrated to secure the compliance of the ‘moderate’ faction. While the more voluble elements among the moderates have, consequently, been stifled, Pakistan has not been altogether successful in securing its objectives in this regard.

In all this, Pakistan understands clearly that the eventual ‘resolution’ of the ‘Kashmir issue’ will depend entirely on the equation of power between the contending parties, and has used every available lever – including a sustained campaign of terrorism – to enhance or maintain its own relative strengths in extraordinarily adverse circumstances. And these circumstances have been steadily worsening for Pakistan, though continuous tactical manipulation and enormous external support has allowed the Musharraf regime to continue to project the illusion of ‘progress’ towards ‘enlightened moderation’ and economic consolidation. In truth, wide movements of political violence are currently sweeping across much of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan; Karachi has also seen a resurgence of sectarian and fundamentalist terrorism. Political discontent and public protests are at an unprecedented high in the neglected Northern Areas – and though the miniscule populations here constitute little security threat, the embarrassment such protests can cause Islamabad is potentially enormous. Musharraf’s own physical movements within Pakistan – indeed, even within Islamabad – moreover, have been severely restricted by a succession of assassination attempts. While none of this constitutes a threat of imminent collapse, it does provide an insight into Musharraf’s rather plaintive declaration at New York: "Too many fronts have been opened, too many battle lines drawn. The time for closing fronts has come."2

While an unblinking realism – coloured, no doubt, by persisting geopolitical ambitions – has been the defining character of the Pakistan’s tactical shifts, India has been constantly swayed and diverted by its own rhetoric of peace and good intentions, though this proclivity may have been somewhat diminished under the new United Progressive Alliance Government, as compared to the trend under the predecessor National Democratic Alliance regime. Nevertheless, the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf meeting at New York has once again revived a substantial and delusionary discourse on the ‘imminent prospects of peace’.

It is useful, here, to see how all this is played out in Musharraf’s shifting statements and stances. At New York itself, Musharraf made it abundantly clear that he was engaged in something of a cat and mouse game. "You can talk about terrorism," he said, "We can say it is freedom movement. You can say we have terrorist camps in Pakistan. We can say India is violating human rights in Kashmir."3 He made it clear, moreover, that he believed that he was negotiating from a position of relative strength, and unambiguously rejected any proposal to convert the LoC into an international border: "My mind is closed to this proposal. The LoC cannot be the solution to the Kashmir dispute. The Line of Control has been the dispute we have fought wars for. What are you suggesting is that a conflict should be the solution. Isn't it unnatural?"4 He added further, that he was "giving bilateralism a final chance."5

The last statement cited deserves greater scrutiny, as its significance has largely been missed out in the burgeoning commentary on the New York interlude. Internationalisation and third party intervention in the ‘Kashmir dispute’ has been a long-standing objective of Pakistani policy, and this has been pursued by all means possible – including, during periods of extreme tension, a threat of nuclear war.6 This is the objective that Musharraf seeks to realize in the proximate future, and New York was another step towards its consolidation. Clearly, if ‘bilateralism’ can be demonstrated to have failed in what is packaged – and, hopefully (from a Pakistani perspective), sold to the ‘international community’ – as its ‘final chance’, the only remaining option is, naturally, multilateralism and third party intervention. This thesis gains ground when Musharraf’s posture at New York is juxtaposed with his statement in July that, "A year-and-a-half, could be the reasonable timeframe for resolution of the Kashmir issue."7 After this period has elapsed, it will, consequently, be ‘reasonable’ to begin clamouring for third party intervention to ‘immediately resolve’ the Kashmir issue, and it would be altogether possible to hoodwink an extraordinarily ignorant ‘international community’ that such a course of action is necessary to address a conflict that would, by then, have persisted for nearly six decades. It is significant that this position has not been effectively contested by Indian diplomacy, and if this logic is allowed to drift in existing directions multilateral intervention or mediation may be presented to India as a fait accompli. It is essential, consequently, that India initiate immediate and effective action to challenge the Pakistani position on this count.

Other aspects of the Pakistani mindset are also reflected in Musharraf’s varying remarks. For one, he has stated clearly that the many aspects of the ‘peace process’ that are most emphasised by the Indian interlocutors are, in fact, peripheral to the negotiations. "Some people might say if there was movement on cultural exchanges, then there would be a better spirit of goodwill and it might be easier to resolve the Kashmir issue. That is putting the cart before the horse. Anybody who is saying this is not realistic."8 Trade, culture, buses to Muzaffarabad, economic ties and gas pipelines are all very well, but the stark centrality of the Kashmir issue in the Pakistani scheme is inescapable: "Kashmir runs in our blood. No Pakistani can afford to sever links with Kashmir. The entire Pakistan and the world know this."9 And, as has been repeatedly emphasised, the conflict in Kashmir is, at base, not just about Kashmir. It is, in fact, "based on deep rooted structures of governance and social organisation in Pakistan, and on an ideological confrontation with India that cannot be resolved by ‘concessions’ or even by a redrawing of the map."10 Where Musharraf stands on Islamist terrorism was clarified further in Musharraf’s implicit threat at New York, "…justice must be offered to Islamic peoples in the form of resolution of all outstanding international disputes which affect Muslims. There is no time to lose. Action has to be taken before an iron curtain finally descends between the West and the Islamic World."11 It is useful, here, to recall that, as far back as 1999, and soon after the Lahore Summit, Musharraf had unambiguously stated at a gathering in Karachi that a ‘low intensity conflict’ with India would continue even if the ‘Kashmir dispute’ were resolved.12

There is, here, a clear identity of perspectives with the Islamist extremist ideological position on contemporary conflicts – though there is some obvious and emerging tactical disagreement on the methods most appropriate to secure shared ends. For all his ‘enlightened moderation’, Musharraf remains entirely committed to the failed ideology of political Islam. This is not surprising. This ideology lies at the very foundations, not only of the terrorist enterprise sourced in Pakistan, but of Pakistan itself. The changes that are being sought in Pakistan, by India and by an uncomprehending Western world, are not changes in specific patterns of behaviour, action or operation, or in the institutional structures and processes of governance, but rather changes in fundamental belief systems. Such a transformation is the most difficult to secure in any society, and has historically been imposed only through the inexorable force of external circumstances, and seldom, if ever, by the will to transformation within the target culture.

This unyielding doctrine is confronted, on the India side, by complete incoherence of intent and perspective. The negotiation process with Pakistan has, by and large, displayed the character of a walk in the park, where Indian interlocutors follow the attractions of the moment, the direction of their proximate and passing fancies; the result is that they are easily led down the path of their antagonists’ choice by the selective location of lures, enticements and decoys. Within J&K, the peace process is a fishing expedition, which throws out the same uncertain bait to shark and minnow alike. In all, the gamble – and it is a gamble, not a strategy – is that the enveloping circumstances will eventually change in India’s favour, and make Pakistan’s support to terror unsustainable.

Delay is at the heart of both the Indian and Pakistan perspective, and the peace process is a politically correct and internationally acceptable tactic of delay. On Pakistan’s side, the motives for delay can be identified in the ‘countervailing dynamic’ that is currently manifesting itself in dispersed theatres across the world. The American failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (less visible in the latter essentially because of the enormity of what is happening in the former) could catalyse wider movements of Islamist terrorism, diverting American and international attention from South Asia, and creating the spaces for the escalation of the proxy war in India. Such calculations are encouraged further by the consolidation of extremist Islamist opinion – though not, yet, terrorist activity – in many parts of Europe; as well as by repeated calls by the extremists to the ‘faithful’ to attack American and Western interests wherever they are, and not to restrict the jehad to its current areas of concentration. This call was reiterated on October 1, 2004, by Ayman Al Zawaheri, and if this strategy is realised in widely dispersed terrorist actions across the world, it is currently impossible to predict the degree of institutional paralysis such a campaign would inflict on target societies, and the extent to which global counter-terrorism capacities would be undermined.

India, moreover, to the close and motivated observer, must seem increasingly fragile, despite its vaunted economic resurgence. It is useful to note, within this context, that at least 212 districts in the country (just 12 of which are in J&K) – out of a total of 602 – are currently afflicted or targeted by insurgencies and terrorist movements across the ideological spectrum, and the sphere of disorder has been widening continuously over the past decade.13 With more than a third of the country reeling under the impact of extremist mobilisation, the unrelenting jehadi mindset will certainly focus on the opportunities for engineering further disorder and eventual disintegration. Unlike their democratic counterparts in India, whose strategic and policy perspectives cannot imagine a world beyond the next elections, the Pakistani leadership has long been speaking of a ‘thousand year war’, and of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’. Transient fluctuations of fortune are easily taken in stride within such a perspective, especially when an eternity is believed to be at stake.

These calculations cannot be upset by anything that can realistically be offered by India at the negotiating table. It is, in fact, only external pressure – to the point of a threat of extinction – and growing internal problems and preoccupations, which can force the necessary transformations on the systems within Pakistan’s state structure that support and sustain Islamist terror in J&K and across the globe.

  1. 1,302 persons were killed between January and August 2004, as against 1,671 over the same months in year 2003. Total fatalities in 2003 were 2,542, down from 3,022 in 2002 and 4,507 in 2001. Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal,
  2. Musharraf’s address to the UNGA, September 22, 2004.
  3. Musharraf’s news conference at the United Nations, New York, September 23, 2004.
  4. Ibid.

  5. Musharraf’s address to the UNGA, September 22, 2004. Emphasis added.
  6. Musharraf had declared on December 30, 2002, that Pakistan would have used its nuclear weapon had even a single Indian soldier crossed the LoC or the International Border during the 10-month long stand-off called Operation Parakram. See "‘Unconventional’ warning averted war: Musharraf," Daily Times, Lahore, December 31, 2002.
  7. Pervez Musharraf, Interview to Pakistan Observer, July 31, 2004.
  8. Pervez Musharraf, Interview to Sunday Telegraph, June 21, 2004.
  9. Pervez Musharraf, Address to the nation on January 12, 2002. For full text see,
  10. Ajai Sahni, "Countering Terrorism: The ‘Core Issue’ is Pakistan",
  11. Musharraf’s address to the UNGA, September 22, 2004.
  13. Ajai Sahni, "Bad Medicine for a Red Epidemic", South Asia Intelligence Review, Vol. 3, No.12, October 4, 2004,

(Edited version published in Defence & Technology, Volume III, No. 29, October 2004, pp. 43-47, title Successess and failures: Kashmir as threatre.)





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