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Clawing into our territory

As year 2006 ran towards closure, General Pervez Musharraf threw out another of his ostensibly 'out-of-the-box solutions' for the Jammu & Kashmir tangle, and this was picked up with unwarranted enthusiasm by an uncritical media and certain sections within the Indian political community. Those at the helm of national affairs have, however, remained cautious, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh countered Gen Musharraf's proposals with an offer of a 'comprehensive treaty of peace, security and friendship'. A great deal of these proposals and counter-proposals is mere posturing, part of the entertainment South Asian leaders are required to generate for Western political audiences. There is, nevertheless, a tactical and strategic core to Gen Musharraf's proposals, variously, for 'joint management', 'joint governance' and now 'joint supervision' of J&K.

The tactical is relatively obvious. Gen Musharraf seeks to retain control of the trajectory of the discourse on the 'Kashmir conflict', forcing the Indian side into a state of perpetual reaction, and often making India seem the more recalcitrant and obstructive element in the counterfeit 'peace process' that is being staged. He seeks, moreover, to use his projected 'reasonableness' as a cover for the continued campaigns of terror in J&K and across India. All this is obvious and now commonly known.

What is less evident and largely ignored is the enormously dangerous and destabilising strategic intent of all Pakistani proposals - an intent that has displayed no signs of change or dilution over the past years, and that has only witnessed tactical adjustments in the instrumentalities for its attainment.

Gen Musharraf's new call for 'joint supervision' is at one with earlier proposals of a 'regional' - but in fact communal - division of J&K in that it would secure an extension of Pakistani control and further the Islamist radicalisation of the region. Gen Musharraf's moves towards India need to be assessed within the context of broader Pakistani policies and strategies in the neighbourhood, and wider changes that are being fashioned across the Asian region - particularly the US coalition's increasingly unsuccessful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a resurgence of Islamist radicalism and terror in expanding areas of West Asia.

This is the backdrop against which the handing over of large parts of Waziristan and the NWFP to the Taliban - and through them, to the Al Qaeda - need to be viewed, even as Pakistan continues to support a ferocious campaign of destabilisation against Kabul through Taliban proxies. It is significant that Islamist violence in Afghanistan has a clear and inverse relationship with the distance from Pakistan's borders, and North Afghanistan remains substantially unaffected by the 'discontent', 'alienation' and 'anger', that manifest themselves all along the Southern frontiers with Pakistan. The 'Afghan resistance' - essentially an Islamist extremist movement - receives full support from Pakistan, and seeks nothing more than to further Pakistan's strategic objectives.

At the same time, significant areas and operations in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK), including both what is referred to as 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir' and the 'Northern Areas' (Gilgit-Baltistan), are being progressively transferred into radical Islamist control, particularly, though not exclusively, into the hands of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba - another Al Qaeda affiliate and a continuing member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front. The 'management of dissent' in the Northern Areas is also given over to extremist Sunni elements, who, from time to time, carry out campaigns of intimidation and assassination in the region, to quell the feeble voices demanding no more than minimal political rights and representation.

Against this background, any scheme of joint 'supervision', 'management', 'governance' or other euphemism for control, would essentially translate, over time, into an escalating demand for the reduction of Indian military deployment in J&K, and a systematic entrenchment of Islamist extremist groups and forces in the wider region.

It must be clear that, under these circumstances, the Kashmiris would have no capacity to keep the terrorists out, and the entire population would be at their mercy, even as Indian capacities of response would not only be constrained by internationally validated agreements with Pakistan, but would also gradually diminish, with a corresponding consolidation of Pakistani proxy control. Crucially, the Islamist terrorist enterprise, within this context, is executed under the protection of Pakistani sovereignty.

What Gen Musharraf seeks, consequently, is to insulate Pakistan's core within a wide swathe of territories controlled by Pakistani-managed proxies, and to unite this region with a radicalised Islamist crescent extending from J&K to the Mediterranean.

There are, of course, extraordinary and direct risks for Pakistan itself, in this strategy. Significantly, the 'blowback' factor that is already visible in 'renegade' Islamist terrorist elements that have escaped control of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence, and some of who have already executed assassination attempts against Gen Musharraf and other senior elements in his junta.

This cannot, however, deter Gen Musharraf or sway him from the fundamentals of Pakistani strategy. For one, Gen Musharraf has already shown himself to be a consummate risk-taker. For another, the alternatives for Pakistan - from the perspective of its ruling elite, and particularly the Army that holds the nation captive - are an unacceptable but inevitable decline into the margins of strategic and historical irrelevance. Success, on the other hand, holds out the possibility of direct or indirect Pakistani control in a wide arc beyond its current borders, and of significant influence in regions as far a field as Central and West Asia. It is an audacious gamble, but in its brief history, Pakistan has not displayed any lack of audacity, or of ruinous folly.

The world, in the interim, and with it, India, remains enmeshed in what another writer has described as the 'seduction of process' - the continuous and general agitation over the details of ever-new 'proposals' and 'statements'. What is missed is the fact that Pakistan has substantially restored, after an apparent post-9/11 reversal, its capacities for strategic projection through terrorism, and does this from a position of greater strength than before, since the US and its allies are caught in quicksand in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The lesson Pakistan's military leaders are drawing from this is simple: Powers that have failed in conflicts with these nations, whose populations are less than a sixth of Pakistan's, can hardly act decisively and in concert against a Pakistan of over 160 million, and growing. This is the assessment that creates the spaces for the Islamist terrorist adventure in which Gen Musharraf is currently engaged, and within which Pakistan pursues its strategies of Islamist extension.


(Published in The Pioneer, December 23, 2006)





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