The US Advice on Kashmir is Lunacy
By M J Akbar
If you want to sell arsenic, the kindest way to do so is to disguise it as medicine heavily coated with sugar. There is nothing particularly new about the proposal of an interim balm for the wounds of Kashmir, demilitarization on both sides of the Line of Control. What is novel is the heavy Washington endorsement of this Pakistan-promoted option.
This is not all. Unusually for a senior diplomat of a super power that affects neutrality, US under secretary of state for political affairs, William Burns, chose Delhi as the venue for a message designed to disturb the equanimity of his hosts, when he said, "Any resolution of Kashmir has to take into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people". That must have been music to Islamabad's ears.
Demilitarization sounds so sweetly reasonable, a definitive gesture of de-escalation. The Obama administration is delighted by the prospect of collateral benefit. This would release more Pak troops for the war against Taliban. Pakistan has shifted some brigades from the Indian border, but not from the Line of Control.
Self-interest may have blinded Washington to an obvious fallacy in this "reasonable" formulation. In all three major Kashmir conflicts — 1947, 1965 and Kargil — Pakistan has used a two-tier strategy. A surrogate force has served as a first line of offense. The Pakistani term for them has been consistent; they have come in the guise of "freedom fighters". India called them "raiders" in 1947 and 1965, and defines them as terrorists now. This surrogate force has expanded its operations far beyond Kashmir, as the terrorist attacks on Mumbai confirmed.
DMZs (De-Militarized Zones) would guarantee the security of Pakistan and weaken India's defences, since there is no suggestion that terrorist militias are going to be "demilitarized". Should the Indian army leave the Kashmir valley to the mercy of well-organized, finely-trained, generously-financed indiscriminate organisations? India has no corresponding surrogate force, because it is a status-quo power; it makes no claims on any neighbour's territory.
If America wants a DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) in India they will first have to ensure a DTZ (De-Terrorised Zone) in Pakistan.
India and Pakistan may have a common problem in terrorism, but they do not have terrorists in common. Those who have inflicted havoc already in India, and those who intend to do so in future, are safe in their havens in Lahore and Multan and Karachi. Pakistan's ambivalence on terrorism was exposed yet again by the release of Prof Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed, emir of Jamaat ud Dawa, from house arrest on June 6. It needed an official sanction by the UN Security Council to send him into soft detention. The government's duplicity was evident in the frailty of the case against him. The Lahore High Court, which ordered his release, discovered that Pakistan had not even placed al-Qaeda on its list of terrorist organizations.
Islamabad may have taken action against militants in the Frontier who pose a threat to Pakistan, but it continues to mollycoddle those who threaten India.
Islamabad's leverage has risen in Obama's Washington for good reasons. America may have outsourced flat-world, high-tech jobs to soft-power India. But America has outsourced a full-scale Af-Pak war to Pakistan.
Rewards for India come in corporate balance sheets and middle-class jobs. Compensation for Pakistan comes in billions of dollars for the army (as much as $5 billion of which has been diverted, so far, to the purchase of conventional weapons meant primarily for use against India) and much more in aid and soft-loans. Pakistan believes that money is insufficient. It wants the bonus of political rewards. It expects a Pak-US nuclear pact, not because it is in need of fuel for peaceful or martial purposes, but in order to quasi-legitimize its status as a nuclear power. Islamabad also wants some settlement on Kashmir that it can sell to its people as a victory.
Former president Pervez Musharraf may be out of circulation but ideas that jumped out of his box a few years ago are back in play. He has just given an interview to Der Spiegel in which he suggests that India and Pakistan were close to an agreement over his proposals:
"demilitarization of the disputed area, self-governance and a mutual overwatch." Delhi insisted on the conversion of the Line of Control into a formal border, but the thought that the two countries came close has given Washington reason to believe that it can now pressurize Delhi to make some concession, perhaps by agreeing to make the Line of Control "irrelevant" by "opening transit routes".
There is great danger in this "soft border" thesis. How can you have a "soft border" unless both sides recognize it as a border? Moreover, what does the phrase "mutual overwatch" mean? Both would dilute symbols of Indian sovereignty in Kashmir.
Musharraf, who sounds bored by his new routine of bridge with friends at his flat in London, says he is ready to broker a peace deal.
The search for peace might prove to be tougher than starting a war in Kargil.
Appeared in Times of India - June 14, 2009