A valley riven by anger & history
M J Akbar
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief, was commissioned in August 1971. The other four-star general in the Pakistan army, Tariq Majeed, is due to retire on October 7, which makes him an exact contemporary. Lt Gen Khalid Shameem Wyne, chief of general staff, will lay down his baton on March 8 next year and is consequently just a few months junior. Lt Gen Syed Absar Hussain, who is in charge of Army Strategic Forces, was at the Command and Staff College in Quetta in 1971. He got his artillery commission in April 1972. Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, director-general of the ISI, is already on extension, so is of Kayani's age. Lt Gen Javed Zia, head of Southern Command, Quetta, Lt Gen Muhammad Mustafa Khan, commanding 1 Corps, and Lt Gen Shahid Iqbal of V Corps are retiring either this year or next.
What do the men at the top of Pakistan's army have in common? They are officers of the "traumatized generation". Each joined an army that had been humiliated in the 1971 war, which ended not only in the gut-wrenching surrender of more than 90,000 troops to an Indian general, but the partition of Pakistan and the reinvention of the East as Bangladesh. The only war that Kayani has fought, barring recent civil wars of course, is the game-changing 1971 conflict.
His generation, still burning with an adolescent heartache that can never quite heal, has had a silent, consuming mission: revenge for Bangladesh through Kashmir, preferably within its career span or at least in its lifetime. The tortured angst of zealots is even more acute because in their fevered imagination, a "Muslim" army on jihad had been disgraced by a "Hindu" force. If the status of Kashmir changes in the next five years, this generation will have realized its religio-nationalist fantasy.
The Indian analysis of Bangladesh differs from the Pakistan narrative: we believe that the Indian Army's intervention in 1971, formalized by an infructuous Pakistan air strike on the night of December 5, was only the last paragraph of a long suicide note written by an incompetent president, Yahya Khan, and a brilliant megalomaniac, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. We believe a series of racist political mistakes was topped by denying Sheikh Mujibur Rahman a chance to form the government after he had won a majority in a general election.
Four decades later, Pakistan is waiting for Omar Abdullah to become the Yahya Khan of Kashmir, and tweaking events with just enough intervention to help a mistake gravitate towards a crisis. This may sound far-fetched in Delhi, but there is optimism in Islamabad. The Jamaat e-Islami, which advocates accession to Pakistan, is, at long last, in the vanguard of an upsurge; the slogan on the streets is that Omar may be in government but the Jamaat's Syed Ali Shah Geelani is in power. From across the LoC, Syed Salahuddin, leader of the Pakistan-sponsored Hizbul Mujahideen, urges Kashmiris, in a speech widely believed to have been delivered through a mobile phone and broadcast over microphones, to flood the streets as victory is imminent.
There was little premonition of this summer's conflagration. Last year's elections passed off so peacefully that there were self-congratulatory smiles all around. Calm bred complacency, and its principal side-effect, arrogance. A death on June 11 was shrugged off as an incident. It took eight weeks for Delhi to rise from slumber, and then only to offer boring clichés as balm. Shoot-at-sight orders have had no effect: you can't shoot a whole city.
Estimates differ but the death toll in Kashmir between June and the first week of August is around 40. Rampaging Muhajirs, outraged at the murder of their Shia leader, Syed Raza Haider on Monday, have killed more than 80 and injured hundreds of Pashtuns in Karachi. This was not a Hindu-Muslim riot; this was Muslim-Muslim carnage. Muhajirs are UP-Bihar migrants who left their land in 1947 for the Promised Land. Six decades later, they need private militias to defend themselves because they offend Pathans in a "pure" country that has virtually eliminated "infidels" from its demography.
It is an evil moment in history when a corpse-count becomes the comparative difference between two nations. A fact is staring at us: 1947 unhinged Muslims of the subcontinent, and a once-cogent community is split politically and psychologically, inflamed by passions that veer between unhealthy fear, violent anger and dysfunctional dreams. If Kashmiri Muslims believe they can achieve independence, then they understand neither India nor Pakistan.
Generals are transient. Pakistan's generals do not count corpses because they believe that death is a mere statistic in a larger war. Democracy transcends the prejudice of generations, and demands a ruling culture far beyond the ambitions of any coterie. India cannot diet on such cold calculations. A daily drip of blood has corroded the credibility of Srinagar's government. If the mood of the people does not change, the government must.