Sunday, January 18, 2009

KASHMIR AND AFGHANISTAN ARE TWO SIDES OF THE SAME TERROR COIN

A lot has been written about the real message that the people of Kashmir Valley have conveyed through their vote in the recently held elections in Jammu and Kashmir. For the first ever time, they defied the boycott call given by the separatists and militants, and came out to vote in record-breaking numbers. The verdict they delivered was split but in such a manner that only Omar Abdullah's National Conference could form a government in alliance with the Congress party.

Ethnic Kashmiri Muslims of the Valley are the face of the anti-India sentiment that the world sees and that Pakistan has been trying to exploit since 1947 to gobble up the part of the state which is still with India. Since 1989, the instrument of a low intensity war, also referred to as terrorism, has been used by that country to wear India down to the point that it is compelled to at least start the process of accepting Pakistan's claim on the state, even if it does so without appearing to.

As part of that strategy, separatist groups, ranging from those who demand merger of the state into Pakistan to those who want 'independence' from India, have been effectively used to discredit and dismiss all instruments of governance that symbolise the fact that the state is a part of a secular India. These groups have always opposed elections because they legitimise the state's relationship with India. That is what they did this time too smug with confidence that with the Amarnath Land issue still fresh in their minds, the people in the Valley would reject these elections en masse.

The unexpectedly overwhelming response of ethnic Kashmiris and people of all other ethnic groups stunned not only the separatists but also pleasantly surprised mainstream political parties and analysts. No one, it seems, had his finger on the real pulse of the people. Yes, ethnic Kashmiris voted differently from the the way voters in the other two regions in the state did. Yes, their vote was in sum not for India. Yes, most likely they did not even vote for secularism.

But, what was most significant was not what they voted for but what they voted against. And, what they clearly came out in large numbers to reject through the silence of their vote was Islamic extremism, the increasing Talibanisation of society and the jehadi culture that has not only proved to be Kashmir's curse but has also completely claimed Afghanistan and vast swathes of Pakistani territory along its Western border.

Somewhere in their souls, Kashmiris have understood that the road that Pakistan has put them on is not going to turn their Valley into the promised Islamic paradise. And they are clear that they do not want it to become what Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan have become. They do not want to regress further in that direction which, to all but the most fanatical, is a descent into a black hole of oppression, violence and intolerance of the worst kind. In the 21st century.

These elections, therefore, represent a victory of the ordinary Muslim over the fanatic Muslim represented by the Taliban and the various jehadi groups spawned by the state of Pakistan. The significance of this unexpected and remarkable victory that can change the course of history is not limited to Kashmir. It extends right into the heart of Pakistan. And into the whole world.

In Pakistan, free and fair elections were held in 2008, perhaps for the first time after 1950. In those elections too, Pakistani Muslims voted emphatically and dramatically to tell all those who had thoroughly messed up the ideology of Pakistan envisioned by its creator Jinnah, that they wanted the country to get off the road of religious extremism that was hurtling them all towards disaster. What was even more significant was the fact that despite the presence of the Americans next door in Afghanistan, the people of the Frontier, most affected by Islamic extremism, thrashed the extremists through the ballot.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has failed to live up to the promise that that was held out by the people's verdict. The events of the last few months, including the terror attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, have left no one in any doubt that Pakistan has relapsed into its old ways. The military is back in effective control, the ISI is still on the destructive pathway that has brought Pakistan to the brink, and the jehadi terrorists continue to be patronised and encouraged by powerful elements as an instrument of a state policy that has become Pakistan's cancer.

Pakistan is, thus, not defined by its people. It is defined by its military, including the ISI, with the help of an influential anti-India section of the Mohajir and Punjabi elite that is closely aligned with it. It is well known that the Sindhis, Baluchis and Pashtoons have never harboured the kind of anti-India feelings that have been made central to the very idea and existence of Pakistan by its military-led elite. The military cannot shed this positioning as then the very basis of its power and motivational underpinnings will fall apart. If that happens, it will lose its muscle and centrality in the power matrix of the state. That is something it is not going to allow to happen and that is something that no one in Pakistan has the power to make a reality.

As long as the the Pakistani military establishment, of which the ISI is a part, retains its primacy as the executor of the will the state of Pakistan as defined by it, there is going to be little real change in the country's views about its neighbours either in the east or west. That means that the same destructive, expansionist policies on both fronts will continue to be persisted with.

The presence of the US in Afghanistan has forced Pakistan's military to pretend to be America's ally while it continues to covertly support, encourage and promote the elements fighting against it. The tactic being used is conceptually the same as is being used against India in Kashmir.

Wear the Americans down in Afghanistan to a point where they are forced to seek an 'honourable' exit from there and leave it back in the hands of Pakistan through a new and improved Taliban, quite like it was before 9/11, minus the Al Qaida. This is the cornerstone of Pakistan's position on the 'war on terror' as the ally of the US. Pakistani generals reckon that the US will bolt from Afghanistan much faster than India will from Kashmir. Therefore, they will do everything to ensure that the Americans effectively lose their Afghan war, just like the Soviets did. They will, in fact try their utmost, without totally giving themselves away, to ensure that the US dose not achieve a decisive victory there, because that will probably deal a death blow to the Talibani and jehadi infrastructure that has been painstakingly set up by the military over decades. The rout of these elements will wind up being a body blow to the military itself.

It needs be understood, therefore, that neither the Americans nor the Indians can afford to lose their wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir respectively. These two flash points are the the last real battlegrounds of a retreating ideology that, as per Maulana Wahiduddin, is based in the mistaken belief that "Islam is a political system and that it is the duty of all Muslims to establish the political rule of Islam in the world".

What is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and elsewhere and what happened on 9/11 is not due to "random terror", an aimless jehad, that Vir Sanghvi and, possibly, a few others have suddenly discovered it to be. As Maulana Wahiduddin explains, although terror attacks will not eliminate non-Islamic rule or bring down governments immediately, jehadis believe they can at least destabilise them and pave the way for Islamic rule. Due to lack of military power to force a change through open war, this strategy of chipping away has been adopted for bringing about the desired result of establishing Islamic rule in an open time-frame beyond what is normally considered by the US and others while developing responses to defeat it.

This ideological problem affects the whole world, as it does moderate Muslims in Pakistan, India and elsewhere, including the US. A defeat in Kashmir for India and/or the US in Afghanistan will have disastrous long term consequences from which no nation of any consequence will be immune. Even a notional defeat is not an option because it will be touted as a triumph of terror and used as a powerful motivator to attract more people from around the world to join the 'holy' cause and take terror to new levels.

This is the most fundamental aspect that needs to be understood and properly internalised so that myopic and disjointed political and military strategies can be avoided in future.

Viewed in this context, the proposal of the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband that a 'resolution' of Kashmir will stop terrorism against India from Pakistan, indicates that there is still no holistic understanding in the UK of the real dimensions of the problem of terrorism from which even his own country is not free. Implicit in Miliband's statement that appeared, much to India's discomfiture, in The Guardian even as he was being given a guided rural tourism tour by Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, is the suggestion that a resolution acceptable to Pakistan will necessarily involve India giving and Pakistan gaining. As almost everyone in India already knows, if that happens, Pakistan sponsored terrorism will only get fuelled further, not put out.

There is a view in India that a strong Pakistan is needed to keep Talibanis away from India's borders. This implies that Pakistani Punjabis and Sindhis will willingly allow such elements to convert their provinces too into another Afghanistan once the protective umbrella of Pakistan is removed, and join them in their holy war against India. This deduction appears to be completely erroneous. Ordinary Punjabis and Sindhis, like the Kashmiris in India, have no illusions about the fact that these elements have become their own cancer, a fact that has been admitted even by President Zardari. But, since they are seen to be fighting against India, they do get a measure of support due to a mindset created by the ideology adopted by Pakistan that sees a secular India as an enemy that has to be defeated.

It is, therefore, only natural that once ordinary Sindhis, Baluchis and the Punjabis are lightened of the heavy ideological anti-India baggage of the state of Pakistan, they will most likely vigorously cleanse their own provinces of these elements and ensure that they are confined to FATA. They may well take steps to weaken them there and in Afghanistan too by denying them the strong ideological and logistical base that the state of Pakistan has been providing to them, and without which they cannot survive for long.

The results of the recent elections in Kashmir Valley and Pakistan have clearly indicated that ordinary Muslims do not support this ideology of terror and the social repression it promises - if it affects their own lives. They may cheer it from the sidelines, but do not want it to reside in their homes. There is no reason to believe that the people of Afghanistan do not share the feelings that their ethnic brothers on the Pakistan side of the Durand Line have expressed in the elections there. But, they are themselves terrorised by ruthless AK47 wielding fanatics who can cross all limits of brutality without batting even the proverbial eye lid.

Ordinary Afghanis may hate the presence of US troops on their soil but that does not mean that love for the Talibanis and other jehadi groups is overflowing in their hearts. If the fear factor is decisively removed from their midst, they too will not opt for a Talibanised Afghanistan.

Both India and the US, therefore, need to work in unstated unison to ensure that Pakistan's military and the ISI are weakened to a point
where they are no longer able to hijack the agenda of the people of Pakistan again. Terrorism needs Pakistan's military and the ISI to survive; they need it to flourish to protect their relevance and the idea that Pakistan has become.

Strengthening of Pakistan's military to help the US in its war in Afghanistan is not going to yield the dividends that the US is hoping for. Rather than strengthen the war on terror, it is going to lengthen it. Worse will happen in the long run if the US pushes a deal favourable to terror in Kashmir in the hope that it will enable it to de-induct from Afghanistan after wiping the Al Qaida out from there by leaving that country in the 'safe' hands of the Pakistani military.

Kashmir and Afghanistan are two sides of the same terror coin. The war on terror has to be decisively won in both these places. The US cannot afford to make the mistake that it made when the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan. That mistake resulted in 9/11 and more. This time, the consequences of a mistake will be far worse for the US and the rest of the world.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Readers may also read: Understanding and defeating the ideology of terror