Saturday, July 3, 2010

THE AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN-KASHMIR CONUNDRUM

The Afghanistan-Pakistan-Kashmir conundrum continues to confound. In Afghanistan, the Americans are more confused now than they were ever before, with their military campaign stalled and increasingly looking like getting nowhere; in Kashmir the Indians have been confused and paralysed for decades, and continue to remain so. Both are unable to hit upon the winning formula that will either give them victory or, at the very least, a face-saving solution that is more than a gift-wrapped defeat. At the heart of it, the reason for this sorry state is as clear as acknowledgement of it is dangerous. Because to then act may lead to violence and destruction on a forbidding scale, but to not act will leave both countries without any illusion of workable options, and no place to hide either.

As you may have noticed above, Pakistan is bang in the centre of this problem, and not just physically. It is in the ideological, political and military centre too. Unfortunately, the Americans don't want to see it that way because they think they need Pakistan that needs Kashmir. So, they have conveniently lopped off Kashmir from their maps and are treating it as a discrete problem between India and Pakistan with little or no direct linkage with what they are facing in Afghanistan. On their part, the Indians have done the same with Afghanistan, but for very different reasons: for the last 63 years they have studiously avoided looking, forget intervening, beyond their borders, no matter how intimately the problems that they have faced may have been linked to developments there.

In the former case, the view is due to strategic convenience; in the latter, strategic blindness. In both cases, the beneficiary has been, and remains, the nerve-centre, Pakistan.

Pakistan, one needs to reiterate, is an expansionist state, with ambitions that far exceed its size. To its west, it wants to usurp Afghanistan and to its east Kashmir, to begin with. This is the fundamental cornerstone of its state policy. I do not intend to go again into the history of how and why this has happened, and how it has taken the shape of violent Islamic extremism or jihad, as the Pakistanis like to call it.

The key point that I want to highlight again is that what is happening in both Afghanistan and Kashmir is a continuum that is part of a carefully orchestrated and coordinated campaign that has for long been pursued by the Pakistani military and its clandestine sword arm, the infamous ISI, in relentless pursuit of this strategic objective on both fronts.

The Pakistanis will not allow the US to achieve victory in Afghanistan, come what may, just as they will not allow India to emerge victorious in Kashmir. For them neither time is a constraint nor the number of dead. The cloak of jihad takes care of the latter pretty effectively; there is no pressure of pubic opinion to worry about. The moment we get a clear fix on this, no room for doubt is left that Pakistan has indeed been "playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude", as Matt Waldman puts it, with the Americans from Day One, to ensure its defeat while pretending to be its partner. Some analysts have been pointing this out for long but without sufficient evidence. However, given the fact that the Pakistanis have perfected the art of deniability of the involvement of the state in hostile actions, sufficient evidence is not going to come by easily. That has helped the Americans look the other way, to try and find easy ways around this problem that can bring their war in Afghanistan to successful conclusion. The result is before us.

Even Waldman, in the LSE Development Institute report 'Sun in the sky', has bought Pakistan's line to recommend that the US should address the "fundamental causes of its insecurity, including its latent and enduring conflict with India...resolution of the Kashmir dispute". He conveniently ignores what a Taliban commander told him: "The ISI are helping the Taliban a lot, but they only give for their own gain. There is a reciprocal issue: Kashmir. The root of the problem in Afghanistan is the Pakistan-India competition." This is not a revelation; this is something that has been known for long to many Pakistanis. It is no secret that Taliban terrorists have been deployed in Kashmir by Pakistan earlier. And there is little doubt that if the Americans are made to leave Afghanistan with Pakistan calling the shots in that country, they will be used again by Pakistan in its proxy war against India in Kashmir and elsewhere.

For 63 years, India has been trying to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiri Muslims with the development and autonomy cards, starting with article 370 of the constitution. Huge subsidies, bribes by another name, and economic packages have also been thrown in over the years. But all efforts have come to naught. The Americans are using the same failed strategy, but despite the new roads, schools and other developmental efforts, it too has failed win the Afghans over and wean them from the Taliban.

Why have these strategies tanked in both places? There are two main reasons, one of which India has obdurately refused to acknowledge and address because it strikes at the core of its secular facade and will compel it to look at other, real options that raise difficult questions that no one wants to discuss candidly or face squarely.

The first is that any amount of development or bribing will not unhinge Kashmiri Muslims from Islam. Religion is central to them and is above and more important than anything else, including ethnicity. Now this is nothing new. This is what caused the Partition of India. To this day, the Punjabi Muslim of Pakistan places his religion above his ethnic bond with the Punjabi Hindu and Sikh, is the chief protagonist of the anti-India face of the state of Pakistan and the prime participant in terror outfits like the LeT. In Indian Kashmir, Kashmiri pandits have been driven out of the Valley by their ethnic Muslim brethren.

But the Hindu elite of India refuse to accept this stark reality. That is because it takes a little more than a McDonald's burger -- to put it very crudely -- to make them disown, even disdain, their religious identity and acquire and flaunt an alien one. They continue to believe that Kashmiri Muslims also will react similarly and that even if some want to wear their religious identity on their sleeve, like secular Sikhs do, it is not to be seen as anti-secular or extremist in any manner whatsoever. The net result is that they have been misleading themselves, fellow Indians and the world into believing that the issue in Kashmir is political, not religious.

The second, and the most critical, is the existence and role of the state of Pakistan in its present shape. An artificial, multi-ethnic nation created solely on the basis of religion has, not surprisingly, chosen to paper the lack of logic in it existence by defining it on the basis of Islam alone, even though the religion has failed to be the glue to so politically unite even the Arabs who despite one race, one language and one religion are divided into 22 nations. This identity has been further fine-tuned through Islamic fundamentalism to breed implacable hatred towards India. From that has flown a similar attitude towards the rest of the world, making Pakistan the most natural nursery for the likes of Al Qaida. It is only a question of time before India-specific terror outfits like the LeT acquire global ambitions.

Unfortunately, India's policy makers have done absolutely nothing to dissuade Pakistan from employing terror as a tool to wrest Kashmir from India. And this has been going on for over 20 years. Pakistan's earlier efforts to achieve its objective did not use radical Islam as a force multiplier. That is why they died with military defeat. That is why the ongoing war shows no signs of getting over. And the Indians are getting fatigued fighting the wrong enemy.

The same thing is happening with the Americans in Afghanistan. There too the bribe strategy has failed. There too the war is not getting over. There too Pakistan is conducting the orchestra. There is a canard being lapped up that the proud Afghans have never been defeated and that the Americans, like the Soviets and the British before them will face defeat in their country. My understanding of history tells me that the Pashtuns are actually a conquered, humiliated, defeated, cursed and hopelessly exploited people whose condition is pitiable. Forget the medieval times when their backs were first broken and their civilisation swamped. Have we forgotten the ease with which the ISI and the Pakistani military converted most of their country into an extension of Pakistan after the Soviets left?

If the Americans cut their losses and scoot as the Pakistanis are pushing them to, their problem will not die. They will only get postponed, to resurface from Pakistan in an even more dangerous jihadi avatar, possibly armed with nukes. If they are under any illusion that they will be off the terror radar if they get India to make concessions to Pakistan on Kashmir, it will be their biggest blunder. Such a deal will just be the heady motivator that the Pakistani establishment needs to convince existing and potential jihadis that their cause is divine, that bigger victories await them, that the Great Satan America will fall, as will India.

America's war -- and India's -- is being fought in the wrong place, against the wrong people. They are puppets who will crumble like cookies if Pakistan's ability to motivate, train, arm, finance, use and sustain them is eroded completely. The key is Pakistan. The war has to be won there. As history has shown again and again, there is really no other way to ensure that the problem that Pakistan has created is dealt with decisively so that it cannot not raise its ugly head again in any meaningful manner. How is the question that strategists need to find an answer to.
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Readers may also read:
1. Kashmir Deal: Solution or surrender?
2. Dealing with Pakistan: lessons from history
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