Last fortnight an Indian engineer in Afghanistan was beheaded by the Taliban. This followed a demand that India quit Afghanistan. The Indian government firmly stated that it would not withdraw from Afghanistan. A former Indian diplomat who had served in Afghanistan said on TV that Taliban were speaking of an unholy alliance between Christian America, Zionist Israel and Hindu India. This, he said, reflected Muslim opinion worldwide. He suggested that in light of this India might reappraise its ties with the US. This is defeatism. Nothing in fact has changed. Earlier Osama bin Laden had identified America, Russia and India as the three main enemies of Islam. One may infer he targeted Russia because of Chechnya, and India because of Kashmir. China was not mentioned. Osama had struck a deal with China. Osama would ignore protest in Muslim Xingjian in return for Chinese aid to build a communication system in Afghanistan.
A day after the beheading in Afghanistan terrorists slaughtered scores of innocents in Doda, Kashmir. Once again, the government firmly stated that terrorists will not succeed in derailing the peace process. A few days later the Prime Minister conferred with Hurriyat leaders. After the meeting he announced that the dialogue will continue. In August the PM is expected to visit Pakistan to resume the peace process.
While India is bled by terrorism and the government persists with its policies one might legitimately ask: What is this peace process? What is this dialogue? Is either of these even remotely relevant to the real crisis? Is there any attempt by the government to even understand the real crisis? Such understanding must precede an effective response.
The problem is not Kashmir. People on both sides of the LoC want peace. They may have serious differences with our government. These can be discussed and defused. But this can be done only when terrorist blackmail stops. If we believe that by reaching an agreement with Hurriyat leaders terrorism will stop then we assume they represent the terrorists and are being used by them. This strains credulity. One doubts if the Hurriyat leaders themselves believe that terrorism will stop with an agreement. Therefore the assumption that terrorism will end after settlement with the Hurriyat could be dangerous.
The same logic applies to Pakistan, but with a difference. There is no guarantee that any agreement reached with President Musharraf would end terrorism. However, President Musharraf might well calculate that an honorable settlement on Kashmir would strengthen his hand for dealing with terrorists based in Pakistan. Reinforced by this logic he could possibly be turning a blind eye to terrorism in Kashmir in the mistaken belief that such pressure would work in his favor. If he believes this, he too is harboring a dangerous illusion. To avoid the pitfalls of any false assumption one must confront the real problem.
The real problem is that Al Qaeda, Taliban and terrorists in Kashmir are part of one international movement serving a single purpose. Its common aim is to establish Islamist fundamentalist societies as conceived by the movement's leaders in Muslim-populated regions. This aim does not reflect majority Muslim opinion. As a small minority effectively using terror and cleverly exploiting genuine Muslim grievances arising from certain ill-conceived policies of the West, it succeeds in silencing the Muslim majority. One does not know which international forces are behind this coordinated effort. One does not know what ultimate objective motivates these forces. One does not care if this fraudulent Pan-Islamism is feasible. What matters is the stated agenda pursued by these Islamist fundamentalists. Their agenda is to establish an Islamic rule of their conception in all Muslim-populated societies. If they have their way, not only Kashmir and Chechnya but also the whole of Pakistan will come under their heel. Unless they nurse secret admiration for this agenda, President Musharraf and all Pakistanis should clearly understand this.
The battle therefore does not involve just the Kashmiris or the Pashtuns of the tribal belt in Pakistan's NWFP. The battle involves all South Asia. The battle is ideological. It is a war between democratic civil society and fundamentalist Pan-Islamism. It follows, then, that an effective strategy to fight this war must necessarily be Pan-Democratic. By talking with the Hurriyat the government is putting the cart before the horse. Differences can be resolved through discussion and give-and-take only when this ideologically inspired terrorism ends. If such a context is explained to the Hurriyat leaders it is very likely they will appreciate it and cooperate.
In the case of Pakistan there is a slight difference. Never mind President Musharraf's tight-rope walking between peace talks with India and accommodation with the Islamist fundamentalists. More than our own Prime Minister President Musharraf did attempt meaningful talks. He propounded out-of-the box ideas. Regardless of whether these were promising or not, our government should have responded with its own ideas. Perhaps it has no ideas. This column has proposed repeatedly that even the most radical proposals about self-determination in Kashmir should be considered on the precondition that both Pakistan and Kashmir, whatever its eventual status, establish along with India the foundation of a South Asian Union enjoying common tariffs, a common market and joint defence. Only such an arrangement would realize the stated aim of both President Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh to 'make borders irrelevant'. The dilution of sovereignty in favor of a South Asian confederation implicit in this proposal makes perfect sense if seen in the context of a transnational ideological war between democracy and phony Islamist fundamentalism. Unless this ideological war is fought jointly by Pakistan and India against terrorism for the control of South Asia, neither the Kashmiris nor the Pashtuns will be able to engage in a credible dialogue.
Recently, after the Indian engineer was beheaded in Afghanistan, the British government urged India to send its troops to Afghanistan for joining the war against terror. Our government should consider doing this only if Pakistan sincerely accepts joint operations with India. A start could be made against terrorist training camps located in Pakistan. Coordinated operations should be undertaken in all terrorist spots, whether in JK or in NWFP. Only then would joint operations inside Afghanistan succeed. Clearly such operations would have to be accompanied by a dialogue with both the Pashtuns and Kashmiri separatists. To meet their respective aspirations India and Pakistan would first have to evolve a future roadmap for South Asia. If this were done India and Pakistan acting jointly could successfully fight terrorism in South Asia. But if Osama bin Laden has a safe haven in Pakistan, as US sources allege, is this likely?