India’s unilateral ‘demilitarization’ of Kashmir

Method, or just madness?

The optimistic prognosis goes something like this. India’s unilateral decision to reduce troop strengths in Jammu & Kashmir is a calculated risk, aimed at both winning hearts and minds in Kashmir and nudging forward the peace process with Pakistan. Due to a combination of factors — the jihadi blowback, the revolts in Balochistan and Waziristan and the dependence on American support for his personal survival — Gen Musharraf cannot focus on keeping too many of his irons on the fire, therefore, creating a unique opportunity for India to seize the initiative and solve the Kashmir problem once and for all. Eventually, some kind of a bargain will have to be made with Pakistan, either involving legitimising the Line of Control into an international border (hurray!) or ceding some more territory to Pakistan (at least it will keep ’em contented!). Of course, the Jammu & Kashmir state will get greater autonomy and Kashmiris on both sides of the border will be able to visit each other.

Reality plays spoilsport
All famous handshakes and extensions of hands of friendship by the Indian government have been on the fond hope that Pakistan will put a stop cross-border terrorism (that’s a shade different from cross-border infiltration, but let’s just set it aside for the moment). But evidently, that’s just not happening as yet. Cross-border infiltration has decreased, but that is perhaps as much due to the high-tech fence as it is due to Musharraf’s intent. Therefore, it is rather strange that India’s foreign minister hopes that India’s unilateral reduction of troops will convince Musharraf not just to keep the jihadis reined in, but also to destroy their training camps. This would have made sense if India were an aggressor threatening Pakistani territory and the jihadis camps were that country’s first lines of defence.

When is a proposal a proposal?
Musharraf’s off-the-cuff comments could not be considered as a proposal, but were Pakistan to take this up formally, India would be prepared to consider it. This was very much the official Indian stand — a bureaucratic response if there was one — for the entire thrust of Musharraf’s mischievous gambit was rebutted on merely procedural grounds! Now that Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will visit India, presumably with the proposal in typed out in triplicate, spiral bound, and marked with The Official Seal of the Government of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Indian government will have no choice but to discuss the issue on Musharraf’s terms. With demilitarisation (or was it ‘troop withdrawals’) already announced, who is to blame the world if it were to assume that India is happily playing the game according to Musharraf’s rules.

The onus must be on Pakistan
In Indian government’s approach to relations with Pakistan, hope always triumphs over experience, even if that experience is frightfully recent. It was similar in 1999, when Indian troops vacated their posts in Kargil due to cold of the Himalayan winter and the warmth of the Lahore peace process only to find ‘freedom-fighters’ squatting on them upon their return.

In the current context, Musharraf may not be able to pull off another Kargil, but surely the onus must be on Pakistan to permanently close down the terrorist infrastructure and arrest such terrorists such as Masood Azhar and Syed Salahuddin. If Musharraf is not even bold enough or strong enough to do this, what could be said of his ability to strike a difficult bargain with India over Kashmir? If on the contrary he really is in a good position to ‘solve Kashmir in a day’s sitting’, then why is he reluctant to relinquish his jihadi option?

There is merit in the argument, like that of the Indian Express, that Manmohan Singh’s announcement and next week’s mutton-barrel (religious sensibilities observed) are aimed solely as a means to further the Indian government’s ‘healing touch’ in Kashmir. But in the same edition, C Raja Mohan argues that for these measures to work, Pakistan must play tango. Why should it?

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