Two scenarios and implications
The Indian and Pakistani governments have agreed to operate a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, across the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the parts of Jammu & Kashmir they administer. Technically, the any citizen of India or Pakistan is eligible to cross the LoC using documents issued by the local governments on the respective side of the LoC, but the administrative process is tweaked to favour residents of Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan — using the rubber-stamp parliament of Pakistan-occupied (‘Azad’) Kashmir — insists that while the bus service is open to the Kashmiri people, their elected representatives will not be allowed to use it. This position is designed to counter a potential Indian objection to the unelected charlatans of the Hurriyat from taking the bus.
For their part, jihadi groups have threatened to attack the bus and its passengers. Even before their names fell into the hands of terrorists, the passengers had enough reason to be scared, and the government of India to be worried for their safety. In sharp contrast, passengers from the Pakistani side do not face any ‘security problem‘.
If the bus makes its journey unmolested across the Line of Control, security forces will breathe a sigh of relief, many people will succumb to histrionics and politicians will succumb to words like ‘historic’. If, however, terrorists succeed in attacking the bus, several implications obtain.
If attacks occur in Indian territory:
- While officially condemning the act of violence, Pakistan can claim that this is irrefutable proof that contrary to India’s insistence, the jihad in Kashmir is indigenous. That the jihadis attacked the bus despite Pakistan’s official support for the bus will bolster its claim that the terrorist groups in Kashmir operate independently of the Pakistani government.
- The militants for their part will score a victory — using the incident to prove that peace and normalcy is impossible unless the Kashmiri people (read, the political fronts of the jihadi groups) are made party to the peace talks.
- The Indian government will end up with egg on its face. Given the amount of political and diplomatic capital it has invested on this project, it will be constrained in blaming the Pakistani government or elements within (read the ISI). While it may be able to take some action against those responsible for the attack, it will be unable to carry out major offensive action against terrorist groups.
If attacks occur in Pakistani territory:
- The Pakistani government will end up with egg on its face, but General Musharraf will be able to reinforce his claim that the jihadi groups are not under his control. His future speeches will be full of injunctions on the importance of taking the ‘wishes of the Kashmiri people’ on board.
- As in the case of the attempts to assassinate Musharraf, the international community (read the United States) will be reminded of the need to bolster his position in a country where the threat from Islamic militancy is real.
Clearly, India has a lot more to lose should the bus be attacked by terrorists. That’s one reason it is sparing little effort in securing the route. In the event of an attack, especially on the Indian side, Pakistan’s and Musharraf’s image will take a hit. It is not in Musharraf’s current interests to suffer a loss of face, not least when he’s folding his sherwanis for his visit to India. For that reason, an attack on the bus is unlikely.
Tailpiece: The Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman termed the threats by jihadis “uncalled for” because the passengers are “genuine” Kashmiris on their way to meet their loved ones. By implication, it’s plain that the Pakistani Foreign Office at least thinks that such threats would be called for if the passengers were Indians from anywhere else.