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The Kashmir issue

Gun to the head

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For Pakistan, it's time to harp on 'the Kashmir issue' again, this time with clear linkages to the mess in Afghanistan.

A day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Jammu & Kashmir to inaugurate the Banihal-Qazigund railway line through the Pir Panjal tunnel, terrorists shot and killed four Indian security personnel. The Hizbul Mujahideen claimed responsibility. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal database, of the 46 fatalities in 2013 HM is connected with at least 24 deaths in J&K. This has been an interesting trend, especially as security forces have taken an aggressive approach to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, recording significant successes. Much more disturbing is the intelligence that the LeT, far from being removed from J&K, has been acting through HM, thereby dressing up the attacks as "indigenous". In fact, security officials say a couple of recent attacks was actually the work of the LeT, not HM. Add to this the fact that 2012-13 has seen a sharp spike in infiltration attempts from Pakistan.

To many, it is a signal that things are changing on the terror front - as the Afghan war winds down, Pakistan is finding traditional occupation for its surplus terrorists. For the past decade, Pakistan's forces and terror networks were occupied in battling the Americans. Now, India is the obvious target.

For all those in India who smelt roses of peace with Nawaz Sharif's victory, it would be instructive to note that Sharif has - and successfully uses - a strong extremist base. The interests of that base are not hard to fathom. We can easily expect that the tolerance threshold for terrorism, specially in Kashmir, would be high. For these groups, Kashmir is easier to keep on the boil if it's isolated and under the threat of a gun. Connectivity, symbolised by the BQ-Railway, which presages development, is anathema. We need to factor these things into our security matrix as we too make adjustments in our policies for a post America region. The Pir Panjal tunnel is not merely an engineering marvel, it has the potential to be a game-changer in J&K's advancement.

But, look at a slightly different picture. Sharif and even the Pakistan army-ISI brass (who call the shots on terror in India and Afghanistan) understand that a full-throated terrorist campaign in India might falter for many reasons. Global tolerance for cross border terrorism has shrunk, Pakistan would lose a lot of support in America, the peace process would go for a toss, India is in a better position to respond, both economically and militarily. It's much better t o shift the proxy one step further - a Hizbul Mujahideen for instance. On a parallel track, Pakistan has resurrected that old chestnut - solve Kashmir and we'll solve Afghanistan. Kayani has been very active in getting the Taliban on board for talks with the US and, maybe at some point, the Afghan government.

In the decade that the US has been in deeply enmeshed in the war and local politics in Afghanistan and Pakistan, you would imagine they would be able to smell these old stories a mile away. But no. Its so much easier to be sympathetic to the fact that the poor Pakistanis have to support terrorism because India is so much larger and so much more threatening. So the western narrative has gone back again to that tired old theme, "oh, you stubborn Indians, if only you could "solve" Kashmir, we would have no problems in Afghanistan at all!"

Nobody defines what "solve" actually means. The Banihal-Qazigund Railway is actually a huge step towards "solving" it. If you ask these self-styled ambassadors of the Pakistani cause - Richard Holbrooke and his new successor, James Dobbins readily spring to mind - whether giving away Indian territory is the answer, they might balk at it. Talk about converting the LOC into the international border would drive Pakistan nuts. We had a pretty peace process going with the back channel negotiations between SK Lambah and his Pakistani counterparts. Kayani walked back from it and anyway, with the spike in terrorism from across the border, there may not be any support for it in India any more. But this doesn't stop the Americans and Brits from trying, in the vain hope that India can be pressured to save Pakistan from itself. Even this week, Dobbins had this to say in New Delhi, "Any improvement in Indo-Pak ties will almost automatically improve the Afghanistan situation. "

Writer William Dalrymple's beautifully written fluffy essay for Brookings Institution this week pushes the same line. "The hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan...instead our troops are now caught up in a complex war shaped by two pre-existing and overlapping conflicts: one local and internal, the other regional. " Its time to change this narrative. Pakistan's high-strung rhetoric glosses over the Pashtunistan question, that Pakistan keeps Taliban mired in Islamic extremism otherwise it would become a Pashtun battle which would threaten Pakistan's sovereignty. That is the real strategic depth Pakistan desires.

India should not let Pakistan dominate the India-Pakistan story. If we had sensitised the Bush administration about this, we must be prepared to sensitise every new administration in the same way. Internally, we should continue the process of giving Kashmiris a better, more secure alternative. In the region, its probably a good time to publicise Pashtun ambitions.
Pakistan believes in negotiating with the world with a gun held to its own head. So be it.

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