Kashmir at crossroads - by Waqas Javed Back   Home  
The whole world watched in disbelief as civilian airliners were flown into the World Trade Center buildings in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on September 11.

Any peace-loving person cannot support such clear, devastating acts of terrorism.

In South Asia, the effects were instant and surprising.

Pakistan, having long been ostracised by the USA for its close military links with China and its powerful nuclear programme (the world's only 'Islamic bomb'), was surprisingly quick to unequivocally extend support to America in its 'war against terror'.

Following these events, there has been strong resentment and protest by some elements at President General Musharraf's decision to side with the USA.

Its not clear just how many people have stopped to think about the options available to the Pakistani leader.

By giving instant support to President Bush, Musharraf warded off the immediate danger to Pakistan - an US-Indian alliance aimed at knocking out 'world terrorism'.

This alliance would have posed grave military and diplomatic risks for Pakistan.

Had Pakistan been cornered into siding with the Taliban, then those likely air sorties flying into Afghanistan may well have identified groups or states 'harbouring or supporting terrorists', which would have led to attacks on Pakistan-based militant camps (along the Afghan border and in Kashmir), Pakistani military installations, and, above all, Pakistani nuclear sites.

Being the lone Muslim nation possessing nuclear weapons, such an attack would have had grave consequences for the entire Islamic world for decades to come.

Diplomatically, once the onslaught on the Taliban had begun, Pakistan would have been branded a terrorist state and ostracised by the world community.

Islamabad may well have also faced economic devastation, with major institutions such as the IMF and World Bank possibly strangling Islamabad some more, along with sanctions from all corners of the globe, primarily the USA.

The cozy, warming relationship that President Clinton kicked off with New Delhi was surely teetering close to full recognition of terrorism in Kashmir.

Without doubt, after attacking Afghanistan and groups in Pakistan supporting the Taliban, this US-Indian alliance would have identified major militant groups based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir as 'terrorist organisations', and carried out attacks on them too, sooner or later.

(Remember that whether the Lashkars, Jaish, Hizb and co. of this world carry out uncalled for attacks on innocents in Jammu and Kashmir, they are seen in many parts of the world with suspicion, or as outright terrorists).

This scenario would have spelt doom for Pakistan, the Kashmir issue, and the effects would have left the Islamic world in further disarray.

By siding with George W Bush, it can be argued that President Musharraf is facing immense internal problems in Pakistan, as more than (General Musharraf's estimate of) 10-15% of the population is against Islamabad's support to the USA.

Religious 'Islamist' parties are trying their best to provoke more people out on the streets, as they see it as their duty to side with their Afghan brethren.

The USA has just recently announced lifting of sanctions related to the nuclear tests in South Asia.

With Pakistan's continued support for America's 'new war', debt relief and other financial assistance is bound to follow.

To summarise, President General Musharraf has had to choose between two evils - siding with the USA and save its skin, or helping the extremist Taliban and many innocent Afghan people, but face ruin.

No doubt, Islamabad had hoped to be able to use world pressure and its own persuasion to force the Taliban to hand over, or dispose of, the one individual that the USA wants to see tried - Osama bin Laden.

This seems even more remote than ever, as President Bush has arrogantly ruled out the compromise suggested by Afghan clerics of 'asking' bin Laden to leave the country 'voluntarily'.

The coming weeks and months will have a major impact on South Asia.

The expected bombing or related military operations against Afghanistan will test the patience of the Pakistani people once they actually see bombing on their brethren in Afghanistan.

Additionally, President Musharraf must know he cannot pat himself on the back and sit convinced that he has averted US guns from Pakistan and the Kashmir issue.

The world knows how short American foreign memory is - Pakistan was one of USA's closest allies for 40 years, but once its interest in Afghanistan ended (with USSR withdrawal), Islamabad was seen with suspicion over military and nuclear programmes, and sanctions imposed in the 1990's.

Iraq was propped up by the West to fight against the 'evil empire' in Iran throughout the 1980's, but once that regional war ended, the US exploited an opportune moment and bombed the world's 4th largest army (Iraq) into the stone ages.

After ignoring Serbian-influenced atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia throughout the early 1990's, the West decided to finally do the 'moral' deed and bomb Serbia into submission; the West, with all its civilised principles, decided to withdraw UN forces and ignore the killing and slaughter of millions of Hutus and Tutsis during Rwanda's genocide of 1994.

Clearly, Pakistan and Kashmir are going through a crucial phase.

The actions taken from here on will determine how these two regions are perceived, supported, or even ostracised by the world community.

Once the USA, along with its friends such as Britain, has finished their work in Afghanistan, they will turn to other areas of conflict or 'terrorism'.

Kashmir will definitely be addressed.

If Islamabad plays its cards right, it may be able to convince the world that the Kashmir issue is a deep-rooted, and internationally recognised problem that needs attention.

If India gets its way, the militant activities occurring in Jammu and Kashmir will be fully equated with the dastardly acts in New York, leading to pressure, if not action against militant groups, and an enforced solution, probably centred around the status quo.

Anyone serious about critically evaluating General Musharraf's record over the past two years must acknowledge that overthrowing a democratic (albeit despotic) government is no great deed; giving in to pressure from religious groups on civil and human rights improvements is also nothing wonderful.

But he has (so far) averted Western guns aiming at Pakistan's nuclear sites, and the world labeling Jammu and Kashmir as a terrorism issue.

He has taken a bold and quite unpopular decision to back the USA.

All his skills as a leader, steering his country and South Asia out of the quagmire in Afghanistan (and hopefully Kashmir) will be put to the test.

New Delhi's possible aims of either discouraging any prospective US involvement in Kashmir or its leaning on the USA to identify Kashmiri militants as terrorists will also be critical.

The dithering APHC, who may have taken the internationally-diplomatically correct decision to support Musharraf's actions, but has committed near-political suicide as the Valley Muslims feel the pain of their brethren in Afghanistan.

(How relevant and clever a political forum the APHC is will also be interesting to see over the next few months).

Without doubt, Pakistan, and Kashmir have entered a crossroads in their history, and the actors playing their (self-interested) parts will influence the fate of Jammu and Kashmir State.

As always, the Kashmiris will have to lie low and probably watch as their destiny may well be determined by others.
Modified version of an article published in Jung, Pakistan