US secretary of state Colin Powell will be arriving in Delhi. His deputy Richard Armitage will be here in August. The British foreign secretary Jack Straw will be here next week. The defence secretary Geoffrey Hoon was here last week. In between the foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair, David Manning, was in the capital for a day. The attention has shifted: from cross border terrorism to Kashmir.
The language is also being modified to suit the occasion. “Free and fair elections” has been replaced with the term “inclusive.” “Autonomy” a word that raises the bile in RSS throats has been replaced by “devolution of power.” In fact one of the first to use it in India was the new deputy prime minister L.K. Advani who said that autonomy was out, but delegation of more powers could be considered for Jammu and Kashmir. Of course, “mediator” is an ugly word in the corridors of power where the officials and their political masters alike look upon the rest of India as imbeciles who can be talked into believing anything, and “facilitator” is the new term brought in by the Americans to describe their own role in India. And so “facilitator” it is for the government of India.
The immediate strategy for Jammu and Kashmir, woven in the United States and being executed by both India and Pakistan, is very clear. The first step: restrain Pakistan. Not just for the sake of controlling terrorism, but also to ensure an “inclusive” election in Jammu and Kashmir with all groups and individuals identified by the powers that be, participating in the exercise. Control on jihadi violence was also necessary to allay the fears of the voters so that they could be “encouraged” to come out and vote in larger numbers so that the final results could be convincingly presented as a true outcome of a genuine poll.
The world leaned heavily on Pakistan. President General Pervez Musharraf was made to acknowledge the existence of cross-border terrorism, he was compelled to recognise his jihadis as terrorists, and he was forced to declare that he will end the menace. This had India crowing about the success of its military diplomacy: our threat of war has got Pakistan on its knees. This, of course, was more for the domestic audience than the international players who have a more realistic picture of the existing situation and are not as susceptible to Delhi’s selective propaganda as some sections of our media and society. But then that was the understanding: the government could project the taming of Pakistan as a victory and use it to convince at least the RSS and its own constituency that there was no give, only take in the situation.
Of course, in the process Musharraf was badly hit. His assurance conveyed by Richard Armitage to India about ending cross-border terrorism, had the US thumping his back. But the people in his own country had a different point of view. The intellectuals turned, renaming him “Busharraf” in the process. Those in the media who had wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt in the earlier stages, began attacking him for unquestioningly toeing the US line. The jihadis united to bay for his blood. The people questioned his reversal of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy, from “freedom struggle” to accepted terrorism. President Musharraf became increasingly insecure, and desperate. And his statements again became more vitriolic and confusing. His “I have given no assurance” to Armitage had the Americans rushing again to soothe tempers and prevent an over-reaction from India. The government was more than willing to be assuaged, and in a strange kind of reaction announced that the Pakistan President had given an assurance that he would not allow the Line of Control to be crossed by terrorists. This despite the fact that the assurance was not given directly to Delhi, but to the United States. Obviously the government has developed a child like faith in the Americans, endorsing all they say as the gospel truth.
So that brings us to Step Two. All western diplomats, visiting or stationed in Delhi, admit that Musharraf is all they have to pursue the US-led war against terrorism. There are no two views on this. He is good, he is cooperating fully, and he is the best we have. American interlocutors have over and over again praised him as a strong ally, lauded him for his cooperation, and certified his good intent. Given this fact, it is obvious that General Musharraf is central to the American plans for the region and hence, it follows that they have to rescue him from the attack he is under at home. They have succeeded in getting India off his back, now Step Two will be to ensure that the domestic criticism is also allayed and he gets back to some position of strength.
Step Two thus will be a combination of elections in Jammu and Kashmir along with the Indian commitment for a dialogue. The last part would have been Step Three, if domestically General Musharraf had been able to hold his own. But now it is imperative for the Americans to ensure that he receives the necessary assurances soon so that he can convince his people that all is not lost, that Kashmir remains central to Pakistan, and that he has got talks with India in his basket of achievements with Washington as the hyper active facilitator. There is no doubt that talks will begin after the elections are over. There is of course a real fear, shared by the Americans and the British, that the terrorists will try to scuttle this with a big attack.
This is what the present activity going on in Delhi, Washington, Srinagar, London, Islamabad is all about. India is under pressure now to give a commitment, before the polls in Jammu and Kashmir, that it will begin the dialogue with Pakistan. Provided the elections pass off peacefully. Delhi has been taken on board about Pakistan’s fear that any act of violence in Jammu and Kashmir will be attributed to Islamabad. There have been murmurs from senior leaders here that the government is aware of the distinction, and that there could be acts of violence perpetrated by those seeking to scuttle the entire initiative. And that these persons might not necessarily have President Musharraf’s mandate.
The international community is also actively involved in determining the “inclusive” nature of the state polls. The Prime Minister’s Office has been working hard to draw in the separatist groups and individuals into a third front for the elections. It has also been sending emissaries, and talking directly, to the surviving leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. The Americans are also using their intermediaries to iron out this conglomeration’s reservations and ensure its participation. The National Conference has been held at bay with sops and promises as for some reason the akhand government shares Washington and Islamabad’s scepticism and reservations about this one political party that has continued to stick to New Delhi, despite criticism and mounting attacks.
There are still many pitfalls. The Hurriyat is still fearful of inviting the wrath of the terrorists across the border. After the public murder of leader Abdul Ghani Lone they, perhaps, appear stronger than the Americans and the Indians in the Valley. It is also not clear of how its participation will go down with the people, and what it will gain in the final analysis. There is considerable debate within about the pros and cons of participating in the polls, with many leaders pointing out that a commitment bereft electoral exercise will harm their credibility. There is also an unvoiced appraisal of their own worth, in that many of those in the Hurriyat do not have the support they have been claiming for several years.
As for the third front. While here some progress appears to have been made, there are still many reservations about the final decision. What will be the package that they will sell to the people? Of course, from all accounts this is being worked out by the Prime Minister’s Office with close help from the facilitators across the Atlantic. Then who will be the chief minister? Shabir Shah appears to have excited the fancy of several western interlocutors but he does not have the same support within the Valley. Any such decision, even informal, has the potential of cracking the third front even before it has been finalised.
It is still not clear how India’s interests will be served by this exercise. The RSS has made it very clear that it will now actively campaign for the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. And if the present plans succeed, then it is safe to presume that the Valley will be represented by the Muslim separatists and Jammu and Ladakh by the Hindu fundamentalists. For neither the BJP nor the separatist groups have a state wide image, and will be confined by the voting pattern itself into their areas of influence. This will have the Muslims speaking for the Valley, and the Hindus speaking for the rest of the state. A major step in itself for the religious division of the state.
The National Conference was slowly wiped out by its own leadership and by the partisan and highly authoritarian measures adopted by successive governments in Delhi. Despite being a party with a state wide image and genuine links with Delhi, the politicians in both Srinagar and Delhi have worked for the decimation of the National Conference. To a point where today no one is willing to touch it, as it has lost the faith and trust of the people it claims to represent. In fact, the people in the Valley will not come out to vote if the National Conference is seen as the only party in the fray.
Step Three then contains the real plan. It is the hidden agenda that will be unveiled gradually, in stages. Washington and London speak in sugary terms about the well being of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, of their aspirations, of their health and happiness. Islamabad makes it clear that it wants the accession of Kashmir, and not just the autonomy that will obviously jeopardise the status of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir as well. Delhi continues to insist that the state is part of India, and does not even want to discuss the question of more autonomy, and a conscious effort to ensure an end to human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir.
Needless to say those talking about the well being of the people will carry the day. Not because they care for the well being of the people, but because they have managed to convince the people of Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control that they care. Just as they care for the people of Afghanistan who continue to live in turmoil and misery under US supervised administration. Washington never acts, it has never done so in 200 years, for the people of any state except its own. It acts for its own interests. And these interests will be divulged in Step Three, if all goes well. Or we just might have to wait for Step Four.
Published in Asianage.