No matter what the outcome of Foreign Secretary Chokila Iyer's meeting in Colombo last week with her Pakistani counterpart, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee did well earlier to set the record straight so far as his agenda in any future talks with the Pakistani military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf goes. It was vintage Vajpayee that afternoon in Parliament, when, days after the inquisitors had their say, accusing him of everything short of a sell-out, he spelt out his version of Agra in clear-cut tones. In the process he explained what he made of Musharraf's naivette, what his own expectations had been and how he felt let down in the end. If some thought that it was the usual soft-pedalling of what was perhaps a diplomatic disaster at Agra, Vajpayee was very clear in his mind that the reality was far from that perception. Predictably he did not shut the door on resumption of talks with Musharraf but he made no bones about what the agenda would be whenever they meet next. It could not be Kashmir, Kashmir, Kashmir. A future dialogue on Indo Pak relations could not be held hostage to Musharraf's whims. There is much more at stake in Kashmir than merely winning or losing media wars. Kashmir is not an Islamic war or jihad. It has a direct bearing on the future of the sub-continental polity. It is for Pakistan to decide whether it wants to use Kashmir as a bridge or continue to make it a bone of contention. Either way, Vajpayee appeared to suggest, that there would be no solution to the problem on terms sought to be laid down by Musharraf and his men.
The problem with Musharraf is that he speaks with two voices. One voice is obviously intended to earn brownie points internationally, the one that seeks to project him as a man of peace, willing to go the extra mile along the path of reconciliation with an inimical India. The other voice is fine-tuned to remain in step with the mullahs and radicals within his country which forces him to take the line that there is no terrorism in Kashmir and that Pakistan has nothing to do with cross-border terror.
For the benefit of the internationally community he has kept up the charade of local elections a lead up to higher levels nationally. The local elections may have been held on a non-party basis to his consternation most grassroots political parties are back in place. That certainly will not prevent Musharraf from going ahead with raising an Ayub Khan-like electoral college to finally gain domestic legitimacy for himself or he may even do a Zia by going ahead with a non-party election at the top layer as wel and then handpick a Prime Minister who (like Zia's Junejo) could be kicked out any time. Pakistani military dictators have not been known to accept court to orders nor even the pledges they themselves make. Musharraf, for the record, has another year to usher in democracy in his country. The question is what kind of democracy is it going to be. If he is to stick to his earlier Attaturkian posturing he must keep the mullahs out of the reckoning. Yes, that will mean continued reliance on the military in matters of State but that' the only way he can do an Attaturk. The mullahs and the clergy would have to be sidelined from the electoral process in that event. Can he afford to do it? He can, if his commanders stay loyal and he shows the necessary ruthlessness to put down the mullahs.
But given the Kashmir backdrop it seems unlikely he can get the mullahs and their jihadi groups off his back. He needs them if he has to keep the Kashmir pot boiling. Only the other day one of the better known Pakistani Jihadi leaders was hectoring India on Kashmir on the American CNN. As a counter to ''Indian barbarity'' in Kashmir his own and other jihadi groups, said the beard on the idiot box, the jihadis would strike in the Indian heartland, target top Indian political and military leaders. And he said it with the straightest of faces.
For the rest you have to listen to the rantings of the Lahore-based Dawarul Irshad and its armed wing, Lashkar-e-Toiba or to the top leaders of Harkatul Mujahideen and the Jamaat-e-Islami. They given you the impression that Pakistani is about to launch a massive terrorist assault all over India. One of the Jihadi outfits has welcomed the emergence in India of fanatic fringe organisations like the Bajrang Dal, the Shiv Sena and the VHP promising to one day confront the Hindu chauvnists against the might of Islamic forces. One doesn't have to really refute the absurd position of these Hindu ''organisations'', but the fact is that their noise level is inversely proportional to their marginalised position in the overall Indian picture.
In Musharraf's Pakistan the Jihadis have spread their tentacles all over the land and what's more they seem to be prospering. And more disturbingly for us, they seem to be pushing in as many mercenaries into Jammu and Kashmir as they can. The Jihadi rhetoric at the moment appears to have gained much ascendancy across the border and its ramifications are becoming visible in Jammu and Kashmir with terrorists throwing acid on innocent women students, insisting on men sporting beards and wearing salwar kameez a la Taliban. How absurd must all this appear to young Kashmiri men and women when they see, courtesy PTV, their Pakistani counterparts (lumpen apart) in Lahore and Karachi sporting trendy clothes, doing song and dance routines, walking down the ramps.
And this finally brings me to the ''bold'' and ''dramatic''- ''draconian'', if you will-decisions taken in New Delhi the other day about how to tackle terrorist activity. If merely by declaring certain parts of the State as a disturbed area the problem of terrorism could be solved then the problem in the Kashmir province should have ended many years ago when district after district was declared a disturbed area. By extending the ''disturbed'' net to Jammu province, I am afraid, the problem will not be solved. Only you will give an incompetent State Government further tools to entrench itself in power.
Under a similar earlier dispensation in Kashmir a unified command comprising the Army, Border Security Force, CRPF etc has already been in existence for long. Top commanders of the security forces form the core of the command centre with the Chief Minister at its head. What we have seen of the functioning of the command has been hardly encouraging. For one thing, a peripatetic Farooq Abdullah is usually unable to chair the unified command meetings; second, inter-service rivalries, dictated more by rank than substance, rarely permit cohesive action.
I don't see the situation changing in Jammu. If the Army is to be at the heart of counter-terrorist activity it follow that it should have the major say in policy, of course, not to the exclusion of the views of other para or civilian forces engaged in the operation. The Chief Minister should come in only when the political aspects of a particular operation are involved. For the rest, once the task has been identified, the execution should be left to the field commanders. The Security Forces should in no case be converted into handmaidens of the discredited political leadership in the State.
We have to remember that Pervez Musharraf, the commando, has given no indication of his willingness to rein in the terrorists. His drum-beaters have been going round the world once again plugging the line that terrorism in Kashmir is in reality a freedom movement and that no Pakistanis are engaged in it. Were it really an indigenous problem we would not have been bombarded day after day with those fiery jihadi invocations from the Pakistani soil and aired (with nauseating fudging of video tapes) by PTV with unfailing regularity. If the terrorist threat in Jammu and Kashmir is to be countered effectively the unified command will have to become a reality. Military decisions should be left to the men from the military.
The State government should concentrate on addressing the problems faced by the common people which it unfortunately has failed to do so far. I have a gut feeling that the raising of additional village defence committees, hopefully better armed, too, is not going to solve the problem. It will become another vehicle for politicians to promote their vested interests
Published in http://www.dailyexcelsior.com