Originally Published 2004-01-07 07:23:28 Published on Jan 07, 2004
It would not be fair to term Syed Salahuddin's statements on Kashmir as the official Pakistan policy. But the fact that Salahuddin has been making, rather freely, statements on Kashmir, which seem to be contrary to the stance taken by Islamabad-at least for the time being-is a clear pointer to Pakistan's strategy on Kashmir.
Pakistan's charm offensive
It would not be fair to term Syed Salahuddin's statements on Kashmir as the official Pakistan policy. But the fact that Salahuddin has been making, rather freely, statements on Kashmir, which seem to be contrary to the stance taken by Islamabad-at least for the time being-is a clear pointer to Pakistan's strategy on Kashmir.

The first is to adopt a calibrated, if crude, flip-flop approach to the "K" issue. The second is to make diplomatically correct statements on Kashmir. Third, to keep the issue alive on a third front by letting people of all hues, from terrorists to commentators, to keep talking and writing about Kashmir. Pakistan has been quite successful in this approach. Kashmir, by and large, without being on the agenda of the SAARC conference, remained, throughout the past three days, the central theme of nuances, posturing and statements.

Islamabad had fielded two players in this game. One official, another demi-official. Syed Salahuddin, the chief of Hizbul Mujahideen and the head of United Jihad Council, was the proxy. The official one was Pakistan's Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad. Salahuddin has been holding forth on Kashmir rather vigorously since the peace initiative had begun. He clarified his views on the issue in a signed article in Nawa-i-waqt and Ausaf, two of the most influential Urdu newspapers in Pakistan, a few days before the SAARC summit. He wrote there could be no peace in the world without solving the issue of Kashmir. He said the mujahideen should be given due credit for keeping the Kashmir struggle alive. He praised President Musharraf for extending moral and material support for the struggle and added, Pakistan should not make the past mistake of letting the people of Kashmir down by signing agreements like the Shimla Accord or Lahore Declaration. He said he was sure that President Musharraf would not let the people of Kashmir (read jihadis) down this time.

On January 5, 2004, on the second day of the summit, the Hizb leader said the SAARC nations should not ignore the ground realities and take steps to resolve the Kashmir issue "in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiris". He said that was the only path to peace.

If Salahuddin was the only one making such noises, it would have been sensible to ignore him and his histrionics. But his official counterpart, Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, too, has been echoing the same sentiments for quite some time.

On January 2, speaking to the media (reported in Ausaf) about the preparations for the SAARC conference, Mr Rashid Ahmad said Kashmir was a question of life and death for Kashmiris. This statement was remarkably similar to the one made by President Pervez Musharraf sometime back, when he said Kashmir "runs in our blood". The Pakistanis do not even change the script. It would not be surprising if one were to look at what Mr Rashid Ahmad has been saying in the run up to the SAARC conference. On December 23, for instance, speaking on behalf of President Musharraf, he declared that Pakistan was committed to resolving the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

Talking to the Associated Press of Pakistan, the official news agency of that country, he said the President reiterated that Pakistan has a firm commitment to its principled position on Kashmir dispute. He quoted the President assuring a delegation of Kashmiri leaders that Pakistan would give due regard to the aspirations of the Kashmiri people whenever there is progress towards resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

On January 5, the Minister said "the way leading to normalcy in India-Pakistan relations is passing through Kashmir" (Indian Express, January 6, 2004). Saying that friendship was in the mutual interest of India and Pakistan, he said the objective can be achieved only if the Kashmir issue was addressed.

Jang, a widely read English newspaper in Pakistan, quoted Mr Rashid (Jan 6) as stating: "The issue of Kashmir involves three parties including India, Pakistan and Kashmiris. So the concerns of all parties have to be addressed to have a sustainable solution of the lingering dispute." He said the people of Kashmir have waited over a half-century for the solution of their problem and it will be unjust to make them wait further.

Put these statements together and it would be easier to locate the common thread. Both are talking in the same vein. What they are saying is this: Peace is fine but not at the cost of Kashmir. It means the terror campaign would not be over. In fact, my suspicion is that the Army-jihadi network is already busy setting up new camps, pushing in weapons and explosives and training new recruits for renewed violence in Kashmir, once the hyped bon homie of SAARC is over and India gears up for elections in spring. This is the time for the snow-bound passes to thaw. Remember 1999. There was similar hype, hoopla and declarations of friendship while General Musharraf was sending in his troops camouflaged as intruders.

There are indications this time round too about Pakistan's intentions in the near future. Don't hear, listen. Listen to what the General and his brigade is not saying. One, they are not saying there should not be terrorism in Kashmir. They are not even mentioning the word "terrorism".

For a country which is supposedly working with the United States in a war on terrorism, this amnesia is a matter of concern but not exactly unexpected. As the General said early this year at the United Nations, there was only "indigenous struggle" going on in Kashmir. Though everyone thought it appropriate to talk about the people of Kashmir, no one paid even a lip service to the hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians killed in Kashmir. They too were Kashmiris.

So which Kashmiri welfare is the General and his brigade talking about? Second, peace has become a catch word in Pakistan. From militant to the military, every one is talking about peace in south Asia. But, and here is the catchword, if only India could settle the Kashmir issue with Pakistan. Hear Salahuddin or Mr Rashid or General Musharraf. That is the common refrain. The Pakistani propaganda machine has achieved another success. By provoking India to take an aggressive stance two years ago, Pakistan turned Kashmir into an international issue.

Now, it has queered the pitch by suffixing 'peace' to Kashmir. There would be peace if the Kashmir issue could be resolved. And the issue will only be resolved if India sits across the table with Pakistan to decide the fate of Kashmir. What should be our reaction? Shake hands with the General. Smile to the cameras. Talk peace. And ignore the bait. Don't react. Be extra alert at our borders. Plan a counter-proxy strategy for this summer. This would be a hot summer on, and inside, the Line of Control.
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