Originally Published 2005-09-14 05:14:11 Published on Sep 14, 2005
The composite dialogue between India and Pakistan has reached a critical juncture. In the past 20 months, there have been countless discussions on a variety of issues that have been plaguing the relationship between the two neighbours.
Pointers to Pakistan's Strategy
The composite dialogue between India and Pakistan has reached a critical juncture. In the past 20 months, there have been countless discussions on a variety of issues that have been plaguing the relationship between the two neighbours. 

These discussions have been 'fruitful' but are yet to yield any 'fruit' in terms of resolution. It is in this context that a cautionary note must be struck, particularly since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is meeting President Pervez Musharraf over dinner at New York in the coming days.

A candid assessment of the situation will reveal that, (a) there is growing impatience in Pakistan about the lack of progress in the talks, especially on Kashmir; (b) there is a visible move, not only among the religious extremist groups but also within the political and military establishment about bringing the focus of the dialogue back to Kashmir; and (c) there is no sign of any executive action to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan.

The growing disenchantment with the progress made so far in the composite dialogue is reflected amply in the media, seminar circuits, speeches made by religious and political leaders including President Musharraf and his Cabinet colleagues, and the return of terrorist leaders like Syed Salahuddin to the front pages of Urdu newspapers and magazines and during private conversations with Pakistani diplomats, journalists and academics in India. 

The difference in perspectives between January 2005 and September 2005 is glaring. Although the issue of Kashmir has been treated as part of the dialogue, there has been an increased attempt on the part of Pakistan to bring it back on top of the agenda.

The common refrain in Pakistan today is that without a resolution in Kashmir, there cannot be any progress in the peace process. The argument is that a majority of the Pakistanis are getting impatient about India's (what they perceive as) deliberate attempts to sideline Kashmir and resolve other issues which benefit the latter. A senior Pakistani diplomat told a gathering recently in New Delhi that India must move ahead on Kashmir before taking up other issues. These are important pointers to Pakistan's strategy on the peace process in the near future. 

An important strand of this strategy is to stall a prolonged dialogue on Kashmir. It is clear that Pakistan is not inclined to keep the dialogue going till there is a semblance of a resolution in its favour. It is also clear that it will not accept any suggestions that might benefit India. This posturing should be read in the context of India's categorical statement that there would not be any redrawing of the boundaries. This neutralises any possibility of the much-talked-about Musharraf plan to divide Kashmir into five zones being considered. It is equally unpalatable for Pakistan to accept the Indian option for soft borders as it would mean de facto acceptance of the LoC as the International Border. Pakistan is therefore left with limited options on Kashmir and is hence making some desperate manoeuvres to extract some concessions. 

First was the insistence on co-opting the All Parties Hurriyat Conference in the talks on Kashmir. Although it was against all norms for a government to lobby for a group of secessionists to be included in a dialogue between the governments, the Indian Government accepted the demand and allowed the Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan. Subsequently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited them for talks that could be fairly termed a breakthrough. 

There are clear indications that Pakistan is not really pleased with this turn of events. The presumption was that the talks with the Hurriyat would break down, creating domestic dissent in the valley, making it easier for Pakistan to gain the upper hand in the diplomatic shadow boxing over Kashmir. 

There is move afoot now to include secessionist leader Syed Shah Geelani in the dialogue. Geelani, who heads a breakaway faction of the Hurriyat, Tehri-e-Hurriyat, has been closely aligned with Pakistan and has been demanding independence for Kashmir. Last month, Geelani was allowed to organise a seminar on the unwieldy sounding 'Possibilities of success of Kashmir liberation movement and threats and fears' in Islamabad. 

The Government's blessings for the seminar could be judged from the participation of Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. Other speakers included Jamaat-e-Islami leaders like Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Muttahida Jihad Council leader Syed Salahuddin and other heads of terrorist groups. 

One of the two common threads of the arguments at the seminar was the insistence on calling terrorism in Kashmir as a 'liberation movement', a traditional stand taken by Pakistan, both at the popular and political level. The second common point was the 'yeoman's service' rendered by Syed Shah Geelani in the liberation movement in Kashmir. Federal Minister Sheikh Rashid praised the role of Geelani in the 'liberation movement' and said there could not be peace in the world without resolving the Palestine and Kashmir issues. Significantly, he called upon the international community to differentiate between terrorism and 'liberation movement'. 

Interestingly, Syed Salahuddin, who heads the Muttahida Jihad Council, a group of terrorists operating from Muzaffarabad, PoK, had similar sentiments to express, an indication of convergence of views between the government and the jihadis on Kashmir. Salahuddin said his group was not prepared to give up terrorism at any cost. He pointed out that it was the jihadis who have forced the Indian Government to come to the negotiating table on Kashmir. This was a sentiment expressed by several other speakers.

It would be perilous to dismiss this seminar as an attempt by a disgruntled organisation of no consequence to earn its keep. Geelani might be considered a close associate of Islamabad but he has enormous nuisance value in the Valley; he can whip up passions in hostile situations created at regular intervals by accidental or deliberate cases of encounter deaths and human rights violations by the security forces. Geelani is certainly an effectively tool for spreading dissent and dissuading the public, at least in the Valley, from making overtures of peace like calling for soft borders. Federal Minister Sheikh Rashid's acknowledgement of Geelani's "contributions to the liberation movement in Kashmir" is an indication of Islamabad's eagerness to utilise his services to create roadblocks in the peace process. 

This possibility should be read with President Musharraf's consistent refusal to deal sternly with terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Although he has been claiming action against terrorist groups, security forces have only been targeting either Al Qaeda leaders (on the US list) or sectarian and religious extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (whose target is Mr Musharraf himself). He has quietly allowed Lashkar, one of the world's most notorious terrorist groups, and next only to Al Qaeda in its networking and strength, to regroup as a frontline ally of Osama bin Laden's terror factory in Asia.

There are credible reports in Pakistan media about the large-scale recruitment by LeT from rural areas in Punjab, Balochistan and North West Frontier Province and the huge amount of donations and contributions garnered from various national and international sources. LeT leader Hafiz Sayeed is free and conducts prayers at a Lahore mosque every Friday. According to the Urdu media, Sayeed has also been openly entertaining opposition leaders in his new house in Lahore. His headquarters, where young students are first indoctrinated in jihad before being sent for three-phase guerrilla warfare training, is located close to Lahore.

It is, therefore, imperative both for continuing the peace process and keeping peace that Mr Manmohan Singh should raise the issue of terrorism with Mr Musharraf, and clarify that unless terrorist killings stop in Kashmir, there cannot be any hope for the people of the region. He should also persuade the General to abjure the policy of using terrorists to run his country's foreign policy. A possible side remark should be to ignore people like Geelani who have no locus standi in Kashmir. 

The author is a Senior Fellow and Director, Information Services, Observer Research Foundation.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, September 14, 2005.
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