T h e

K a s h m i r

T  e  l  e  g  r  a  p  h

Fourth Edition

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

August 2002

I N S I D E


Spotlight               S H Zaidi

Top of Page        KPS Gill

Special Report     S Roughneen

Fundamentals     Praveen Swami

Periscope            B Raman

InsideTrack          H Bashani

Himalayan Blunder                 W Hussain

In Black & White G Peiris

Statecraft             B Raman

Bottomline           N Kaushik

 

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 F U N D A M E N T A L S

 

Kashmir: The Dictator In His Labyrinth

Praveen Swami


Now that the prospect of an India-Pakistan nuclear conflagration has vanished off the front pages of newspapers, the international community seems to have decided it can safely go back to pretending nothing is particularly amiss in Jammu & Kashmir.

Two leitmotifs have dominated recent western diplomatic activity in New Delhi and Islamabad. First, Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, must be made to further realise his promises to end cross-border terrorism. Second, India must recognise the efforts made by Musharraf, and pull back the troops massed on its western borders. All of this is premised on the assumption that Musharraf is at least half-serious about de-escalating violence in Jammu & Kashmir, a conviction that a section of the Indian diplomatic and security community seems to share.

Publicly available data does nothing to affirm this happy belief. In January, India's Army chief General S. Padmanabhan had announced, in the wake of the previous month's terrorist attack on Parliament, that his troops were ready to go to war. From that month to the end of June, well after Musharraf made his promises, 456 civilians were killed in terrorist-related violence, up from 445 during the same six months of 2001. Terrorists killed fewer police officers and troops, but the number of attacks on Indian security forces did not decline significantly.

Neither was there any meaningful reduction in overall levels of terrorist violence.

Key to the debate is whether or not Musharraf is committed to stopping the movement of terrorists from their training camps in Pakistan across the Line of Control. At first glance, Indian intelligence estimates do seem to suggest a sharp fall in the numbers of terrorists making their way into Jammu & Kashmir. These statistics seem to have shaped the thinking both of western diplomats, as well as much of the Indian media and several important political figures.

Three points, however, seem little understood. First, estimates of trans-border movement are exactly what they purport to be: estimates. Collated from fire contact, sightings, source reports and interrogations, infiltration estimates can and are routinely revised days and even weeks after they are issued. The presence of new groups who have crossed the Line of Control may become known only when they surface in interior regions of Jammu & Kashmir. As such, intelligence estimates cannot be used to accurately gauge short-term trends, much less the strategic intent of Pakistan's intelligence community.

Second, there is little sign that Musharraf is indeed committed to actually terminating the activities of terrorist groups based in Pakistan. Only two leaders of terrorist groups active in Jammu & Kashmir, the Lashkar-e-Taiba's Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed and the Jaish-e-Mohammad's Masood Azhar, are under arrest. Both of them have been held for domestic dissent directed at Musharraf, not the terrorism charges India has long demanded they be tried for. The 14-member United Jihad Council, which coordinates the terrorist campaign in Jammu & Kashmir, continues to function freely. Their chairpersons, the Hizb-ul-Mujaheddinís Mohammad Yusuf Shah, better known by his nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, and al-Umarís Mushtaq Zargar, have both issued media-delivered threats against those who might wish to participate in the coming elections in Jammu & Kashmir. Zargar is believed to have ordered the recent assassination of the centrist political figure Abdul Gani Lone, after the latter engaged with the Indian government in a dialogue on possible participation in the elections.

Third, it seems to have escaped notice that the fall in infiltration detected through June was preceded by unusually high levels of cross-border movement from March to May. The number of terrorists now present on ground, the figures on violence indicate, allow Pakistan's intelligence establishment to sustain violence in Jammu & Kashmir at levels it believes can sufficiently serve its military purposes. It is also important to note that signals traffic from control stations in Pakistan continues more or less unabated. The sharp fall in the numbers of terrorists killed by Indian security forces suggests efforts are being made to avoid fire contact in order to conserve cadre for larger objectives.

What might this larger objective be? The figures again tell the tale. It is no coincidence that the killings of civilians have escalated to new heights. Many of the victims have been middle-level political functionaries of the pro-India political party which holds power in Jammu & Kashmir, the National Conference. Functionaries and supporters of other pro-India organisations have also been targeted for assassination. So too have those who won seats in village-level local bodies which were held in phases from mid-2000. In short, there is a systematic effort to intimidate civil society ahead of the elections, scheduled to be held in October. This alone renders absurd the debate on whether those elections will be fair or unfair: no election can be truly fair when participation entails a credible risk of getting killed.

Unless there is a demonstrable ground-level reduction in killings, the entire debate on whether or not cross-border movement has declined, and whether or not training camps have been closed or relocated, will remain pointless. This, sadly, is profoundly unlikely to occur. The contours of international engagement with India and Pakistan this summer have affirmed Musharraf's convictions that there is no substantial price to be paid for backing terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. The General's pronouncements in a series of recent interviews have made transparent his belief that Pakistan's nuclear capabilities will deter a full-scale Indian military response. As such, the Pakistan military-intelligence establishment remains content to tie down Indian troops, drain its resources, and hope continued violence will eventually leverage a settlement in its favour.

The July 13 massacre of 28 workers and their families near Jammu city has been interpreted as the work of those who wish to spark off an India-Pakistan war. It could, just as easily, be read as an enterprise to determine how India might now react to a major outrage of the kind that nearly led it to war this summer. This time, India did nothing. Sooner or later, however, some government is bound to discover that the political price of inaction outweighs the indisputably calamitous risks of war. The best way of making sure this outcome is never realised is for the world to ensure that Musharraf reins in the Islamic Right's storm troopers: the sooner, the better. Whether it has the will, the vision or the ability to do that is, of course, another question altogether. 

By special arrangement with Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. (South Asia Intelligence   Review)

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