Kashmir not the issue, Pak-Afghan border is
It now turns out that Indian lobbying was successful in ensuring that India and/or Kashmir is not part of Mr Richard Holbrooke’s official brief. Mr Holbrooke was named “special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan” by the US secretary of state, Ms Hillary Clinton, after India made clear its sensitivities on this issue to the Obama administration. The Indian government was apparently so concerned about the Holbrooke mission to South Asia that they informed Obama officials that it would not hesitate to make Mr Holbrooke persona non grata should his brief include India or Kashmir. The Obama administration, realising that they might have a diplomatic crisis on their hands at the very beginning of their term, promptly complied. While this does not mean that the Kashmir issue has gone off the agenda, it demonstrates the limits of Western influence on the issue, especially as it comes after British foreign secretary Mr David Miliband’s disastrous visit to India.
During his recent trip, Mr Miliband not only revealed his fundamental ignorance about regional issues but in one stroke demolished whatever little credibility Britain had in India. His hectoring of the Indian government that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute is essential to solving the problem of extremism in South Asia revealed a man completely out of his depth.
Granted that Indians tend to overreact whenever there is even an indication of any outside interest on the issue of Kashmir, but Mr Miliband’s ill-informed pronouncements and complete lack of sensitivity towards Indian concerns underlie a larger problem with the emerging Western response to the evolving security environment in South Asia. It started with the US President, Mr Barack Obama’s suggestion that the success of US endeavours in Afghanistan depend on greater American activism on Kashmir. Mr Miliband, it turns out, was rather prompt in taking his cue for the changing winds in Washington.
India has been a victim of terrorism long before the Twin Towers came down on September 11, 2001 and the London subway was bombed on July 7, 2005. The West created, supported and helped the Mujahideen dislodge the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and, when the Soviets left, the West promptly left Afghanistan to its own devices. The gravest consequences of the Talibanisation of Afghanistan and the Islamisation of Pakistan have been felt by India which has, over the years, seen a sustained increase in cross-border terrorism of growing lethality.
The Kashmir conflict is a very small part of this larger dynamic and with two consecutive successful elections, the last one witnessing around 60 per cent participation by Jammu and Kashmir’s electorate, it is hardly the reason why Mumbai was attacked or why the West is losing the war in Afghanistan. To rationalise the terrorist attacks in Mumbai by linking them to the Kashmir issue not only defies logic and is devoid of any serious analysis but it is also profoundly irresponsible and dangerous. It ignores Indian attempts over the past decade to acknowledge the aspirations of Kashmiris with the liberal, democratic and secular framework of its Constitution as well as bilateral attempts by India and Pakistan to reach some sort of understanding on this issue.
It also weakens the position of the newly-established civilian government in Pakistan vis-à-vis the military. For the Pakistani military, the bogey of Kashmir is essential to retaining its predominant position in the Pakistani society and state.
It is true that the West is on the verge of losing the war in Afghanistan and it desperately needs Pakistan’s support. Pakistan keeps threatening to move its troops from the western to the eastern frontier and is demanding its pound of flesh for helping the West. And the only thing that the West seems to be able to offer is Kashmir.
Mr Miliband needs to realise that those who attacked Mumbai and are creating problems for the West in Afghanistan do not give a damn about Kashmir. The targets in Mumbai — hotels, a train station, foreign visitors, Jews — reveal the ever-growing ambition of groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba whose leader, Hafiz Saeed, has openly talked about creating a “Muslim South Asia”. Islamist radicalism is not a consequence of the Kashmir problem and just as 9/11 and 7/7 cannot be attributed to the non-resolution of the Palestinian issue, Mumbai attacks cannot be a consequence of the Kashmir problem. The vast tribal areas in Pakistan, which have never been under the effective control of any Pakistani government, have become the breeding ground of Islamist radicals. And from there they are wreaking havoc in Afghanistan — not allowing new democratic institutions to take root and allowing for a possible return of a reinvigorated Taliban. Radical Islamist ideology is also now penetrating far and wide. Recent terror attacks in Britain owe a lot to these lawless areas where several British citizens have come, trained and gone back to terrorise their country.
India cannot be expected to give in to Pakistan’s territorial ambitions so that the Pakistani Army can fight more effectively in the troubled border regions of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). It is the underlying fragility of Pakistan’s basic institutions that is haunting Pakistan and with it the entire region as well as the West’s war on Islamist extremism. The state institutions — the civilian government and the military — seem unwilling to acknowledge the obvious: that the threat of extremism that is haunting the very survival of Pakistan today is the consequence of Pakistan’s long-standing policy of using Islamist extremist mobilisation and jihadist terror for domestic political purposes as well as for projecting Pakistan’s ambitions in its neighbourhood.
The real threat to the West today comes from the lawless borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan where Al Qaeda and Taliban are riding a wave of resurgence, steadily gaining more and more territory. Mr Miliband would be well-advised to open his eyes to the two-faced policy of the Pakistani Army and instead of rationalising its dangerous policies he should be holding its feet to the fire. The answers to the British and American problems in Afghanistan lie in Pakistan, not in Kashmir.
Mr Miliband rather grandiosely concluded his article in the Guardian by suggesting that the best response to terrorism is to refuse to be cowed down. But that’s exactly what he preached to New Delhi during his failed visit. Thankfully, India learned its lessons from the Miliband trip.
Harsh V. Pant teaches in King’s College London