BY ASHIS RAY
Let me begin by saying that even after 30 years there’s no guarantee as yet of a durable ceasefire in the civil war in Afghanistan.
In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers indulged in violent extremism for decades, which included the assassination of a former and would-be Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. I have experienced both situations first-hand; and do not for a moment underestimate their seriousness.
In this instance, though, I would like to restrict myself to India-Pakistan circumstances, as relations between these two neighbours are today at rock-bottom.
The 1971 Indo-Pak war was a watershed in ties between the two nations. On June 27, 1972, on the eve of his departure for Simla for talks with the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Pakistani President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a broadcast on Radio Pakistan said: “The war we have lost was not of our making. I had warned against it but my warning fell on deaf ears of a power drunk Junta. They recklessly plunged our people into the war and involved us in an intolerable surrender which lost us half our country.”
It took seven years and a coup d’etat for the Pakistani army to reassert itself; and with its recapture of power began a policy of trying to avenge 1971, not by war, but by chipping away at India with a proxy war.
In 1983, the National Conference party in Jammu and Kashmir won a second landslide victory in state elections. But their leader and chief minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, fell out with Indira Gandhi, who used her constitutional levers to dismiss his government the following year.
When Dr Abdullah subsequently patched up with Indira Gandhi, many of his supporters disapproved of the reconciliation. Thus, when fresh elections took place in Jammu and Kashmir in 1987, a significant segment of the National Conference’s traditional voters turned against them. The outcome, though, did not reflect this. In others words, it is widely believed the results were rigged. The parties that suffered went on to constitute the separatist All Party Hurriyat Conference.
In February 1989, Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan. People in Indian-controlled Kashmir were inflicted a view that if Pakistan could have defeated the Soviet Union, Indian soldiers would be no match for their Pakistani counterparts in the event of an invasion by the Pakistani army. Thus, even pro-India Kashmiris became nervous and felt it was better to be on the right side of such a war than the wrong one. It is in this fertile atmosphere of alienation and fear that an uprising occurred in August 1989 in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
During the 1988 to 1992 presidency of George Bush Senior, the United States administration placed Pakistan on a preliminary watch list of countries potentially sponsoring terrorism, without designating it as a state sponsor of terrorism as such. So, I asked a senior American diplomat posted in Islamabad what persuaded President Bush to issue such a caution. He replied, the President had “credible evidence” to do so. I probed the diplomat further. He revealed US satellites had picked up movement of Pakistani army trucks delivering weapons close to the Line of Control with India in Kashmir. The weapons had been supplied by western countries to Pakistan for distribution to the Afghan Mujahideen. Instead, they were diverted to Kashmir. That, I believe, was the genesis of a proxy war, which has included the audacious assault on Mumbai in November 2008. As recently as the killing of Indian para-military personnel in Pulwama in Kashmir in 2019, the Jaish-e-Mohammad released a video saying it carried out the attack.
It’s possible that since 1989 Indian agencies have retaliated and therefore been behind incidents in Pakistan. I recall one in Karachi in the 1990s where I suspected this could be the case. But in 1997, Inder Gujral as the Indian External Affairs Minister announced his doctrine for cordial relations with India’s neighbors. Together with this, came instructions to Indian espionage organisations to cut back on covert operations. Consequently, for a lengthy period thereafter India exercised considerable restraint.
Whether such activities have resumed under Narendra Modi, I can’t certify one way or the other. The truth is I don’t know. But what I am confident about is this: that Kulbhushan Jadhav, allegedly an Indian spy apprehended inside Pakistan, could not possibly have had the capability to single-handedly destabilise Balochistan.
During negotiations at the Simla summit, Bhutto floated the idea of the Line of Control in Kashmir being converted into a “Line of Peace”. General Pervez Musharraf’s formula in 2006 was broadly along similar lines. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government ultimately found it difficult to trust a man who was instrumental for the Kargil intrusion in 1999. Basically, there’s a trust deficit between the Indian establishment and the Pakistani military. Only by bridging this shortfall can there be any meaningful forward movement.
There’s an appreciation among Pakistan-watchers in India that the main political parties in Pakistan are not disinclined towards peacefully resolving differences between the two nations. This is also true among progressive parties in India. It was also the outlook of the otherwise anti-Pakistan Bharatiya Janata Party under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
It appears to be the belief in the power structure in Pakistan that militancy in Indian-controlled Kashmir is justified. I beg to differ. As the European Commission has echoed, where there’s an opportunity to enter office through the ballot box, violence is unjustified.
The Election Commission of India has ensured free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir since the 1990s. In India’s north-eastern states, separatist parties have fought elections and formed governments, like the Scottish National Party. Sinn Fein is a member of a ruling coalition in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the legitimacy of separatist forces in Jammu and Kashmir can best be established by proving they indeed enjoy majority support.
The one and only opinion survey carried out on both sides of the Line of Control in Kashmir — by King’s College London and Chatham House in 2010 — 44 per cent of people in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir wanted independence as opposed to 43 per cent in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. Merely 2 per cent of people in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir wanted to join Pakistan, compared to only 1 per cent of people in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
Such figures may have changed in recent years. But India and Pakistan are obliged to sorting out their disputes under the Simla Agreement, which states “the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations”. This Agreement is registered as a Treaty with the United Nations under Article 102 of the UN Charter.
So, are terrorism and proxy wars a threat to peace and stability in South Asia? They certainly are. And the sooner they are dispensed with, the better it will be for the region.
(Ashis Ray is an author. This was his speech at a webinar organised by the London Institute of South Asia. The views expressed are personal)