Musharraf ups the ante on KashmirKARACHI - A US-backed peace initiative in South Asia began more than a year ago. Apart from several confidence-building measures, several new ideas were floated in an attempt to resolve the half-century Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.
Heavily backed by US assurances of aid and support, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf hastily took a U-turn on his country's Kashmir policy and talked of "meeting halfway somewhere" in the hope of emerging as the unequivocally US-backed leader of the subcontinent who had succeeded in resolving the Kashmir dispute.
However, India did not join in Musharraf's U-turn policy and remained firm on its stance that "Kashmir is an integral part of India", leaving Musharraf out on a limb. As a result, on his recent visit to the US, Musharraf had nothing to show President George W Bush other than a picture of resentment in the army. This resentment stemmed from Islamabad's conciliatory stance on Kashmir, which in turn came from the belief that Pakistan was not making use of its strongest bargaining chip: without Pakistan's intervention, the Afghan resistance would be able to consolidate on Pakistani soil. Many men in uniform therefore believed that Musharraf should use this fact to gain approval from the US for a tougher line on Kashmir, as he has now done.
No more Mr Nice Guy
In a Corps Commanders' conference held in the middle of this week at general headquarters in Rawalpindi, Musharraf, for the first time in more than a year, appeared to be on the same wavelength as his top brass. In great zeal, he announced "no more concessions to India, and tit-for-tat replies to atrocities committed by the Indian army in Indian-held Kashmir" and "no solution to the Kashmir problem except by plebiscite [by the people of Kashmir] for the right of self-determination" and "complete support for the armed struggle of Kashmiris for their liberation movement".
Insiders say this was Musharraf's bid to save face after his failed and one-sided diplomatic efforts to resolve the Kashmir dispute. The Musharraf government even went to the extent of closing all training camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir used as bases for cross-border militancy. Pakistan also turned a blind eye to India erecting a giant fence along the Line of Control that separates the two sections of Kashmir, in contravention of United Nations resolutions which suggest that Kashmir is a disputed territory and thus any demarcation should be discouraged.
This was done in the hope that Kashmir would be recognized as a land of seven regions, on US insinuation, and that India would agree on a formula which suggests the "division of Kashmir" on religious, ethnic and geographical lines. Yet India rejected all ideas except that "Kashmir is an integral part of India".
This diplomatic defeat was so big that Musharraf's credibility was at stake in his constituency - the Pakistan army. Something had to give, and global events played into the general's hands.
The US has extended itself in the Middle East, where it is deeply embroiled in a war in Iraq that it cannot win, and the situation can only get worse as the scheduled January 30 elections approach.
A previous ally in the "war on terror", Syria, is becoming a problem, while there is much bad blood with Iran over its suspected development of nuclear weapons and interference in Iraq. Afghanistan, despite presidential elections confirming Hamid Karzai as leader, remains a trouble spot.
At present, Pakistan is the United States' only link in these regions, especially Afghanistan, where, should Pakistan choose, it could facilitate a dramatic escalation in the resistance by opening up its bordering tribal areas to this resistance. The US, with its obsession to close war theaters, could not tolerate this, so it could not afford to lose its vital ally Musharraf.
Answer to US concerns
In this scenario, giving the rope to Pakistan to tighten the noose around New Delhi to talk business on Kashmir is the best option for both the US and Musharraf.
In Washington, Pakistan's policy to eliminate private militias was much appreciated - this was carried out at US dictate to all private militias which had ties to the Taliban or al-Qaeda.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil of the defunct Harkatul Mujahideen, Maulana Abdul Jabbar and Abdullah Shah Mazhar of the defunct Jaish-i-Mohammed and many other prominent names have been placed under "informal" detention at the behest of the US and are still under observation. More than 3,000 activists from these organizations are also missing from their homes.
The Jamaatut Dawa (formerly the Lashkar-i-Toiba) was also a casualty. Its leader, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, took an oath to all office bearers and partymen not to take part in any activity against party discipline, which included not sheltering any foreigners or taking part in any insurgency or in the guerrilla movement in Afghanistan. This created a lot of dissent within the party and dozens of Lashkar's activists protested. They were quickly rounded up and placed in detention. Many are missing.
Given this Pakistani cooperation, a limited operation against Kashmir to force New Delhi to talk about the disputed region would be acceptable to the US. Sources within the military tell Asia Times Online that Musharraf will give the go-ahead for "limited activity" in support of the Kashmiri movement and that all Kashmir groups have been given the signal to operate. Prominent among these will be Jamaatut Dawa members in Mureedkay at the Dawa's headquarters in Punjab, who in March will mount a new wave of suicide attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.