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Tensions in India Endanger Pakistan's Experiment

Terror, Tensions in India Endanger Pakistan's Experiment

By J. Sri Raman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

A 12-hour encounter between a group of militants and security forces left eight persons dead in the Samba sector of the India-administered State of Jammu and Kashmir on May 11. Earlier, heavy firing across the India-Pakistan Line of Control had been reported from the same area, fortunately without any casualty figures.

On May 13, a series of seven bomb blasts shook the crowded and colorful city of Jaipur, capital of India's State of Rajasthan, taking an immediate toll of at least 60 lives and leaving hundreds injured. The victims included members of all communities and many children. The firings and the blasts across the border are fraught with graver and more far-reaching consequences for Pakistan's fledgling democracy than the issue of judges hogging the headlines for quite some time now.

There, of course, is no denying the importance of the issue threatening the unity of the coalition thrown up by the democratic process in the country after eight long years of military dictatorship. Ministers representing the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) have rendered their resignations from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani's government over the issue. The protracted talks between former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People's Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan, Dubai and London have failed to find an agreed way to implement the Murree Declaration of March 9, envisaging reinstatement of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and other judges sacked by a fiat of Pervez Musharraf in his days of unchecked power.

The issue, however, is not hopelessly intractable. The PML (N)'s resignations are yet to be accepted, and the party has pledged continuing outside support to the Gillani government. More importantly, Sharif has declared that he and his party won't "strengthen the forces of dictatorship" by joining the ranks of the Opposition - with Zardari ruling out a "minus-Nawaz option" for the PPP. Pakistan, hopefully, will learn to live with problems of democracy in daily practice.

But the events in Jammu and Kashmir and Jaipur threaten to impact Pakistan's relations with India. And problems of peace with India, with their profounder roots and ramifications, can pose a far graver danger to Pakistan's new democracy, which sorely needs time to settle down.

Peace between the nuclear-armed neighbors is all the more important for Pakistan at the present juncture for the priority of the problem of terrorism and extremism on its agenda. Peace on the India front would appear essential for the success of the political-military struggle that awaits Islamabad on the country's western border.

The firings and the blasts have brought Pakistan-related questions to the fore again in India. Opponents of India-Pakistan peace have, predictably, seized the occasion to stroke the fires of hatred. It is not they alone, however, who are bringing up the Pakistan issue in the current context.

Questions have been raised in quarters supportive of the India- Pakistan peace process as well. Quite a few of them suspect the hand of sections in Pakistan's establishment - who do not want the success of the country's political experiment - behind the events. An editorial in Bangalore-based Deccan Herald. for just one example, says: "There are sections in the Pakistani establishment that are keen to weaken the new democratic government and there is a likelihood that they will act to facilitate infiltration of militants into India and encourage violence here in a bid to undermine the India-Pakistan cease-fire and dismantle the peace process."

The suspects include, in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, sections in Pakistan's security forces and, in the instance of Jaipur, the rather infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) associated with past military regimes.

Indian media, quoting Border Security Force (BSF) sources, had set off alarms by May 10 over alleged Pakistani violations of a cease- fire in Kashmir declared on November 26, 2003, ending 14 years of almost daily exchanges of fire in the region. The Pakistan Army has denied any such violations.The repeated reports of encounters between the militants and the security forces on India's side of the Line of Control, however, have kept tensions alive.

In the case of Jaipur, predictably again, the obviously well- organized blasts, camer, a popular pilgrimage center in the State, on October 11, 2007.

The situation changed, however, after India's Minister of State for Home Shri Prakash Jaiswal lapsed into the familiar talk of "foreign connections", while talking of the serial blasts. The BJP has been quick to take the cue and demand the restoration of a draconian "anti- terrorist" law, passed during the party's rule in New Delhi and scrapped under popular pressure. It can be counted upon to carry the campaign forward and target the India-Pakistan peace process as well.

The alleged cease-fire violations, projected in India also as an attempt to prevent Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly elections planned for October 2008, may also bring the Kashmir issue to the fore from the "back burner," where it had been placed for some time.

Zardari had raised hopes that the issue would not heat up under the democratic dispensation in Islamabad in a much-publicized media interview on March 1. He said: "... we feel for Kashmir, the PPP has always felt for Kashmir. We have a strong Kashmir policy.... But having said that, we don't want to be hostage to that situation. That is a situation we can agree to disagree on." Adding that the neighbor could "agree to disagree on the UN resolutions" as well, he said, "We can wait. We can be patient till everybody grows up further. Maybe the coming generation grows up even further...."

Disagreeing that the Kashmir issue could best be sorted out while the Army was in power in Pakistan, Zardari asked: "Well, we've had army rule for eight years. Have they solved it?" That seemed to make eminent sense - but not to all. The soft line did not strike a chord in sections of public opinion in Pakistan. Worse was the response in Kashmir. The Kashmir Times said Zardari's comments "evoked strong reaction and resentment from not only the separatists in the valley, but also from the mainstream politicians." Greater Kashmir, said Zardari, had no right to speak on behalf of his country on "the mother of all issues between India and Pakistan."

Zardari was obliged to clarify and qualify his statement. On March 28, he said that the new government intended to solve the Kashmir problem and "not just shadow-box" with it. "We are totally involved with Kashmir." he declared.

On March 12, the Pakistan Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, raised many eyebrows by making a political statement on Kashmir. A military statement said that, during a visit to forward locations near the Line of Control, he "highlighted the national consensus that exists on the Kashmir issue" and "reaffirmed the commitment of Pakistan Army to the Kashmir cause in line with the aspirations of Pakistani nation." On May 12, Gillani said the proposals discussed with India in recent years to resolve the Kashmir issue were "half- baked things that didn't have the mandate of Parliament." Asserting that the "core (India-Pakistan) issue" of Kashmir must be settled "in line with UN resolutions and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people," he said that, "at the same time, there should be a rethink" about the issue and that his government could "go beyond" the UN resolutions.

For further developments on the issue, we will have to wait until India's external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee, visits Pakistan on May 21 to start the fifth round of the "composite dialogue" between the two countries. Well-wishers of Pakistan's democracy must hope, more than anyone else, that the dialogue is taken forward, despite the happenings in Jammu and Kashmir and Jaipur.


A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of "Flashpoint" (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

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