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Why dialogue with Pakistan is futile

By Sushant Sareen
June 29, 2009 16:16 IST
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Considering that 2009 marks the 20th year of full-blown insurgency in Kashmir, it is somewhat surprising that there are not many books that go behind the scenes and beyond newspaper reports to lay bare what actually was happening on the ground and to the people of the state. In recent years, however, Praveen Swami and David Devadas have done some remarkable work to fill some of this empty space. But until now, very little was known of how the insurgency was guided from across the border in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Much of what we know is based on information handed out by the Indian security agencies. There was however no means to corroborate this information. The absence of any independent source of information, which was also reliable, left a huge gap in our knowledge of how the insurgency was planned and how it played itself out inside Pakistan. Also missing was the story of the jihadists and Kashmiri separatists who operated from Pakistan.

In his book Shadow War -- The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, Pakistani journalist Arif Jamal, unveils the involvement of Pakistan in the insurgency and provides some new and quite startling details of the jihad that Pakistan waged against India in Kashmir. Having covered and observed this jihad from very close quarters, Arif was ideally placed to write this book. There is little that he doesn't know about the people and organisations involved in spawning militancy and terror in Kashmir. But while he is brutally honest in exposing all the misdeeds and murders that were committed in the name of 'Kashmiri struggle for independence', he has concentrated more on the involvement of the Jamaat Islami and its terrorist arm, Hizbul Mujahideen, in spreading murder and mayhem in Kashmir.

In the process, Arif has ignored the role of terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-i-Mohammed because, according to him, "they have a global agenda in which Kashmir is no more than a training ground."

Arif busts many myths in his book, not the least of which is the commonly held view that the alleged rigging in the J&K state assembly elections in 1987 sparked the insurgency. According to Arif, right from the time of partition, Pakistan was always on the lookout for opportunities to stir up trouble in Kashmir. There were occasional lulls in Pakistani efforts to destabilise Kashmir, for instance after the 1971 war. But these periods had more to do with Pakistan's compulsions rather than any change of intentions. As Arif puts it, "Jihad, holy war and diplomacy were thus the first elements of Pakistan's foreign and defence policy -- and they remain so more than 60 years later."

He reveals that in early 1980, General. Zia-ul Haq held a meeting with the chief of Jamaat Islami in PoK, Maulana Abdul Bari. In this meeting Zia told Bari that he "had decided to contribute to the American-sponsored war in Afghanistan in order to prepare the ground for a larger conflict in Kashmir".

Zia predicted that "the Americans would be distracted by the fighting in Afghanistan and as a result would turn a blind eye to Pakistani moves in the region" [If one goes by what Arif writes later in this book, a similar calculation is being made by the Pakistan army today]. When Bari asked Zia who in Afghanistan will receive the biggest share of US assistance, Zia said "whoever trains the boys from Kashmir".

Arif puts a lie to the propaganda that the insurgency in Kashmir is a localised phenomenon and has no links with Jihad international. The book clearly points to the organic links that were established between the Islamists who were waging jihad in Afghanistan and those waging jihad in Kashmir. According to Arif, "in the early days of fighting, Hizbul Mujahideen had all its fighters trained at camps in Afghanistan run by Hizbe Islami [of Gulbadin Hikmatyar]. In particular, they made use of al Badr in Khost province... Kashmiri fighters also made use of other camps in Afghanistan, including Khalid bin Walid, Al Farooq and Abu Jindal." The camp, Abu Jindal, was known as a site for training Arab fighters and in 1998 Osama bin Laden held a press conference there. Later, Arif reveals, training camps were established all over Pakistan and in PoK.

According to the book, the Hizbul Mujahideen learnt its brutality and savagery at the feet of Gulbadin Hikmatyar, who advised the HM chief Syed Salahuddin to eliminate all his rivals. The book quotes a HM commander who said that his organisation eliminated over 7,000 political rivals. But according to another dissident HM commander the number was "many times higher". The method of killing rivals -- chopping bodies, beheading them, sawing them, hanging them publicly are all eerily reminiscent of the tactics used by the Pakistani Taliban in Swat recently.

In a sense, Arif corroborates a lot of what Indian security agencies had already revealed to the Indian media. But where Arif breaks new ground is by informing his readers the suppleness with which the Pakistani military establishment adapts to unfavourable international situations and calibrates the jihad in Kashmir accordingly. This is something that holds important lessons for those in India who once again have started suffering from the delusion that Pakistan army has realised the futility of the jihad and that therefore the time is ripe for striking a workable deal with Pakistan.

Arif believes that the appointment of General Ashfaq Kiyani as army chief signals "a continued strengthening of Pakistani support for jihadi groups". He quotes an HM commander as saying that the jihadis "never had it so good since 1999".

In a clear indictment of the Pakistani policy of unending jihad against India, Arif writes that "in the spring of 2007, the ISI arranged several meetings between a group of Pakistani and Kashmiri jihadis and the Afghan Taliban... these meetings were aimed at creating coordination between the two jihads, in Afghanistan and in Kashmir... As a result of these meetings, some Pakistani jihadi groups joined their Afghan comrades in the tribal areas of Pakistan and also inside Afghanistan. However, most importantly, more jihadis were pushed across the LoC or use other routes to reach India... In a new strategy, most of them were ordered to establish sleeper cells". The aim of this link-up is apparently to reduce Indian support to the Hamid Karzai government and Arif speculates that the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul is probably a result of this new strategy.

Given that it now appears only to be a matter of time before India and Pakistan re-start the stalled dialogue process, this book should be an eye opener for the Indian negotiators. While negotiations are always a preferred way to resolve disputes, they will never be fruitful until and unless there is a genuine desire on both sides to seek some sort of a middle ground on which a deal can be struck. But if negotiations are only a smokescreen or a diversionary tactic for a nefarious game-plan, then quite obviously the negotiations will be a dialogue of the deaf.

The book, Shadow War, only reinforces the apparent futility of any dialogue with Pakistan at this stage.

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Sushant Sareen