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Kashmir: 'It's a very dangerous situation for India'

Last updated on: October 8, 2010 08:01 IST

Kashmir: 'It's a very dangerous situation for India'

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Ever since the flare-up in Kashmir worsened, veteran diplomat Howard B Schaffer, author of The Limits of Influence: America's Role in Kashmir, has been a much sought after expert in think tank circles in Washington, DC.

In an interview with rediff.com's Aziz Haniffa, Schaffer says if Delhi continues to be in denial, and Islamabad is tempted to stoke the fires as it always has, the Kashmir situation could unravel fast.

What is your take on the flare-up in Kashmir? Is it the so-called 'intifada' of two decades ago all over again?

It's a very dangerous situation for India because I believe this is a very genuine expression of thorough dissatisfaction with Kashmir's connection to India, launched by young people who can remember only conflict in their lives -- when you consider that the conflict began just about 20 years ago with the outbreak of the insurgency and the people who are involved in it now cannot remember any kind of stable situation.

And, they are convinced from various points of view -- the economic, political and cultural -- that they have no future as part of India, that their economic futures look very dim. Obviously, they don't trust the Indian authority and they seem to have turned their backs on all of the political leadership, both in the pro-India parties, which are taking part in the political process, and on the Hurriyat group because the Hurriyat people, it seems to me, seem to be sidelined and they are in the situation of leaders who are hastening to catch up with their followers.

I hope that India will follow through with the political efforts that have now been undertaken following the visit of that all-party group to the state a week ago. But what's very important is this -- that the record would indicate that India announces efforts to reform and then these peter out when the situation in the valley calms down. I hope that won't happen now.


Image: Still waters: The picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
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'Hurriyat leaders have been completely sidelined'

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Twenty years ago, too, when the insurgency first began, it was an indigenous movement; but then it got contaminated?

Yes, then too, 20 years ago, it started as an indigenous movement. The Indian side admitted that it was an indigenous movement but the Pakistanis moved to take it over. And, their efforts to take it over were quite brutal because people to who they looked for support and whom they supported turned on -- at Pakistani direction -- those who favoured independence and not an amalgamation with Pakistan. Now, so far at least, no evidence, credible to me, has been brought to light that the Pakistanis are involved. But the ISI will be strongly tempted to fish in these troubled waters, just as they did 20 years ago.

What is the distinct difference between then and now? As you said, these are young guys who grew up -- as you say -- knowing nothing but conflict, suppression, repression, etc. But you still find the old guard like Syed Ali Shah Geelani making the tough provocative statements as if he calls the shots and is pulling the strings?

I don't believe so for all his talk, because as I said, I believe the Hurriyat leaders have not been at the centre of things. They've been completely sidelined, (but) they've been trying to get back into controlling position. You hear interviews with these young people and they are seemingly acting on their own. Now Geelani is trying; he declares boycott days, shutdown days, but I think the difference to me is that this seems to be a very spontaneous movement by people without solid political background.

Why is it so dangerous? Couldn't the argument be made that this is a bunch of kids who started pelting stones at the Indian troops who probably overreacted?

It's dangerous for the reason that the Pakistanis will again be tempted to intervene and -- coming at a time when India-Pakistan relations continue to be tense in the wake of the Mumbai attack -- that this could create the possibility of another confrontation.


Image: A file photo of Kashmiri stone-thrower in action
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
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'After 63 years as part of India, Kashmiris remain alienated'

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You indicated that the Indian government seems to have made the right moves, with the all-party delegation giving pretty much an objective report to Delhi and there being some genuine efforts to address some of the grievances?

I believe the Indian response has been useful although it is very belated. After all, the troubles began on June 11 and it wasn't until mid-September that the Indians recognised that the situation was serious enough to lead them to take what was an unprecedented step of sending an all-party group to Kashmir. Obviously, they wanted to diffuse the responsibility and the blame among other political parties in India.

Now, some of the steps that have been taken are good ones, but it is much too early to make a judgement as to how far the Indians will be prepared to go to offer concessions that will be meaningful to the Kashmiris. They have once again talked about economic efforts, but these things have happened repeatedly in the past and the Indians will tell you quite rightly that India has invested a lot of money in Kashmir. But the trouble has always been that the money has gone into the wrong pockets.

As far as political changes go, we have to see what they are going to do about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It's good that they are releasing a bunch of youngsters from jail, that they are going to try to be less combative in dealing with these stone-throwing incidents, that people who have not committed serious crimes will be let off.

These are all good things, but again, we've got to see where it all leads to. And, the problem remains that -- and polling confirms this and this is incredible -- after 63 years as part of India, Kashmiris remain alienated and want to be outside of India. They no longer are interested in joining Pakistan. I mean, who would be interested in joining Pakistan?

But it is amazing that so much time has passed and so many Indian efforts have been announced but this sense of alienation continues all the way through society among Muslims in the valley.


Image: A policeman stands guard in front of closed shops during a strike
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
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'India has to resist the temptation of passing the blame to Pak'

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In New York in September, there seemed to be an opportunity for a summit between External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly sessions. But after the Pakistani foreign minister's biting remarks against India on Kashmir, the Indians ruled out any chance of a summit. After rhetoric that followed, it seems to have killed any chance of a summit for the moment and the resurrection of the composite dialogue between Delhi and Islamabad.

The last few words that you used -- for the moment -- are certainly applicable. The Pakistani leadership is faced with a difficult problem. Here, a 100-plus people have been killed in the valley of Kashmir. This has had a considerable impact in Pakistan, as it always does. So, would it have been politically possible for him (Qureshi) being in New York to have said nothing about the Kashmir issue? I don't think it would have been possible for him to do that.

But what is important is not what the Pakistanis say -- they've got to say something -- it's what they do; and what they should not be doing is interfering. And, I hope the Indian side will be honest in appraising what happens because there will be every temptation to say, 'Well, this is all the Pakistan's fault,' or, even if it started as an indigenous movement, that now 'the Pakistanis have taken it over'.

But that's a cheap way out, and the Indians have got to resist the temptation of passing the blame to the Pakistanis and have to persist with these useful steps that have been announced, beginning with (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh's speech and then going on to the eight points that were announced following the return from Kashmir of the all-party delegation members.

Watch out for the second part of the interview


Image: Curfew has been relaxed in Kashmir in the last few days
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
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