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Kashmir: Vehicle of the Indo-Pakistani Conflict

by Manfred Haack, Friedrich Ebert Foundation India, and Gunter Lehrke, Friedrich Ebert Foundation Pakistan
February 20, 2002

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  • September 11th and its aftermath fundamentally changed the political coordinate system in South Asia.
  • After the attack on the parliament of Jammu and Kashmir, India sees itself as a victim of international terrorism.
  • India is moving the attack on the parliament in Delhi close to September 11th and in this way is trying to legitimize the worsening conflict with Pakistan.
  • Part of the political identity of both India and Pakistan is reflected in Kashmir. It is an expression of the span of secular federalism in India or cornerstone of the Muslim state of Pakistan.
  • Cashmere is the vehicle of a contradiction that has emerged from the fundamental conflict. Therefore, there is a lack of political will to simply resolve the conflict.
  • The hardening of Indian attitudes can be traced back to an ideologically motivated paradigm shift in the government coalition of Prime Minister Vajpayee.
  • The cost-benefit calculation of the militarily senseless and politically fruitless escalation of the conflict is devastating.
  • Since both opponents can apparently no longer free themselves from their political predicament, mediation imposed from outside appears inevitable.

The aftermath of September 11th

After the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, there were political changes of position worldwide, especially in Asia, which fundamentally changed the coordinate system of South Asian politics.

The Indian government had fulfilled what it believed it owed the strategic partnership with the United States by immediately declaring, admittedly not undisputed by the public, willingness to join the American-led anti-terrorism coalition. Parallel to the sobering experience that specific offers from bases, airfields and overflight rights in Washington were acknowledged with polite disinterest, the Indian political class had to watch how Pakistan succeeded in shaking off the stigma of a rogue state with a brilliant tightrope act by its military president to become a key partner in the American campaign in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has done more than jumping beyond its own shadow in the situation. Musharraf has decided to change policy towards Afghanistan and in his own country - initially at the risk of putting his country in a civil war-like state. The optimists in Pakistan were ultimately right; there was no great wave of solidarity for the Taliban. For Pakistan this was an important personal experience. After September 11th and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan by the USA, it was not ruled out in Pakistan that the Islamists might succeed in mobilizing millions. But there were only a few tens of thousands and the government remained in control of the situation.

The attacks after September 11th

On October 1, 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack on the parliament of Jammu and Kashmir in Srinagar. It is not surprising that the groups Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba, operating from Pakistan, were soon vying for authorship, but that Pakistani President Musharraf expressed condolences to Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee by telephone. Nevertheless, the Srinagar assassination resulted in a categorical change in the Indian position within the anti-terrorism coalition. After India, at American insistence, initially promised not to use Musharraf's risky change of side from sponsor of the Taliban to ally of the USA as a favorable opportunity to its own advantage, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh complained in Washington, with clear reference to Pakistan, that India was also a victim of international terrorism be.

When five terrorists, presumably from the Pakistani part of Kashmir, tried to storm the Indian parliament in New Delhi on December 13, and ultimately took eight security guards and a gardener with them, patience seemed to break in India. In retrospect, of course, it looks more as if one had been waiting for an event of this kind. What followed looked like an Indian copy of the American over-interpretation of September 11th. The nefarious act of a handful of suicide bombers turned within hours into an attack on the symbol of Indian democracy, and consequently on democracy itself, and finally into a declaration of war on the Indian Union. This semantic escalation was followed by the planned increase in political hostility towards Pakistan.

The Indian approach was followed by recognizable irritation on the Pakistani side, especially since the government there immediately condemned the attack and Musharraf had begun, within the limits of his current possibilities, to restrict the freedom of movement of Islamist extremists.

The reasons for the dramatic escalation of the conflict, which just in time for Christmas brought both countries - at least rhetorically - to the threshold of another war, are of course largely on the Indian side and only indirectly have to do with the attack on parliament.

The event, which was reduced to the date in parlance - the similarities are purely coincidental - and thus iconized as "December 13th" finally gave India the opportunity to restore the politically correct ranking: "India is a victim, Pakistan is a perpetrator".

Although these exaggerations clearly served the public cultivation of political self-confidence, apparently the serious intention to steer the drive of the American campaign towards cross-border terrorism in Kashmir also played a role. Strangely enough, it was overlooked that American involvement in Kashmir would inevitably lead to the internationalization of the Kashmir conflict, which India has categorically rejected so far.

Another domestic political reason for the unproductive Indian brinkmanship (a policy of extreme risk) is the state elections in Uttar Pradesh scheduled for February. According to the polls so far, the BJP, which leads the center-right coalition in New Delhi, has to reckon with a defeat in the most populous union state with 130 million inhabitants. However, one of the unwritten laws of the Indian political system is that whoever loses in Uttar Pradesh cannot win at Union level either.

Conflict policy

For India as for Pakistan, part of their political identity is reflected in Kashmir. For one, Kashmir is an expression of the span of secular federalism, for the other the cornerstone of the Muslim state in the line of succession to British India. And both have more or less suppressed the need of the Kashmiri to determine their own identity. If there were no other dispute between India and Pakistan, one could imagine a conditioned autonomy solution for the Kashmir problem - for example covered by interlinked Indian-Pakistani sovereignty.

In reality, of course, Kashmir is only a vehicle for an antagonism that has emerged into a fundamental conflict, one that keeps both countries permanently trapped on the brink of war to their disadvantage. The unresolved conflict provides both of them with the pretext to put overdue reforms on the back burner. It is no coincidence that the politics of India, which alternated between summit diplomacy and the threat of war, coincided with the apparent failure of its much-vaunted New Economy. For Pakistan, Kashmir remains a fundamental question that is closely linked to national identity - as was made clear in many speeches there on the occasion of Kashmir Day, which was once again celebrated as a public holiday on February 5th.

However, the hardening of Indian attitudes towards Pakistan is mainly due to a political paradigm shift in the government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. In its Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads a coalition of 24 parties, the hardliners around Interior Minister Lal K. Advani, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and especially security advisor Brajesh Mishra seem to have gained the upper hand. Mishra is said to have pursued only two goals since the BJP came into power, namely to elevate India to a nuclear power and to eliminate Pakistan once and for all as a disruptive factor in Indian politics. The latter reflects in its unadorned militancy the Hindu nationalist ideology of the BJP, whose extremist zealots without hesitation cross the line to racism. These groups, which internally are already waging civil war against the large Muslim minority, naturally also provide the martial background noise for every political threatening gesture against Pakistan.

Summit in Agra

The most recent escalation of the Indian-Pakistani conflict had begun six months earlier with a renewed attempt to defuse it.

In somewhat surprising contrast to the previous doctrine - as long as Pakistan does not prevent cross-border terrorism, there will be no dialogue - Prime Minister Vajpayee invited the Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf to a summit meeting in Agra.

Already the delay of eight weeks between the invitation and the final date gave the questioners and opponents of détente on both sides ample opportunity to torpedo the chances of success of the meeting, sometimes with exaggerated expectations, sometimes with gloomy pessimism. As a result, when a breakthrough of whatever kind on the Kashmir issue was foreseeably lacking, the summit was succinctly certified as a failure. Certain advances in other areas and the value of political dialogue per se did not hold up against this finding, which came as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The day after that, the hardliners in New Delhi reported back and declared all approaches achieved in Agra to be irrelevant.

Musharraf, who had appointed himself president a few days before the meeting so that he could negotiate "on an equal footing" with Vajpayee, came out very well at the meeting from a Pakistani point of view, even if he returned empty-handed. His image as a sovereign statesman had won.

Beyond the current assessment, the Agra Summit is of historical importance for two reasons. Once it was the first meeting of its kind after the Kargil War in early summer 1999, after the change of power in Pakistan in 1999 and after a certain movement in Indian Kashmiri politics. On the other hand, the staging of the summit as a media event inspired the political imagination about the immense development potential of good neighborly relations between the two countries.

Interests in and in Kashmir

Indian Defense Secretary George Fernandes is certainly right when he said that a conflict that has lasted five decades cannot be resolved in five hours of negotiations. However, the Kashmir conflict is not so persistent because its solution would be complicated in itself, but because so far neither India nor Pakistan have had the political will to accept the consequences of resolving the conflict.

For the state of Pakistan, the demand for a "liberation" of the majority Muslim population in the Indian part of Kashmir is constitutive. That is why in the past the support of all those who waged this "liberation struggle" more or less violently was considered legitimate. There is no question that intruders who were up to anything other than the self-determination of the Kashmiri were there from the beginning. Therefore, today it is not easy to sort out who is an Islamist terrorist, a homeless mujahedin or an authentic freedom fighter in the Northern Frontier Provinces. No Pakistani government that wants to remain in office can refuse to support the latter - at least not as long as India is not prepared to make substantial concessions in Kashmir.

On the other hand, from the Indian perspective, the membership of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Union is non-negotiable. India sees itself as a democracy politically and historically in the right and thinks that it has already made its contribution to the compromise with the de facto recognition of the Kashmiri dividing Line of Control. The weakness of this position is that India is now trying to enforce its claims in Kashmir against the local population and is therefore acting as an occupying power. Initially moderate demands for autonomy were not taken seriously and Indian rule was instead strengthened with a lot of repression and fraudulent elections. As a result, the original desire for autonomy has now hardened into a desire for independence.

The extent to which the hesitant contacts with the All Party Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of Kashmiri autonomy initiatives, can change anything depends on whether these groups will re-present a majority and on a majority in the elections in Jammu and Kashmir due in the fall Get a mandate.

In the meantime, the idea is also gaining ground in Delhi that an autonomy solution "within" the Indian Union could cut the Gordian knot. The failure of a ceasefire unilaterally declared by the Indian army has shown that this alone would not solve the security problems in Kashmir. From this perspective, the vague prospect of agreeing a modus vivendi on the Line of Control with Musharraf was reason enough for Vajpayee to jump over his shadow with the invitation to Agra.

Pakistan's internal struggle

The Pakistani military government, however, tightened the noose around "jihad" groups in the country towards the end of 2001 - with unforgivable delay, as some believe - by arresting Maulana Masood Azhar, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and around 100 of their supporters. Both are the heads of the most active groups of the "freedom fighters for Kashmir", the Jaish-e-Mohammad (fighters of Muhammad) and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (troop of the righteous). The 100 or so arrested were in different parts of Pakistan and their offices in cities such as Karachi, Islamabad, Multan, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Sukkur were closed and sealed in the last days of the old year. Afterwards, the two movements became quiet and members who had not been arrested went into hiding.

In the course of the international anti-terror campaign after September 11th, the regime is persecuting the jihadis in Pakistan and Islamist parties. But it did so only after the attack on the Indian parliament on December 13th and the serious tensions with its big neighbor with the necessary severity. Now the jihadis and Islamist parties have accused Musharraf of abandoning Pakistan’s position on Kashmir for 53 years. These fears were particularly fueled by the announcement by Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar that those arrested by these groups could be extradited to the international coalition against terrorism.

The President of the Republic, General Pervez Musharraf, had repeatedly declared from the beginning of his term in office that he would not allow jihadis to cause problems for his regime. Throughout his reign there were repeated attempts, albeit half-hearted, to put an end to Islamist groups and their fighters. The interior minister, Moinuddin Haider, decided at the beginning of 2001 to break up the jihadi groups that hide terrorists. They were forbidden to raise money for their cause and their weapons were confiscated. Public appearances and press releases by representatives of these groups were prohibited.

After Musharraf decided after September 11th to support American actions against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a stricter crackdown on the Islamist combat groups began. First, the office of the relatively small Taliban-affiliated organization Harkate Jehade Islami in Lahore was closed and its employees arrested. Then followed the ban on Harkat ul Mujahedin and the freezing of their bank accounts. Shortly afterwards, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba were declared terrorists. Your accounts have been locked.

This has led Pakistani public opinion to believe that President Musharraf has weakened the Kashmiri freedom struggle. This puts him in a difficult position, because the overwhelming majority of the population supports the struggle and the fighters for an independent Kashmir. Therefore, the President cannot allow himself to abandon Pakistan's old position, which is calling for a Kashmiri plebiscite.

An always open question in Pakistan is what role the military intelligence service ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) plays and how far Musharraf has it under control. Although he has changed the head of the ISI, the impression persists that this service continues to lead a life of its own thanks to its stable internal structures and strong Islamist forces, which is beyond any control.The ISI promoted the Taliban and supported it personally and materially and is also involved in the fighting in Indian Kashmir. Although Musharraf managed to significantly improve his country's international image after September 11th, he still has to put up with doubts about his trustworthiness as long as he does not succeed in draining the Jihadi swamp on the one hand and for transparency with regard to the ISI on the other to care. The achievement of the latter is very doubtful in Pakistan.

On Saturday January 12, Musharraf made his much-anticipated speech to the nation on national television announcing the ban on another five Islamist movements and clearly affirming Pakistan's position on the Kashmir issue. The ISI was asked to support the following actions and to provide assistance to the police. The speech did not come as a big surprise, but it was well received in Pakistan as it emphasized clear positions - the right words at the right time. In the following days, more than 2,000 other people were arrested. The Koran schools are being controlled even more and the mullahs have been banned from making political speeches during prayers in mosques; they should be strictly limited to the recitation of the scriptures. The long-term goal is to integrate the Koran schools into the national education system and to introduce a comprehensive curriculum there. The necessary funds for this, however, are nowhere to be seen.

Regarding the ongoing tension with India, Musharraf said his country was unrestricted and ready to defend at any time. The Kashmir question thus remains unsolved, and Pakistan, unlike India, would like to see it dealt with internationally. Musharraf continues to offer his hand to India and repeatedly call for talks - as most recently on Kashmir Day.

India, meanwhile, wants to see more Pakistani action against terrorism and is keeping up the pressure. Since then, the public in Pakistan has been discussing the question of how terrorism should actually be defined, and the prevailing opinion is that India is also guilty of terrorism in Kashmir. There is also suspicion that Indian intelligence services are responsible for disruptive maneuvers in Pakistan.

The internal situation in Pakistan remains tense. Again and again, jihadis report from the underground, and even in the capital Islamabad there are attacks on vehicles from foreign institutions. The currently worsening situation in Afghanistan, the difficult-to-control Pakistani-Afghan border and the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan will continue to keep the country in suspense. Meanwhile, national elections and a return to parliamentary democracy are due this year. With Pakistan's struggle on so many borders, there will be a Guarded Democracy controlled by Musharraf, his generals, and the National Reconstruction Bureau he created. Not as bad as the majority in Pakistan thinks, because the country has to demonstrate stability in order to get the economy going again and continue to work to gain and maintain international reputation and credibility - which the parties are not necessarily trusted .

Show down without exit option

Two pieces of news about the recent Indo-Pakistani confrontation caught the attention of the globalized public, namely the superlative that the Indo-Pakistani border was the largest concentration of troops since 1971, and the alarming indication that both sides had nuclear weapons. For India, this confirmed the experience already made with the nuclear tests that drastic action is required in order to be taken seriously internationally. It remains to be seen whether the deployment of troops actually aimed at this psychological effect - in any case, it makes little military sense. Apart from the destruction of long-evacuated terrorist camps, there are no operational goals, and everything from air support to logistics is missing for more far-reaching intentions - such as the idea of ​​conquering the Pakistani part of Kashmir, which has recently been ventilated in the Indian press. What is more problematic is that India apparently does not have an exit strategy after building up its military threat and is therefore intensifying the political rhetoric as a substitute. The statement by Prime Minister Vajpayee that India will never accept the Line of Control as a compromise does little to de-escalate - which the USA in particular is now trying to achieve.

The cost-benefit calculation of the militarily senseless and politically fruitless showdown is devastating. Both sides are investing billions of dollars, which are urgently needed for future projects, in an unresolved past. More than the authoritarian feudal state of Pakistan, however, democratic India has to be accused of persistence in a policy following the patterns of the Cold War. The underlying error that a policy of strength leads to the weakening of the enemy and consequently to its own advantage seems to fail Indian politics to recognize that dangers emanate from a weakened Pakistan, while only a self-confident, strong one has bargaining power.

But there are also politicians in India and intellectuals who think in terms of win-win strategies, without which conflicts in a globalized world can no longer be resolved.

Former Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit packs this insight into a scenario according to which the Indian-Pakistani conflict has long been internationalized through massive American influence behind the scenes. After all, with its military presence in the region - which is oversized for the purposes pursued in Afghanistan - the USA has the means to eliminate both the Pakistani and Indian nuclear weapons potential with conventional precision weapons. On the other hand, it is noticeable that, against all appearances of a threatening situation, neither the UN Security Council nor other international bodies have organized crisis meetings. The great powers will certainly ensure that their economic and strategic interests, which have been directed towards Central Asia for a long time, are not damaged by an ongoing conflict over a comparatively insignificant high mountain valley.

Since both opponents can apparently no longer free themselves from their political predicament, Indian resistance to mediation imposed from outside should ultimately be limited.

In view of the changed world situation, it can be seen as certain that such a strategy will be supported by Russia and China as well as by the USA, irrespective of their previous clientele relationships. What role the Europeans can play in this depends of course on whether they want to become involved in foreign policy in the future beyond the eastward expansion of the EU.

Friedrich Ebert Foundation | net edition: Urmila Goel | The Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Asia