An infrastructure of hope —Pervez Hoodbhoy

Daily Times, April 22, 2005
VIEW: An infrastructure of hope —Pervez Hoodbhoy

Pakistan's options have run out. This is not just because Pakistan is militarily incapable of wresting Kashmir from Indian rule. Its assumption - that keeping the world focused on Kashmir was good - has also turned out to be a miscalculation. In fact, once the world fully understood, the reaction was not at all what Pakistan had in mind

Against the wishes of militant Shiv Sena activists and Pakistan’s Islamist parties, Pakistan and India are talking. General Pervez Musharraf said on his recent visit that military force was “not the option anymore” for settling Kashmir. A year-old ceasefire is holding and the artillery remains stubbornly silent along the LOC as well as on the Siachen glacier. The joyous reception given by Kashmiris to the maiden voyage of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad buses was a decisive rejection of extremists who had threatened to bomb the bus from Srinagar and kill its passengers. Agreements in New Delhi on encouraging trade and travel add to the opportunities for contact, cooperation and inter-dependence.

These developments are cause for rejoicing. For, just three years ago, gripped by war psychosis, the two countries nearly came to blows. But all the present openings can be closed by either state at a moment’s notice. The real test is: are the two states ready to make meaningful concessions and to make them irreversible? Kashmir is central to this.

General Musharraf insists that a solution to Kashmir must be found expeditiously. This may be public posturing or the expression of genuine conviction. In either case, he surely knows that, just as certain mathematical equations have no solution, the Kashmir problem is unsolvable inside the current solution space. India has categorically rejected the idea of a second partition or a territorial readjustment.

Pakistan’s options have run out. This is not just because Pakistan is militarily incapable of wresting Kashmir from Indian rule. Its assumption — that keeping the world focused on Kashmir was good — has also turned out to be a miscalculation. In fact, once the world fully understood, the reaction was not at all what Pakistan had in mind. The idea of jihadis active in, and supported by, a nuclear-armed state set off alarm bells everywhere, including Washington.

Extremist Islamic groups irreversibly eroded the moral high ground held by Kashmiris. They allowed India, the occupying power in Kashmir, to successfully portray itself as a victim of covert terror. So, in spite of rhetorical denials, Musharraf was forced to put Kashmir on the back burner. He got away with it, thereby demolishing the myth that no Pakistani government that compromises on Kashmir can survive.

Nevertheless, it will be a big mistake for India to declare victory or claim that the present situation vindicates its claim on Kashmir. Over the past two decades India has been morally isolated from Kashmiri Muslims. It continues to incur in the Valley the very considerable costs of an occupation. Indian soldiers continue to needlessly die — and to kill and oppress innocents.

At some point both parties must move boldly to a final solution. The LOC can be fuzzied, made highly permeable, and demilitarised up to some mutually negotiated depth on both sides. True, there will be protests in Pakistan. But if accompanied by appropriate sweeteners, these would not be fatal to Musharraf’s government provided it appropriately negotiates the terms and prepares the Pakistani public.

The path forward is becoming clear. It is time to build a political, social and economic infrastructure of hope and of mutual interests that can sustain the difficult journey to a peaceful future. The reasons for India desiring a rapprochement with Pakistan, and thus ending decades of hostility, are obvious. They need not be re-stated here. The reasons hold also for Pakistan — or at least for its civil society. And then there is one more reason.

In Pakistan the conflict is growing between those who seek to be part of the modern world and those who want to put a beard on every Muslim man and a veil on every Muslim woman. An alliance of Islamic parties (MMA) runs the government in the NWFP and is a coalition partner in Balochistan. It wants to end co-education, segregate women from public life, pass laws banning women from appearing on television and in advertisements, and heap yet more Islamic materials onto schoolbooks. The ferocity of this conflict increases by the day: MMA activists recently went on a rampage to stop girl students from running in a race; the column in Pakistani passports specifying religion has been reinstated; and Pakistani public schools are becoming as grim as madrassas.

Conflict with India fuels religious fervor. The use of jihad by the Pakistan Army as an instrument of foreign policy in Kashmir, and earlier in Afghanistan, profoundly changed Pakistani society. The army expressed concern after Sunni-Shia warfare threatened to engulf the country but woke up only after its senior officers — including General Musharraf himself — repeatedly became the targets of assassination attempts by irate jihadi ex-allies, summarily abandoned after 9/11.

General Musharraf is suspected by the mullahs to be a closet secularist. His international backers in Washington and London hope that the allegations are true. But he is no Ataturk. He has no strong agenda for social reform. Further, he is still a general and his real constituency is the military high command. This puts the army’s institutional interests above all else. The Islamists have discovered, to their great delight, that even mild pressure suffices to make a celebrated commando retreat. Attempts to modify the blasphemy laws, moderate the madrassas, change the curriculum, and remove the religion column in Pakistani passports, have all failed for lack of resolve. This lack of resolve, in turn, comes from wanting to keep options on Kashmir open — the army may again need its former allies.

Peace with India will not instantaneously transform Pakistan into a modern, forward-looking society. But it will go a long way in making this transition possible. The stakes for Pakistan are very high.

The writer teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad

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