Pakistan’s armed support to Kashmiris is the worst-kept secret in the world

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By talking of it, Musharraf is trying to gain momentum for his new party

Shock value Musharraf is referring to the old policy towards India
Photo: AP

THE COMMANDO with the habit of perplexing off-the-cuff remarks has struck again. Having launched his new political party from self-exile in London on 1 October, Gen Musharraf has been trying to promote his party. Given that the possibility of a return to Pakistan for Musharraf is remote, and given that he has no obvious constituency, the media has focussed on where the real interest lies: the past, the decade Musharraf spent running Pakistan.

Expectedly, the comments will cause plenty of consternation in India and will be held up as yet another example of perfidy by the Pakistani state. Outside India, the comments will be met with a collective shrug. Pakistan officially maintains it extends only ‘moral, diplomatic and political support’ to Kashmiris in their struggle. That is a phraseology no one really believes, even in Pakistan.

Pakistanis would be upset if the state only extended ‘moral, diplomatic and political support’, because they believe the struggle of the Kashmiris is legitimate. That Pakistan has extended financial and armed support to Kashmiris over a decade and a half, is perhaps the worst-kept secret in international relations.

But Musharraf’s comments need to be parsed on at least one count. The former army chief-cum-president appears to have referred to the genesis of the policy, and not the present-day strategy, or even the policy during his reign. Since the start of the now-paused Composite Dialogue in 2004, the Kashmir militancy policy has been put in cold storage. It is telling that while the Indian State has tried to blame Pakistan and its intelligence agencies for the latest upheaval in Kashmir, that theory has largely been panned inside India itself by long-time observers of the region. There are three things to keep in mind while debating the Pakistan army’s Kashmir policy.

One, moral or ethical considerations are beside the point; the only thing that matters is efficacy. From that perspective, there was arguably a period in the 1990s when the policy made some short-term sense, in terms of injecting new ‘life’ into the Kashmir struggle.

TWO, THE sell-by date of the policy has long gone. Post-9/11, and perhaps even before, there is little global appetite for Islamist militancy, especially that sponsored by a state. ‘Cold storage’ may well have become a permanent burial. Three, the policy has hurt Pakistan terribly. The infrastructure of jihad in Pakistan, first created to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and then directed towards ‘freeing’ Kashmir, has exacted an appalling toll on Pakistan. The toxic brew of militancy, the cross-pollination between the various groups with originally distinct aims and external orientations, does not yet have the critical mass to overrun the Pakistani State, but it has set the country back by at least a generation. Such is the environment after the Mumbai attacks that Musharraf’s comments are unlikely to create fresh trouble. How does one subtract from zero, which is where India-Pak relations stand?

Both countries lack an effective political constituency for peace at the moment. In India, barring the PM and his national security adviser, few have shown an interest in shifting to a post-Mumbai phase in relations. In Pakistan, the political government may privately be in favour of improving ties, but it has surrendered the foreign policy and national security domains to the Pakistan Army. The army, fighting a fierce internal insurgency and faced with strategic uncertainty in Afghanistan, is in no mood to work on solutions to complex problems with India.

Sadly, 63 years into one of the world’s most intractable disputes, solutions are as distant as ever.

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