Over the past few years, first China and then India quietly celebrated the
success of their efforts to improve the socio-political environment of their
restive Islamic regions, namely Xinjiang and Kashmir. Neither country can feel
proud about the record of human rights on this count, but it is possible that
credit for the success will be assigned to the wrong sources.
Demographic solution to Xinjiang
Confronting a potentially dangerous situation in the aftermath of the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, China increased the
presence of its armed forces across the main centers of Xinjiang in the early
1980s. Previously, the main reason for armed presence had been to keep Indian
forces in neighboring Jammu and Kashmir under check, and also monitor the
progress of any military buildup adjoining Tibet.
The boom in armed-forces presence, as well as the steady flow of information
from the Central Asian republics, was to bolster the cause for Uighur
independence. The strategic importance of Xinjiang, particularly given
its geographic status as the largest province-level region in China, accounting
for a sixth of the total area, as well as the likely reserves of precious
natural resources, including oil, meant that the Chinese state had to take
As with Tibet, the main platform for the central government was to increase the
presence of Han Chinese in the province, with a view to building the business
areas, including agricultural and mining, as well as manufactured products.
From around 5% in the early 1960s, the proportion of Han in Xinjiang shot up
rapidly and now stands at more than 40%.
Alongside this, the Chinese government focused its attention on Maoist
principles of re-education, particularly in terms of dealing with Islamic
schools of thought. The flow of reactionary material from other Turkic peoples
was proscribed, even as the government enhanced the facilities for education in
sciences. Positive discrimination in favor of Uighur who could assimilate, ie,
speak and read Putonghua (Mandarin), also played a big part in dividing support
among the peoples for any broad movement against the central government.
Increased economic presence was the last piece of the puzzle, and one that
became easily apparent in the latter part of the 1980s and into the 1990s.
While some suspicion with respect to the actions of the Uighurs remains - for
example, Beijing police blamed them for bomb blasts that killed seven people in
2001  - overall the settlement process has proceeded smoothly and
As people realized that economic growth would accelerate under peaceful
conditions, the sting was removed from support of warlike activities.
Unofficial estimates put the number of active Uighur separatists in the few
hundreds, showing how much the population has moved from general support of
Strategically, the strong support for Pakistan shown by China helped to ensure
that many of its actions against Muslim citizens did not get a voice, nor did
militants have much success in bypassing Pakistani armed forces to supply
materials to the Uighur separatists.
Democratic solution to Kashmir
Success, in the case of Kashmir, is purely a relative term, as it refers almost
entirely to the reduction in the killings of innocent bystanders. This is
because the problem confronting India in Kashmir was many times worse than the
one confronting China in Xinjiang. Terrorist attacks on army bases and
reprisals remain fairly common, but they appear now to be focused away from the
main city centers.
The history and geography of the Kashmir problem before the 1980s have been
extensively documented. The unwinding of the Afghan campaign in the late 1980s
was to set off the chain of terrorist attacks on Indian soil, as militant
Islamic factions attempted to overthrow both local moderate elements in
Kashmiri politics and also elements of the Indian government.
Still, timing was most fortuitous for the terrorists as the increased
volatility of the Indian government between 1988 and 1993 allowed militancy to
increase unchecked as federal ministers bickered over their re-election
campaigns. The Indian military presence was sharply increased in the early
1990s, but was often subject to budget cuts and mission creep as various
ministries attempted to increase their own jurisdictions.
Interestingly, India was fighting two wars at this time, one against terrorists
who demanded accession of Kashmir to Pakistan, and the second group of more
moderate militants calling for an independent Kashmir. It was a matter of some
luck for India that the first group in effect destroyed the second, eliminating
the moderate wing of Kashmiri politicians by the end of the 1990s.
The first group was buoyed by the success of the Afghan mission, and therefore
focused much on the Wahhabi stream of Islam. However, this was not necessarily
a wise choice in this terrain, as the population in Kashmir had a proud Sufi
heritage. The incompatibility of militant Sunni visions of Islam with the more
catholic Sufi heritage in effect rendered these militants as foreign to
Kashmiris as the Hindus, indeed arguably more so given the co-existence of Sufi
Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir for the previous few hundred years. Given this
reduction of popular support for the extremist view of Islam, draconian action
by Indian armed forces on militants evoked less reaction among Kashmiris as the
years passed by.
Within the mountainous toll of casualties in Kashmir since the early 1990s, it
is impossible to identify a peak, but one imagines that the seeds of the
turnaround were sown in the same period when the Indian economy embarked on
painful structural reforms. Faster growth makes a vast difference to available
disposable income, which in the case of a tourism-dependent economy like
Kashmir's was important indeed. Relative freedom of movement within India also
afforded increased opportunities for professionals from Kashmir fleeing the
insurgency in search of a better quality of life. All of this has allowed a
return of democracy to the state, itself the best indicator of a popular
dismissal of terrorist causes.
A word from our sponsor
Even with all the impressive economic arguments of China and India thrown into
the picture, it stands to reason that the success of Pakistan's economy has
made a tremendous difference to the populating of militant causes around the
region. Simply put, by giving people without too much to lose something
actually to care about, recent economic progress in Pakistan has played a
strong role in establishing peace for both India and China in their restive
During the periods of democratic rule in the 1980s and 1990s, the Pakistani
governments of both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were plagued with
corruption and incompetence, which increased the need for shrill rhetoric.
Causes such as Kashmir provided the rallying call for a divided nation, and
therefore forced the government into supporting a series of militant causes,
including the Taliban.
Sponsorship from elements of the Saudi royal family for the militants created a
state within a state, as the government found itself dictated to on foreign
policy issues by these outfits. These groups have been recognized as strategic
threats by the current government of President General Pervez Musharraf, given
various attempts on his life.
I have often enough  fretted about the sustainability of a government that
appears not to represent any of the popular viewpoints, but it stands to reason
that Musharraf continues to stand only because of the success being enjoyed by
the Pakistani economy, shepherded by the very capable Prime Minister/Finance
Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown in Pakistan. More important, this
unease should pervade the governments of India and, less so, China. They have
every reason to worry about what lies in store if a popular revolt disrupts the
status quo in Pakistan.