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    South Asia
     Aug 15, 2008
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India-Pakistan relations in free fall
By M K Bhadrakumar

Eleven months ago, the Indian army announced it had plans to open the 72-kilometer long Siachen glacier to regular civilian expeditions. On September 13, 2007, an Indian army spokesman claimed the move to make Kashmir's treacherous Siachen glacier a tourist attraction drew inspiration from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call in 2005 to turn the glacier into a "peace mountain".

Things were looking up in India-Pakistan relations. Kashmir seemed edging closer to a resolution than at any time before. But it all seems light years away now.

Within the past few weeks, things have begun unraveling. A local


controversy over the donation of government land in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to a Hindu shrine snowballed into protests in the predominantly Muslim state. The government, which was taken aback by the fury of the protests, retracted its decision. In turn, that led to a Hindu backlash and more violence followed, leading to tensions between Muslims and Hindus, forcing the authorities to introduce a curfew.

The agitation in the Kashmir Valley has assumed in the meanwhile an old, familiar anti-India overtone, as Muslim protesters resorted to pro-independence rallies, the biggest the valley has seen in the past two decades. In police firings, over two dozen lives have been lost, with scores injured, which triggered further protests, with large numbers of Muslims ignoring the curfew and taking to the streets.

In the capital of Srinagar, tens of thousands of people defied the curfew to bury a separatist leader who died in police fire on a huge crowd of Muslims protesting against an alleged blockade - "economic blockade" - of the road linking the valley to the rest of India via the Hindu-dominated southern regions of Kashmir.

Kashmir is back on a razor's edge. Muslims say the "economic blockade" leaves them no choice but to resort to trade with Pakistan-administered Kashmir across the heavily guarded Line of Control dividing the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of Kashmir. Enter Pakistan into the turmoil.

In a series of calibrated - and seemingly pre-planned - moves, Pakistan has swiftly waded into the situation in J&K. Last week, the Upper House of the Pakistani parliament passed a resolution condemning the Indian government's handling of the situation. On Monday, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "deep concern" over the situation, which, it said, held "serious humanitarian implications", and called on New Delhi to "address the situation and prevent human-rights violations".

The same day, Islamabad dramatically raised the ante by several notches with Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi issuing a separate statement. The minister's statement was couched in strong language expressing the condemnation by the Pakistan government of the "excessive and unwarranted use of force against the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir". Qureshi also expressed deep concern over the "deteriorating situation" and called on the Indian government to take "immediate steps to end violence against innocent Kashmiris".

Most important, the Pakistani minister linked the prevailing situation in J&K to the India-Pakistan bilateral dialogue and the larger issue of the "long-standing dispute of Jammu and Kashmir". New Delhi has taken exception to the Pakistani statements, terming them as "clear interference" in India's internal affairs and cautioning that such rhetoric wouldn't help the bilateral dialogue move forward.

Then, hardly 48 hours into the diplomatic spat, after sensing that New Delhi's efforts to evolve and "all-party" solution to the crisis in J&K failed to make any meaningful headway, and making a careful assessment that the crisis was not going to dissipate any time soon, Islamabad took a long jump by launching a diplomatic offensive against India.

A Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman announced in Islamabad on Wednesday that Pakistan had begun approaching international bodies like the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The spokesman ignored an earlier Indian warning and repeated that Islamabad was "deeply concerned over the deteriorating situation" in J&K, which, he said, was "resulting in loss of life and property of the Kashmiri people".

The swiftness with which Islamabad crossed the red line to internationalize the issue implies a calculated readiness on the part of Islamabad to endanger the climate of relative calm and good-neighborliness that has characterized India-Pakistan discourses in recent years.

Qureshi's statement, in particular, is intended to disabuse any notion on the part of Delhi to make a distinction between the Pakistani political leadership under the coalition led by the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistani establishment (including the military and the intelligence apparatus) as regards what Pakistan calls the "core issue of Kashmir". This is a calculated riposte to Delhi's recent attempts to differentiate Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence as the villain of the piece in the sub-continent.

Clearly, Islamabad perceives that the ground situation in J&K is acute and Delhi's efforts to ease the tensions will be a long struggle and now a window of opportunity has opened for re-opening the Kashmir file at the international level.

Islamabad is probably right in making such a judgment. No doubt, the Hindu-Muslim angle to the ground situation is an altogether new political dimension, which New Delhi has worked hard to avoid in all the past 60 years of the Kashmir problem. Indeed, India always maintained that the Kashmir problem was not a Hindu-Muslim problem. In the longer run, arguably, the current tensions assuming the contours of a communal divide will undercut and weaken the basic Indian stance.

Yet, the available indications are that there are interested parties who are precisely ensuring that such a Hindu-Muslim communal divide crystallizes in J&K, a region which historically enjoyed a composite ethnic culture. While extremist elements among Kashmiri separatists have always stoked the fires of religious passions, for the first time in a major way, Hindu nationalist elements have jumped into the fray. They seem to anticipate that a communal polarization would not be a bad idea for making electoral gains in polls in J&K slated for November and to get embedded as a "factor" in the Kashmir issue in the medium term.
Indeed, part of the problem is that the Indian political scene is hopelessly muddied, to a point that it has become virtually impossible to evolve a consensus on any national issue. The drawn out acrimony over the India-United States civilian nuclear agreement has taken a heavy toll in Indian politics. The ruling coalition's controversial attempts to divide the opposition political parties by reportedly bribing their members of parliament to defect to its side over the issue of the nuclear deal, has generated a lot of bitterness.

The paradox is, whereas India has reached a stage of coalition politics in which governance has become difficult, except on the basis of consensus, and consensus involves political tolerance and accommodation, the Congress party which heads the government in Delhi still behaves as if it is rooted in the political culture of single-party rule.

Given the Congress party's obscure, highly centralized nature of functioning, it boils down to a small coterie of people in central Delhi taking all major decisions and most minor ones. This is a recipe for political confrontation.

The national mood of political polarization is not helping matters in J&K. The elections in November in J&K would have been a watershed in Kashmir's tortuous journey toward peace and tranquility. Holding the elections successfully would have upheld Delhi's claim that "normalcy" has returned to J&K. Precisely for that reason, there are elements within J&K which are working toward postponement of the elections. Unfortunately for India, these elements seem to be slowly but steadily gaining the upper hand.

Needless to say, Pakistan would have a use for these elements. It is interested in keeping the Kashmir cauldron boiling. Logic dictates that Delhi's best hope would have been to shore up the gains of the India-Pakistan "composite dialogue" and to 

Continued 1 2  

Battle lines move from Kashmir to Kabul (Aug 9, '08)

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2. Putin for US president- more than ever

3. Taliban win a fight - and settle a score

4. The US dollar on Roman steroids

5. Russian halt leaves crucial questions

6. Russia marks its red lines

7. The end of the post-Cold War era

8. Israel and Iran: A bridge too far?

9. Oil in troubled mountains

10. Russia bids to rid Georgia of its folly

11. Israel has peace in its hands

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Aug 13, 2008)


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