Page 1 of 2 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
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
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
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
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
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