SRINAGAR, India // Writing last week in a popular Indian newsweekly, Michael Scheuer, a former CIA counter-terrorism chief, warned India against “doing an America” following the Mumbai attack. He advised New Delhi to be firm with Pakistan, take responsibility and turn northwards.
“The Kashmir issue clearly incites Pakistani and Indian Islamists, as well as those associated with or inspired by al Qa’eda,” Mr Scheuer wrote. “Whether those Islamists are right or wrong is irrelevant. India’s positions on and actions in Kashmir motivates them.”
Since its disputed accession to India in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over this predominantly Muslim region of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. A bloody insurgency against Indian rule began in 1989, leading to more than 60,000 dead yet little progress regarding the territorial tug-of-war.
After the Mumbai attacks, analysts and observers from Washington to Waziristan have suggested ways to cut the Gordian knot that both binds and repels India and Pakistan. Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist group and the prime suspect in the Mumbai attacks, sprung from the Kashmir dispute, along with about a dozen militant groups – a handful of which the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have armed as part of a death-by-a-thousand-cuts policy against India.
Some advisers to US president-elect Barack Obama argue that solving Kashmir will help solve Pakistani terrorism. Others warn against such simplistic reasoning. But Mr Scheuer distills the point down to its essence: India’s stance in Kashmir incites Islamist terrorists. Their al Qa’eda-style insurrection threatens to rock the foundations of the Indian state, to topple Pakistan and Afghanistan and endanger western targets as well.
If the world’s terrorism nexus is Pakistan, its roots lie in this lush, war-torn Himalayan valley, which may be more ripe for resolution than at any moment in recent memory. Violence has plummeted, dropping steadily every year since 2001. Although still only a trickle, travel and trade between the two sides of Kashmir – Indian and Pakistani – have further reduced tensions. And last summer, mass pro-freedom marches outlined a new movement of Gandhian non-violence, less hard line and perhaps open to dialogue.
Finally, over the past month Kashmiris have turned out impressively for state assembly elections – double, even triple the 2002 turnout in some districts – suggesting that many have moved beyond their tired separatist leadership and are amenable to a lesser, more India-friendly form of freedom.
Further afield the outlook is also bright. Both houses of the US Congress passed resolutions urging Pakistan to root out extremist groups and prevent its territory from being used to launch attacks. The UN Security Council has banned the Lashkar front, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and is applying strong pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorism. And the incoming Obama administration has hinted at a regional approach to Afghanistan that will include resolving Kashmir as a crucial element of ensuring Pakistani military support.
India could use this domestic and international consensus as leverage to pressure Pakistan – not only to root out terrorism, but to hack at the roots of regional terrorism by moving towards a resolution on Kashmir. Yet presented with this golden opportunity, India has buried its head in the sand.
“The attack on Mumbai has nothing to do with India-Pakistan relations or with Kashmir,” the Indian foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said at a press conference in Srinagar last week.
As the dispute’s more powerful party, India has long been satisfied with the status quo and has therefore seen little reason to allow international intervention or to negotiate openly with Pakistan. But after the devastating attack on Mumbai, the Indian state must realize that the Kashmir dispute is no longer a stable, self-serving stalemate but a malignant tumor. Both parties now have an urgent interest in finding a resolution; India and its people will gain security, as will Pakistan and the world beyond.
Led by Asif Ali Zardari, the president, Pakistan’s democratic government has acknowledged that the greatest threat to its integrity is not India but locally based, state-supported terrorism outfits. The jailing of dozens of alleged terrorists and a ban on Jamaat-ud-Dawa is a good start. But the real test will be the Pakistani military, which has controlled the levers of power and wielded terrorism as a proxy for decades. Its leadership may be getting the message as well.
“The civilian and military leadership has to do some serious introspection about the cost-benefit ratio of these outdated and failed policies,” Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant-general in the Pakistan army, wrote in the Daily Times last week.
“Has Pakistan come any closer to achieving its objectives in Jammu and Kashmir by supporting militancy and proxies?” he asked. “The best option for Pakistan is to strictly confine its support to the Kashmir cause to the political and diplomatic domain.”
Kashmiris widely cheered the election of Mr Obama as the next US president, perhaps with good reason. At the urging of advisers like Mr Scheuer and a soon-to-be-published report from Gen David Petreaus, the architect of the Iraqi surge now overseeing the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is likely to prod India and Pakistan to come to the negotiating table on Kashmir – with or without international assistance. Considering the grave threat exposed by the Mumbai attack and the golden opportunity before it, New Delhi would be wise to heed the call.
-- published Dec 21 in The National, www.thenational.ae.