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Pak losing opinion war over Kashmir

Pak losing opinion war over Kashmir

Author: Chidanand Rajghatta
Publication: Times of India
Date: November 24, 2001

Washington: Pakistan's credibility and claim over Kashmir is coming under great strain following mounting evidence that the same set of terrorists and jehadis flit from Kashmir to Kandahar and Kunduz and back.

Sustained reports in the western media that many of the "foreign fighters" trapped in Kunduz are Pakistani soldiers and agents have finally begun to open American eyes to Islamabad's subterfuge. Only the need to keep Pakistan in the coalition - and possibly use the opportunity to correct its course -- has stopped the United States from openly naming it a sponsor of terrorism.

Several media outlets are now reporting that Pakistan is making herculean efforts, including sending in rescue planes, to airlift its armed forces personnel and nationals from Kunduz. The evacuation was first reported in the Indian press based on accounts by Northern Alliance commanders and Indian intelligence agencies.

Jehadis fleeing from Taliban strongholds are also openly telling journalists in the region that they see Afghanistan and Kashmir as a common cause.

To cite one case, Abul Kalam,23, and Rasheed Ahmed, 22, two University of Karachi dropouts, and Khalilullah, a 20-year-old graduate student at Karachi's S M Science College, all of who fled from Kandahar, told a Washington Post reporter that they had also fought in Kashmir. All three were trained in guerrilla warfare by Arab experts at a camp near the eastern Afghan town of Khost, they said.

Several jehadi leaders who openly espouse terrorism in Kashmir and proudly boast of their violent actions in the Indian state also rushed their wards to fight in Afghanistan. Now that the Taliban has been routed from most parts of the country, the beleaguered soldiers of jehad are returning crestfallen to Pakistan.

In the light of such reports, US officials are conceding in private that Gen. Musharraf's insistence that Kashmir is an indigenous movement and the terrorists there are freedom fighters looks increasingly spurious. There is also a growing sense here that Pakistan has gravely damaged its Kashmir case by such brazen infiltration both there and in Afghanistan.

The unresolved Kunduz episode - dubbed Kargil II among South Asia mavens - is proving particularly painful and embarrassing to Pakistan and mortifying to the United States, which even now publicly rhapsodises about Islamabad being a frontline state and an ally in the war on terrorism.

According to accounts from several sources, hundreds of retired and active Pakistani army personnel and ISI agents are among those trapped in the northern city. The Pakistani establishment has sent out a SOS to US and UK that it would like them to be given safe passage, amid calls from some hawks like former ISI chief Hameed Gul that Islamabad should pull out of the coalition if Washington does not guarantee their safety.

This has put Washington in a bind. There is now a realisation that allowing the "crazies" to walk out - even if Pakistani soldiers and spooks are evacuated secretly - could come back to haunt them. New Delhi too fears that freeing the jehadis unconditionally could see them return to Kashmir. US officials have conveyed to Islamabad that the jehadis cannot go scotfree.

Efforts are now on to organise an orderly evacuation with Pakistan being held accountable for disarming them and holding them in detention. Washington also wants to question them for their links to and knowledge of al-Qaeda networks. There are also reports that some of the key jehadis may be taken to the Pacific island of Guam for further interrogation.

The episode is one of the several in recent days that has helped the United States understand Pakistan's perfidious game in Kashmir and the connection between Afghanistan and Kashmir. Perhaps for the first time, Washington now understands that the same jehadis who terrrorise Kashmir will strike against American interests too.

The setback for Pakistan on Kashmir comes after the world community, including the United Nations and the United States, has by and large rejected the demand for plebiscite.

In recent times, officials here have increasingly veered around to the view that changes in geography and demography make plebiscite untenable. Not only has there been large-scale population displacement in the state, but Pakistan has also ceded large amount of Kashmir territory to China, making the UN resolutions on plebiscite infructuous.

The fact that Pakistan continues to be under military rule - not to speak of having spent half its independent life under totalitarian regimes - also dilutes its case for a plebiscite in Kashmir.

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