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Does President Mushrraf have only a single-point agenda: Kashmir? (Part I of II)

Does President Mushrraf have only a single-point agenda: Kashmir? (Part I of II)

Author: Brahma Chellaney
Publication: The Times of India
Date: November 18, 2001

Introduction: Yes. Since Kashmir is the only litmus test on patriotism available in Pakistan

The answer has to be an emphatic yes, given Musharraf's phobic fixation on Kashmir. Musharraf's career, with its record of combat in Siachin and commando operations elsewhere in Kashmir, is testament to the need he has always felt to prove his credentials in the Punjabi-dominated military establishment. As a Mohajir, Musharraf has to show himself more Pakistani than the average Pakistani. And Kashmir is the only litmus test on patriotism available in Pakistan.

Such is Musharrafs compulsion to prove himself that no sooner he became Army chief than he began staging the Kargil operation. And now as the dictator, he rarely lets go of any public opportunity to rake up the Kashmir issue. His obsession with Kashmir sabotaged the Agra summit from the word go. And even while being feted in the West for turning against the Taliban, Musharraf was unable to hide his one-track mind.

In addition to the chip on the shoulder he carries as a mohajir, Musharraf is also the product of a military establishment that equates Pakistan with the Army, and the Army with Kashmir. That makes Musharraf doubly dangerous for India. Yet Vajpayee, in his delusional pursuit of peace with Pakistan, stunned everyone by inviting Musharraf to India and then cried foul when his guest talked nothing but Kashmir.

Kashmir, however, is not just Musharraf's obsession but the collective obsession in Pakistan. Almost 55 years after its creation, Pakistan remains, a state of four tribes and one rootless clan (mohajirs) in search of a national identity. The only distinguishing characteristic of the Pakistani state is its fixation on Kashmir an issue that not only helps define Pakistan's identity but also serves as the glue holding its fractious society together.

Add to that the Pakistan military's own need to keep the Kashmir issue burning. Kashmir and the hostility with India serve as the raison desire for the power and might of the Pakistan military. Peace with India will greatly erode its domestic power base and ability to corner a sizable chunk of national resources. Vajpayee, having failed to make peace with the democratically elected Nawaz Sharif, naively turned to that country's most powerful institution, the military, by inviting Musharraf.

Despite Pakistan's neurotic fixation on Kashmir, and its long history of sending in terrorists into the Indian-held part, Kashmir serves as the symbol, not the cause, of its conflict with India. If Kashmir were magically resolved tomorrow, or if India were to hand over Kashmir on a platter, it will not remove the rivalry between status quo India and irredentist Pakistan. No one has better articulated this than Musharraf, who is on record as saying that Pakistan's low-intensity conflict with India will continue even if a Kashmir settlement was found.

Today, Musharraf needs the Kashmir issue more than ever. With Pakistan's Afghanistan policy in tatters and public opinion against him, Musharraf has only the Kashmir issue to build domestic support in his favour. That is why he could stir up more trouble in Kashmir, encouraging some of the Taliban fighters taking refuge in Pakistani tribal lands to move on to Kashmir.

Already, Musharrafs record of actual terrorist and covert operations against India, from the time he trained Naga, guerillas in East Pakistan, rivals Osama bin Laden's mythologies terrorist exploits. Now with his political survival instincts fuelling his Kashmir mania, Musharraf could incontrovertibly demonstrate himself that he is to India what bin Laden is to America.

(Prof. Brahma Chellaney is a strategic affairs expert with the Centre for Policy Research. He spoke to Sujata Dutta Sachdeva)

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