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Core issue, my goat

Core issue, my goat

Author: Ayaz Amir
Publication: Dawn, Karachi
Date: July 28, 2000

ANYONE using the term 'core issue' which has been made current and fashionable by a generation of tight-minded diplomats and security experts (God save us from them), deserves to receive a kick on his shins.  If Kashmir was solved tomorrow would Pakistan and India rush into each other's embrace and forget the atavistic memories of the past? Kashmir is not the core issue between us.  Size and geography are and will remain so 500 years from now.

Not out of any innate wickedness but because of its sheer weight, and the sense of false destiny which afflicts a country when it moves from one stage of development to another, India will want to exercise hegemony over the subcontinent.  This is the nature of power and has nothing to do with morality.

In the subcontinent, after all, India holds the position which the Soviet Union held in Europe after the second world war, which China has in East Asia today, which Napoleonic France had on the continent after the wars of the French Revolution.  Size, numbers, the computers of Bangalore, a mythologized view of its past and the long-legged beauty contestants (ravishing so many of them) who give India's rising middle class the illusion of first world rank and mobility will all fuel India's drive towards regional bossdom.  It will remain in Pakistan's abiding interest to resist this ambition.

How we resist it is up to us.  We can do this crudely as we have been doing for the past 52 years, achieving little in the process except international fatigue and opprobrium, or, calling up a wisdom which has yet to be discovered, we can do it subtly, keeping India hard-pressed and occupied (to the extent that we can achieve this) while avoiding at all costs getting caught in a corner.  India is the elephant of the subcontinent.  We should be the gnat buzzing round its ears.

So far of course the genius of our higher military command has seen to it that it should be the other way round: India reaping the rewards of subtlety while we have been getting the country into pitched elephant battles.  The 1965 war, the '71 imbroglio, the involvement in Afghanistan with our eyes closed (which means that whereas we should have been involved, we should not have been blind to our long-term interests), and Kargil: even Ares, the god of war, inured to the spectacle of human folly, would be aghast at the stupidity pitch-forked into these ventures.  From the British our military command inherited a conventional mindset.  Although we call the Chinese our friends, from them we have learned nothing of Maoist warfare.

American military aid in the fifties is partly to blame for the military attitudes we adopted, American tanks and planes giving our political and military leadership the illusion of superiority over India.  Of the atmosphere reigning at the time, Brian Cloughley, no enemy of Pakistan, in his informative and well-written account of the Pakistan army has this to say: "...the army had a high opinion of itself without having done very much except expand a bit and conduct some mediocre training with its new American equipment."

Partly of course we were victims of our own myths, seriously believing at one time (although mercifully no longer) that one Muslim was good enough for ten Hindus.  Hard though it may be to believe this, in the order for Operation Gibraltar signed by Field Marshal Ayub Khan (who deserved his rank about as much as Uganda's Idi Amin did his) it was said that as a rule Hindu morale could be expected to crack under the impact of a succession of hard blows.

This was then; it should be different now but it isn't, Kargil being the decisive proof of the military command's continuing love affair with set-piece thinking.  The folly of Kargil lay not in betraying the Lahore Declaration or breaching any other barrier of abstract morality.  The prosecution of war can dispense with such niceties.  Its folly lay in the fact that it committed Pakistan to a battle which it could not, under any circumstances, win and which was unrelated to any political objective.

You fight a war to achieve a political aim.  What were we hoping to achieve in Kargil? Forcing India to the negotiating table? Internationalizing the Kashmir issue? Kargil has done more to obscure the Kashmir issue and damage the cause of the Kashmiri people than anything else in recent memory.  A few more internationalizations like this and Kashmir will be swept into the rubbish-can of history.

The best thing going for Pakistan was the uprising in occupied Kashmir.  At relatively little cost to us, a goodly part of the Indian army was tied down in Kashmir.  We should have kept it like that without resorting to loud rhetoric, at which we as a nation excel, or acquiring too high a body profile.  Indeed, instead of appearing obdurate, which also comes easily to us, we should have espoused moderation and the virtues of dialogue, all the while keeping our head low and extending, as we have been doing since 1989, practical help to the Kashmiri struggle for freedom.  Our moral and diplomatic support the Kashmiris can do without.  It is our practical help that is of any use to them.

But holding on to these different strands would have required the subtlety and quickness of the gnat.  We went for elephant tactics and ended up with Kargil.  Our image took a battering and what had been an intelligent and, until then, a sustainable policy of inflicting maximum damage at little cost became a millstone round our neck, the freedom struggle in Kashmir becoming confused with "cross-border terrorism".

What did Assad do in the Levant? While avoiding war with Israel he kept the Israeli army bogged down in Lebanon.  The Hizbul Mujahideen of Lebanon were the Hizbollah, funded and armed by Syria and Iran.  Through the Hizbollah and not directly was relentless pressure kept on the Israelis, ultimately compelling them to vacate South Lebanon.  This did not prevent the Americans from talking to Assad.  In fact, much as they disliked him (for he was a hard nut to crack) they had to take him seriously.  Globalization or not, steeliness pays.

But Assad never made a pantomime of the Lebanese resistance.  The Maulana Masood Azhars of Lebanon did not have the freedom of Syria, going about toting guns and making vitriolic speeches.  Resistance to Israel was serious business conducted seriously without any of the crass irresponsibility and empty showmanship which have cast Pakistan as the prime villain of fundamentalism in the western media.

Even the Hizbollah cultivates a careful and restrained public image.  Some of the Kashmiri fighters, or at least those who periodically appear in Pakistan, the Mast Guls and the Syed Salahuddins, look like dangerous buccaneers.  This does their cause no good.  To some extent this is a denominational difference.  Throughout the Islamic world the Shia beard, which is what we see in Lebanon, is closely cropped.  The Sunni beard which is to be seen in Afghanistan and Kashmir is fuller and often more threatening.  Image being king in the global village, some change is called for here if only to deny grist to the mills of western sensationalism.

A few words finally regarding the Hizbul Mujahideen announcement of a ceasefire in occupied Kashmir.  I don't know all the facts and so I could be wholly wrong but I cannot see the Hizb making this announcement without Pakistani approval, tacit or otherwise.  What lends support to this impression is the restrained and sensible reaction to the ceasefire announcement from the Pakistan government.  Had the Hizb pulled this off on its own, panic buttons would have been pushed in ISI headquarters in Islamabad.

But if Pakistani approval is there, American involvement cannot be far behind.  It all fits in then, doesn't it? General Musharraf cosying up to the religious parties by allaying their fears over the anti-blasphemy law and then, to the dismay of the spineless liberati, incorporating the Islamic provisions of the suspended Constitution into the interim 'military' constitution.  All this done so as to protect the government's flanks and prepare the stage for the props being rolled out in Kashmir.  We seem to be getting subtle after all.

Already, at a stroke, the spotlight has shifted from the issue of cross-border terrorism to the Hizb announcement.  This is the first smart move from this side after a year of floundering during which Pakistan's stock touched rock-bottom, what with our nuclear firecrackers and the folly of Kargil.

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