April 11, 2001


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G Parthasarathy

Enter K C Pant

As public attention in India remained focused on the announcement of the appointment of the suave, sophisticated and experienced K C Pant to initiate negotiations with a wide cross section of public opinion in Kashmir, few people appeared to take note of a dramatic development in the approach of the European Union towards developments in Afghanistan.

Even as Jaswant Singh was in Europe, engaging the European troika, Paris was rolling out the red carpet for a high profile welcome to the "Lion of Panjshir" the legendary Ahmad Shah Masoud.

Appalled by the Taleban's treatment of women, its advocacy and export of medieval Islamic terrorism and its wanton destruction of Buddhist treasures of mankind, the European Union has evidently decided that it is time to take off the gloves and turn its moral indignation into effective action to deal with the Taleban. Given the generally cautious approach of the Europeans to developments in distant lands, the significance of these developments should not be underestimated.

Masoud was on an extended tour of Europe last week at the invitation of the President of the European Parliament Nicole Fontaine. He was warmly received in Paris by the President of the French national Assembly Raymond Forni and by Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. Asked whether he was seeking military assistance in Europe, Masoud responded: "Faced with the aggression of Pakistan, I give myself the right to seek aid anywhere" and for good measure added: "What happened to the British (in the 19th century) and to the Red Army will also happen to Pakistan" in Afghanistan. Masoud availed of his visit to Europe to call for more concrete support for the anti-Taleban forces in Afghanistan.

Masoud's visit to Europe comes at a time when the actions of the Taleban and its Pakistani backers are becoming a source of serious international concern. Emerging fully armed and trained, from Taleban controlled areas of Afghanistan, hundreds of Jehadis of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU are engaged in a struggle to overthrow the secular Government of Islam Karimov from bases in the Ferghana Valley. The IMU is also targeting the governments in Tajikistan and Kyrgystan.

At the same time hundreds of Pakistani "volunteers" assisted by scores of Chechen fundamentalists are actively assisting the Taleban in military operations against Masoud's forces in Northern Afghanistan. Even as extremist Sunni groups like the Sipah-e-Sahiba enjoying close links with the Taleban, target their Shia brethren across Pakistan, the Taleban themselves are having no compunctions in slaughtering Shias in Bamiyan and elsewhere in Afghanistan. Iranian concern at these developments is only understandable and natural given the way Iranian diplomats have been targeted and killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In the meantime, even as General Parvez Musharraf and his Interior Minister Lt General Moinuddin Haider proclaim that they will clamp down on sectarian groups indulging in violence in Pakistan, everyone knows that there is a wide chasm between rhetoric and reality in the Musharraf dispensation. Given the mutually reinforcing links between the ISI on the one hand and extremist religious parties like the JUI and the Taleban on the other, it would be naive to imagine that the good general who seeks to offer unsolicited advice to our prime minister on how to deal with the Tehelka episode has either the will, desire or ability to clamp down on the Jehadis in his country. The Jehadis are, after all, the children of the ISI.

As Pant commences consultations with the J&K government, political parties, NGOs and organizations representing different sections of civil society, he will have to bear in mind the character of the ruling Punjabi dominated military establishment in Pakistan. Much as its apologists like American Academician Dr Stephen Cohen may argue otherwise, we cannot ignore the fact that our neighbor is ruled by a "rogue army" that undermines democratically elected governments at home, even as it promotes Jehad abroad.

The very existence of this army establishment is premised on a belief and need for compulsive hostility towards India. It was after all General Musharraf himself who proclaimed in Karachi in April 1999 that low intensity conflict with India would continue even if the Kashmir issue is resolved. It should therefore be evident that neither General Musharraf nor the military establishment he heads will end support for Jehadi terrorism in Kashmir, unless they are compelled to realize that the price the army establishment is paying for its misguided policies far exceeds any benefits it can hope to derive.

While General Musharraf has called Prime Minister Vajpayee's "Ramzan Cease-Fire" and its subsequent extensions a "hoax", the reactions of ISI supported Jehadi groups to K C Pant's appointment are revealing. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba has described the move as "part of the political design to subvert the ongoing struggle". It has said that India has undertaken the move to ease the pressure that its security forces have faced from militant attacks.

Mushtaq Zargar the terrorist released in wake of the hijacking of IC-814, who now heads a Jehadi outfit called Al Umar Mujahideen, has stated that there will be no cessation off Jehad against India and that no one will be allowed to talk to India, adding that "traitors will be dealt according to Islamic Law". The two salient features that emerge from such statements are that the ISI still believes that India can be forced out of Kashmir by "bleeding" it and that any Kashmiri individual or group seeking to talk to K C Pant will be targeted and eliminated.

While mainstream political parties, NGOs and organizations representing ethnic and religious groupings would publicly interact with K C Pant, the nature of contacts with the Hurriyat and Kashmiri militant groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen will necessarily have to be discreet, carefully planned and free from the glare of the media in the initial stages. While Syed Geelani declares the Kashmir issue to be a religious and not a political problem, echoing the views of the Islamabad based, ISI supported United Jihad Council, other Hurrriyat leaders have necessarily to be discreet in taking issue with him or disagreeing with Islamabad's policies publicly. They are all, after all, politicians who have an understandable fear of the guns of the Jehadis.

One hopes that even as K C Pant pursues his efforts, contacts between Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control will continue in some form or other. The growing discontent about being treated as virtual colonies of Islamabad in POK and the Northern Areas needs to be constantly kept in focus.

Even as the political initiatives of K C Pant proceed ahead, New Delhi cannot lose sight of the fact that there has been a marked deterioration in the security situation in J&K since the moratorium on offensive operations was announced in November. While predominantly Kashmir militant groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen have been relatively silent during the last two months, the Jehadi groups like the Lashkar or the Jaish-e-Mohammed led by Maulana Masood Azhar, that are made up almost exclusively of Pakistani nationals, have stepped up attacks on the security forces.

More importantly, they appear to have established bases and hideouts in major urban centers like Srinagar and Anantnag. These Jehadis have also utilized the moratorium on offensive operations to muster local support and threaten and intimidate the human assets of the security forces.

When the snows melt on the Himalayan passes next month, new groups of Jehadis belonging to these groups will be infiltrated across the LOC and function from secure bases and hideouts in the valley. New Delhi has to realize that continued extensions of the cease-fire with no signs that support for cross border terrorism from Pakistan is going to end is going to lead to a dangerous deterioration in the security situation.

Thus, while action to fence the international border north of Jammu is a good development, we cannot allow the security situation in the Valley to further deteriorate by asking our armed forces to operate with one hand tied behind their backs. The safety and welfare of our men in uniform is far more important than a few diplomatic pats on our backs commending our restraint.

G Parthasarathy

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