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World opinion isolates a divided Pakistan

World opinion isolates a divided Pakistan

Author: Chidanand Rajghatta
Publication: Times of India
Date: May 29, 2002

World opinion has swung decisively against Islamabad on the Jammu and Kashmir issue even as Pakistan itself is cleaved between the country's moderates and liberals on the one hand and the fundamentalists and militarists on the other.

In the past week, almost every major country in the world, from the United States to Australia, has rejected the Pakistani argument that it is innocent of the terrorism in Kashmir, which it describes as a freedom struggle. Neither the Islamic world, nor its closest ally, China, has backed Pakistan's position.

Unambiguously terming the violence as terrorism and implicating Pakistan for it, world leaders have broadly endorsed India's position that it will stand down from its military readiness and address the issue only after Islamabad permanently dismantles the terrorist network it has created.

A distressed Musharraf is sending five separate diplomatic teams to various world capitals to argue Pakistan's case. The diplomatic-military team of the just evicted envoy in New Delhi Ashraf Jehangir Qazi and former army chief Jehangir Karamat, both polished and sober interlocutors, are being sent to Washington, the centre of opinion-making.

Ahead of the lobbying, Pakistan's effort to finesse its renunciation of violence by suggesting that it will turn off the terrorist tap only in so far as India comes to the negotiating table -- and will resume its support to violence if India does not -- has also been sternly rejected by the US and UK.

Officials from both countries clearly want Islamabad to allow India to restart the political process with the state assembly elections first.

The two countries, as also high officials of the UN, have indicated that they consider UN resolutions on the issue non-operational and unimplementable, with the suggestion that the two countries should look forward rather than look back. Pakistan's own disastrous record with democracy weakens its plebiscite argument.

But flying in the face of world opinion, Pakistan's military regime is reported to have decided that Kashmir is ripe for picking from Indian hands.

"This military perception, enunciated very recently by the Military Operations Directorate, Commander Corps 10, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other relevant military formations, contributed to the General Musharraf's address to the nation, during which he resolutely refused to give further concessions to the Indian military on Monday," The News daily reported in its editions on Tuesday.

The report also quoted Pakistani officials and terrorist leaders as saying Pakistan would be helped by a friendly Muslim population in Kashmir and even disaffected minorities elsewhere in India.

"Which army of the world can wage war when it is being attacked by its own people from right, left, front and the back," a senior Pakistani military source was quoted as saying.

A former US official with long dealings in the region described the thinking as "dangerous delusional nonsense", and said Pakistan evidently had learnt nothing from its past experience when even the Islamic world, much less Indian Muslims, rejected such hopes.

Administration circles privately expressed horror at this line of thinking even as they struggled to interpret parts of Musharraf's speech that appeared aimed at stoking a religious war in the region.

"Diabolical," is how one US official characterised the developments, adding that many administration mandarins were now on a "Kashmir 101" course to understand the issues that seemed to go beyond the present political and diplomatic context. For that reason, the US administration also appeared to be ingesting more inputs from the United Kingdom in making its calls.

While the Pakistani military is reported to be set on bleeding India in Kashmir even if it is forced to back down momentarily because of adverse world opinion, Pakistani society itself is deeply divided on the issue.

"For the first time in the history of Pakistan, politicians and the public are refusing to rally around the army as it faces the possibility of war again," Ahmed Rashid, the respected author of the most authoritative book on the Taliban, has written in the latest issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Public confidence in Musharraf's military regime, says Rashid, is at its lowest ebb following the April 30 referendum, widely condemned as rigged. Almost the entire political spectrum has united in condemning the military, while extremist Islamic parties have regrouped and are challenging Musharraf. To top it all, the economic malaise has worsened. The doubts and dissent are fully reflected in the Pakistani media, a remarkably lively and free press despite the military rule. Editorial columns, especially in respected publications like the Dawn, have as many comments challenging the military leadership's India policy as those supporting it.

"Just as it is absurd of New Delhi to pretend that there is virtually no such thing as indigenous Kashmiri militancy, it is ridiculous of Islamabad to insist that cross-border infiltration is broadly a myth, or that jehadi groups manage to mount their operations without any Pakistani assistance," editorial columnist Mahir Ali wrote in the Dawn on Wednesday.

Ali argued that the Musharraf regime should stamp out terrorism (which he said had not happened) "not out of fear of India or because of American pressure, but because it is wrong and counterproductive."

"Those responsible for acts of terrorism in Kashmir -- regardless of whether their victims are Indian soldiers or their families, or the likes of Abdul Ghani Lone -- are the enemies not only of India but also of Kashmiris. What's more, they are the enemies of Pakistan as well, given that their efforts over the past six months seem singularly geared towards provoking a war. If they cannot be persuaded to see the light, they must be stopped by force," he wrote.

Several Pakistani moderates have also expressed horror and revulsion at the ease and comfort with which the Pakistani militarists have invoked the use of nuclear weapons. Fire-breathing radicals, including some former diplomats, have suggested that Pakistan would prefer to use nuclear weapons and vapourise the region rather than submit to perceived Indian hegemony.

Searching questions by the moderate elements seeking to examine why Pakistan stands isolated in the world if its position on Kashmir was strong or tenable has made little impression on their ardour for war. The militarists are in complete denial over Pakistani provocation and the universal opprobrium it has brought on the country. Their diatribes are full of vitriol against India's machinations, US perfidy, and fantastic plots involving Christian-Hindu-Jewish conspiracies.

Some of India's utterances are also riling Pakistani moderates, who say it gives the militarists a handle to pursue an extreme agenda. In a comment that was endorsed by US experts, Pervez Hoodbuoy, the reputed Pakistani anti-nuclear peacenik, sharply criticised New Delhi for trivialising the Pakistani nuclear capability and believing it was not sufficiently potent.

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