General Musharraf and Kashmir

When General Musharraf deposed the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief in 1999 in a blood less coup, he claimed one of the underlying reasons for his extra-constitutional action was Sharif’s withdrawal from the Kargil war front in Jammu and Kashmir – where Pakistan had surprised and challenged the Indian military might, but had to concede defeat after losing the diplomatic battle. Pakistan’s unceremonious withdrawal from Kargil had caused a great shame to Pakistan and Kashmiris alike and the General lost no opportunity in placing the Kashmir issue firmly at the core of his regime change action. Similarly when he sided with the US in its ‘War on Terror’, General Musharraf calmed down the overwhelming opposition of his countrymen by claiming that Pakistan’s support for the US-led action would get the much needed Western support for the resolution of the Kashmir problem.

But as the War on Terror dragged and crossed into Iraq and beyond and has now deeply engulfed Pakistan, no promised Western support for Kashmir has come. Contrarily, General Musharraf designated himself in his own words as ‘man of peace’ and started dismantling the very basis of the Kashmir dispute — the UN Resolutions that guarantee Kashmiris their right to self-determination. In a rush of ambition and excitement to fulfil his self-prophesied role as the ‘man of peace’, he washed his hands off the UN resolutions and threw many formulas and ‘quad points’ into the quagmire that Kashmir has become. He even went to greater lengths in admitting his country’s role in fomenting ‘terror’ in Kashmir and its associated accessories. He even claimed that the Kashmiri resistance had contacts with Al-Qaeda and did not rule out Al-Qaeda presence in Kashmir, a charge even the Indian government resists to put forth for lack of any substance. Through his uttering and actions, General Musharraf has not only hurt the Kashmiri interest, but also contributed in creating suspicions about the Kashmiri struggle at the international level and complicated the political configurations of the issue both in Kashmir and abroad.

While the General is accredited with initiating and sustaining the ‘peace process’ between India and Pakistan, he has failed in one of his chief stated objective of bringing peace to Kashmir and its inhabitants. In his quest for a Kashmir solution, General Musharraf took a far reaching decision to dismantle the Kashmiri resistance and its paraphernalia in Azad Kashmir, but his position was weakened as he did not get anything in return from India — not even a symbolic reduction in troops – a process he refers to as ‘demilitarisation’ in the heavily fortified Kashmir Valley.

General Musharraf’s desperation to sell his ‘solutions’ to Kashmiris saw him courting all sorts of Kashmiri ‘leaders’ and cheerleaders — from the supposedly pro-freedom camp to the pro-India enclave. His diplomatic offensive went further and he coaxed journalists from Kashmir and India. Endless interviews were given to the scribes representing local and national news organisations. He even ‘performed’ interviews with such Kashmiri ‘journalists’ who do not even know what to ask and expect. This allowed Kashmiris to see a funny side of the otherwise grave and serious phenomenon that undermines the Kashmiri aspirations and dreams for Azadi.

Operating from his barricaded Army headquarters in Pakistani President’s avatar, he was confident that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and his group of Hurriyat Conference would be able to sell his formulas to Kashmiris. Sadly for him, his formulas and potions could not move beyond the quack shops of Hurriyat and lacked appeal for a common Kashmiri. True, the deafening noise created deliberately by the hawkers of these ‘solutions’ and ‘visions’ created divisions and distortions in Kashmir, but General Musharraf’s appeal declined rapidly as he lost his credibility much earlier among Kashmiris than his compatriots in Pakistan.

Despite lofty disclosures and claims about his proposed solutions and formulas, Musharraf’s words, actions and intentions are cloaked in ambiguity. As a result, even after millions of mentions and reminders, Kashmiris are yet to decipher the difference between his concept of ‘self-governance’ and pro-India National Conference’s demand for ‘autonomy’. At one occasion, when Syed Ali Geelani, chairman of the rival faction of Hurriyat Conference confronted him and sought clarifications, the General was confident not in the feasibility of his solutions but in an abstract boast that “George Bush and Tony Blair are with me”. Similarly, when Lord Nazir Ahmad, a British peer asked him in an open Question and Answer session at Brussels as to why he is exhausting his options without waiting for any response from the Indian side, his answer was that he was an avid Bridge player. But the General strangely accepted that while the people wait for a move from the enemy, he in his style of Bridge is exhausting all his options to seek a reaction move from India. Predictably, the Indians proved themselves far superior in the game – they allowed the General to exhaust all his cards till he was left with nothing and was even stripped down to his pants. Even without playing a hand, the Indians won the table.

Despite using every local and world forum to amplify the surrender of Pakistan’s traditional position over Jammu and Kashmir, General Musharraf failed to win any favour on Kashmir saving customary and automated responses from the Western capitals — “Kashmir issue should be solved amicably and peacefully”. Even his war on his own people in the name of ‘War on Terror’ did not win him any support for the Kashmir cause. His army background coupled with his record of stifling democracy proved a huge disaster for the Kashmiris at the international level. It was due to Pakistan military’s role in the country’s politics and its reputation that the EU’s Kashmir Report lost track and ended up focussing on Pakistan’s role rather than the massive sufferings and miseries of Kashmiris on the Indian side. It is mainly because of Pakistan’s bad image at the international level that Kashmiris could not get the desired support for their struggle abroad. Besides, due to the strong Indian lobbying, Kashmir is always seen as a bilateral issue and now that General Musharraf has abandoned Kashmiri’s right to self-determination on their behalf, the world is less inclined to show any concern for the dying Kashmiris. The reason is simple: as India and Pakistan come closer and share the same position on this issue, there is less danger of any escalation.

Despite his lofty claims of unfreezing the issue through fashion of formulas, General Musharraf has failed to effect any change to the Kashmir situation from the international players or even in the attitude of the Indian authorities. He was broadly and repeatedly snubbed when the Indian leaders and the Army who have consistently refused to ‘demilitarise’ and recently recommended a tenfold increase in the troop level to check and control the levels of ‘cross-border terrorism’. After failing in his Kashmir resolution bid, General Musharraf had been trying hard to seek at least a solution to the Siachen problem to keep some momentum and buoyancy to his now defunct ideas. But the worse struck him when the Government of India declared Siachen open for tourism — not only sending a strong message that it was not prepared to negotiate on the current status of the glacier, but also that it is formally integrating the world’s highest battleground into its territory and does not consider the current ‘peace process’ as any impediment to this regard. Despite Pakistan’s muted protestations, the tourist activity went ahead removing any doubt about the Indian position. If he had any doubt about his person and stand, it was removed when one of the close ‘War on Terror’ allies — the United Kingdom recently conducted joint exercises with the Indian Army in the Ladakh region, part of disputed Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s protests and denouncements were deemed so redundant that it did not even elicit a reaction from the British.

The massive challenges and exigencies of hanging on to his now very fragile rule is immense and overwhelming for the General so much so that it seems he has abandoned Kashmir for good. As he battles to maintain calm in his beleaguered country following his second and more ruthless coup, Kashmir seems to have been drowned under his new and ever increasing priorities. This is therefore no surprise that in his ’emergency’ address to the nation, General Musharraf did not mention Kashmir at all. Is it that Kashmir has finally lost its meaning for the battling General or that Pakistan has yet again abandoned its raison d’être and the ‘jugular vein’. All indications lead to this conclusion and the Kashmiris and their ‘leaders’ based in Srinagar and Muzzaffarabad have raised the concern though mutely. General Musharraf’s antics vis-à-vis Kashmir seem to have succeeded in erasing Kashmir from the Pakistani psyche to a point that it even does not get a mention in his second coup as a reason to hold onto power. This must be heartening for the Indian side as they consolidate their stranglehold over Kashmir.

There is no doubt that General Musharraf has shown unprecedented courage at the time of 9/11 and saved Pakistan from overwhelming and menacing disaster, but his over confidence in his intellect and ability to engineer solutions out of crisis and stalemates has boomeranged. He has not only failed to protect Kashmiris through his ‘surrender policy’, but also failed to keep his promises of their hopes for the future. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s hired bunch of handful supporters may light a few fire crackers in the old Srinagar city to please the military man over his ‘victory’ in the presidential elections, but Musharraf remains a very unpopular Pakistani head of the state in Kashmir, a unique honour.

When Zulfiqar Bhutto was hanged, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris poured onto the streets mourning in disbelief and shock. Similarly when Zia-ul Haq was killed in a suspected US-engineered crash, Kashmiris showed their love and affection by taking funeral processions and offering janaza in absentia through the length and breadth of the Valley. As General Musharraf is replicating Zia-ul-Haq by adopting and innovating upon his ruthless practices, it is hard to ignore this oft-repeated phrase that his days are numbered. Even a Western analyst suggested on live TV that the end might be near and could be brutal and violent. Should this be the unfortunate truth, the General might create yet another unique honour for himself as there would be no mourners for him in Kashmir.

Murtaza Shibili is a Kashmiri from the Indian side now based in London. He is a security/media consultant and editor of the online quarterly Kashmir Affairs. Read other articles by Murtaza, or visit Murtaza's website.