Wednesday, 10 February 1999

'Moderate' Terrorism: Kashmir is Only the Beginning

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Among the books more prominent on booksellers' shelves rather
than in one’s personal library is At the Highest Levels an account
by Michael R. Beschloss and (present U.S. deputy secretary of
state) Strobe Talbott of the collapse of the Soviet Union,
Documented in its pages is the concession after concession given
by Mikhail Gorbachev’s USSR to the U.S. After each, the
Americans immediately upped the ante, demanding more, while
refusing to concede any but the most niggardly concessions in
return. The then foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, in
particular was a favourite of the U.S., thanks to his ability to
"persuade" Gorbachov to defy his own national security
apparatus in a policy of acquiescence to US dictates. The U.S.
exchanges with Shevardnadze and other pro-American Soviet
leaders in their joint efforts to sabotage the "hard-liners" in
Moscow makes interesting reading.

Quite clearly, no one in the ministry of external affairs or its
controlling agency, the Prime Minister’s Office, has read the
Beschloss-Talbott book. Had anyone done so, he may perhaps
not have been as eager to yield to U.S. pressures. Within the
MEA and the PMO (or the finance Ministry, for that matter), the
argument used in favour of acquiescing to American designs is
that such reasonableness will generate a quid pro quo in the form
of concessions to Indian interests, In the real world, unfortunately,
what takes place is more as described in At The Highest Lewis:
concessions merely serve to whet an appetite for more.

Need for Reform
This should not be understood as denying the importance of
modernisation and freeing productive forces from state control.
There is indeed need for much broader reform, so that for
instance, the near-monopoly positions of state enterprises in
sectors such as banking and power are abolished. Indians need
to be given the freedom to deploy their talents and resources in
a manner that will give them fair returns. In particular, they
should be encouraged to register a greater presence in external
markets. However, at present the concessions given to outside
interests wishing to tap the Indian market are substantially
greater than those given to Indian companies wishing to expand
their domestic or external market share. And yet, despite the
present government at the Centre being arguably the most
solicitous of those in the sub-continent of U.S. concerns, U.S.
policy-makers seem to feel a quickening of the pulse only when
confronted with the visage of Benazir Bhutto. A government like
Pakistan’s that functions with a set of laws that relegates members
of numerous faiths to second-class status, that has within its
armed forces an agency dedicated to subversion, that sees one
province dominate the rest in the only powerful institution in the
country, the army, is nevertheless perceived by the US as a
"moderate" state. Should India have resorted to similar
discrimination against sections of its citizens, one wonders
whether the U.S. would have seen it in the same light.

Safe Haven
Whereas in the past, the threat of fundamentalist terrorism
emanated from anti-U.S. regimes like Iran and Libya, today such
countries are being overtaken as sources of this phenomenon by
two US-backed states—Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. While the
Saudis mostly confine their support to the provision of finance,
Pakistan has emerged as both a safe haven as well as a training
ground for terrorist organisations. Ironically, this was a process
that gained momentum due to the U.S. support in the 1980s,
given to train and deploy fanatics who would be willing to take
on the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After the collapse
of both these states, many of these individuals-conforming to the
rules of the market economy—have sought re-employment in
regions such as Kashmir. Some of them, evidently, have found
gainful work even in Pakistan, if the camage in Karachi is any
indication. Just as the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in this
country has come to regret its less than clandestine support to Sri
Lankan militias such as the LTTE, the Inter Services Intelligence
(ISI) in Pakistan may over the next few years realise that
terrorists respect no national borders. If Pakistan provides an
easier and profitable arena for activities like mayhem and
murder that the ISI agents have been trained for, that is where
they will head.

Within the US foreign policy establishment, there appears to
be a heated debate on how to win over "moderate" radicals. One
suggestion could be to help create a new "moderate Islamic
nation", Kashmir. How else is one to interpret the fascination
with the "Third Option" for Kashmir (i.e. independence) on the
part of those attending seminars on "conflict resolution" in
South Asia? Such academic theories fail to take into account the
volatile chemistries of the individuals actually indulging in
fundamentalist terror. Should the ’Third Option' become a
reality, the new state is likely to become as fundamentalist as
Iran, with which its militants have much in common. As
Bhindranwale and Velupiilai Prabhakaran showed, those who
help Frankenstein’s monsters are seldom able to retain control
over them. However, ever since the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides
movement, there have been any number of well-intentioned
busybodies in the West charged with a need to "improve"
matters by meddling within the borders of sovereign states.

What the participants in such seminars forget is that the
crumb of an independent Kashmir is unlikely to satisfy the
fundamentalist beast. The main course is, and will remain, Israel.
Unless that state gets dissolved, the votaries of jehad are unlikely
to give up their propensity for terror. Success in South Asia will
embolden militants in other parts of the world. It will demonstrate
the viability of terror as a means of securing political concessions,
a fact that is often glossed over. By equating the designs of the
militants with the people as a whole, sections of the foreign
policy establishments in several countries are according
respectability to the gun. Whether in Kashmir or elsewhere, most
people would, one suspects, prefer just to be left alone. This,
however, does not mean that the present non-representational
regime in the state is desirable. Power should be made to
devolve to genuine representatives of the Kashmiri-people.
Unless this is done, their alienation from the rest of the country
will continue.

Panchayat Election
For a start, the Central government could consider holding
panchayat elections in the state. Even if the polling percentage is
low, those emerging as decision-makers at the village level
would have done so through the democratic process, rather than
by the diktat of a non-elected governor. Leave alone Kashmir,
even in Haryana or Kerala, citizens would become restive were
they have to spend long spells under a non-democratic
administration. Ensuring the right to vote even to refugees from
the Valley will ensure that a reasonably balanced team takes
charge, even in the event of any assembly poll. To delay the
democratic process till conditions become "normal" is a self-
defeating exercise, for conditions will never be "normal" till
democratic processes are initiated. Given that the armed forces
and the Constitution will remain as guarantors of the nation’s
integrity, one should welcome a Shabbir Shah or a Yasin Malik
as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Until the present
infatuation with "moderate" sponsors of terrorism abates in
Washington, India is likely to continue receiving advice from
busybodies there about the desirability of its own vivisection.
However, this is no reason why this country should not, on its
own, take steps to ensure that the people of Kashmir are given
the same right as the rest of us: that of living under an elected