Friday 15 October 2010

Ethnic dimension in Kashmir & Afghanistan (PO)

M D Nalapat

Together with Kashmir, a territory that divides the Pakistan establishment from its counterpart in India is Afghanistan, a land of great beauty that has suffered the cruelty of conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979. Led by the Pakistan military, the key policymakers in Islamabad wish to see an end to Indian interest in Afghanistan. This preference that has been embraced by countries such as China, Germany and Turkey, which take care to ensure that their international initiatives for that country do not include participation by Delhi. As for the US and the UK, while both believe that Pakistan’s support would be boosted by India being kept out of Afghanistan, neither is willing to risk its warming ties with Delhi by openly saying so. Of course, every now and again,” experts” close to the Obama administration (and friendly to the Pakistan military) such as

Barnett Rubin prescribe both a reduction in India’s involvement in Kabul as well as US and EU diplomacy to get Delhi to move much beyond the status quo in the matter of Kashmir. None of these scholars have fought a democratic election, so they can be forgiven for failing to understand the public consequences of any such “surrender” over Afghanistan and certainly Kashmir.

While General Musharraf, now that he has zero official responsibilities, can talk about how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and he were “within an inch of settlement” of the Kashmir issue, the reality is that no political leader in India would be able to confront the reaction that would follow the granting of concessions on Kashmir that Barnett Rubin or Ahmed Rashid consider desirable. In particular, the view of the General that the border between the Indian and the Pakistani-controlled parts of the state should be thrown open is strongly resisted by India’s own military. Although India is very different from Pakistan, in that the generals keep to the barracks rather than involve themselves in the overall governance of the country, more than 40 million families have a past or present link with the military. This makes it one of the most important of

constituencies, one that no politician can sweep aside and hope to continue in office (or indeed avoid impeachment).

Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shares with his predecessor Inder Kumar Gujral a deep desire to craft a normal relationship with Pakistan, the “realist” view in Delhi is that the two parts of Kashmir are by now wholly separate from each other, with only the militants - or “freedom fighters”, as they are called across the border – forming a common link. While Kashmiri is the language of Indian-controlled Kashmir, the dominant language across the other side is Punjabi. Should the barricades closing the border get opened, the realists believe that there would be an influx of Punjabi-speaking “Kashmiris” into the Indian side, the same ethnic group that left locations such as Mirpur in their tens of thousands to settle in the UK and in the US. Within India, the perception is that the degree of Pakistan’s advocacy of the cause of the Kashmiris is a predominantly Punjabi issue, one not shared to the same degree by Baloch and Sindhi citizens of Pakistan, and these days, not by the Pashtun either. Of course, such views may be wrong, and it may be that the Kashmir issue unites all Pakistanis, no matter to which province they belong.

India being a land of many ethnicities, it is to be expected that this factor would figure substantially in any analysis of events. In the case of Kashmir, the perception is that only about a million of the six million resident in the state are willing to continue the agitation for a Kashmir that is either free or gets merged with Pakistan. The rest are either uninvolved or seek to remain with India, especially in view of the fact that nearly 90% of the moneys spent in Kashmir come from the rest of India. Indeed, but for this immense subsidy - which in the opinion of this columnist is a misuse of scarce resources – the state is bankrupt, with almost no industry and its service trades gravely affected by the anti-India agitation. The Sunnis of the Kashmir Valley have been in control of the state since the time Jawaharlal Nehru handed over power to Sheikh Abdullah in the 1950s, a factor that has generated a demand by the Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh that they should be allowed to separate from the Valley. Thus far, because of the romantic legacy of Nehru, this has not been permitted by any Central Government, although it seems a matter of time before both Jammu and Ladakh step up their demand for “azaadi”, not from India but from the Kashmir Valley and its main city of Srinagar.

If the many decades of international pressure (the latest soon to arrive in the shape of President Obama, whose military is convulsed with worry over the situation in Afghanistan, and sees concessions by India as a solution to its dilemma) have not worked, the reason lies in the ethnic mix of Kashmir, which has prevented the majority of the population in the state from backing the anti-India agitation being conducted by the Valley Sunnis with assistance from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

If Valley Sunnis form the overwhelming majority of those Kashmiris involved in the anti-India struggle, in neighbouring Afghanistan, it is only the Pashtuns from whose ranks come the Taliban. The militia has near-zero recruits from among the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other on-Pashtun groups in Afghanistan, and even among the Pashtuns, the perception in India is that onky a small minority want a Taliban takeover. If there are several thousands of recruits to the militia, the reason is that in some parts of southern Afghanistan, unless at least one male member of each (Pashtun) family does not join the Taliban, then that entire clan is in danger from the militia. There is almost zero Taliban activity in the non-Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, the lands north of Kabul, while the capital itself still has a non-Pashtun majority, despite years of effort by NATO to cleanse it of many non-Pashtuns.

There is no doubt at all that all the lands near to or bordering Pakistan have become strongholds of the Taliban. These include Ghazni, Jabul, Helmand and Paktia. Without this common link, the Taliban would not be able to survive, as many Pashtuns are these days eager for modern (even English-language) education and are reluctant to once again become part of an ultra-Wahabbi state where music, movies and most other leisure activities are banned, as also education for women and all except religious education for males. After nearly a decade of exposure to the fruits of the entertainment industry of India, Pakistan and the US, and a newfound knowledge of the world beyond the seas, few Pashtuns are eager to return to 1996-2001. If despite this NATO has failed to defeat this militia (and indeed, has itself been severely thrashed by them),the answer lies not within the Pashtun community but in the wrong tactics of the NATO commanders, few of whom have any expertise in conditions so different from that found in Europe.

What is taking place in Afghanistan is what took place in Kashmir,a partition on ethnic lines. The Pashtun south is rapidly becoming a very different country from the non-Pashtun north. There, industry is slowly beginning to develop, and the economy is expanding, while in the south, there is fear and a paralysing sense of hopelessness. Any Afghan there that has the chance to escape does so, some to Pakistan and others farther afield. Because of the fact that NATO commanders pay warlords (who thereupon give tribute to the Taliban), more than from Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, the Taliban is getting funded by cash from US and EU taxpayers. The expectation in India is that the NATO military presence will continue, but the countryside in the south will get taken over by the Taliban, while the north would remain free and the central government in Kabul get rendered irrelevant. The vast mineral resources of Afghanistan (such as uranium in Hemand) make it impossible for any fast-developing economy to ignore the country, which is why India is active there. In time, Delhi will re-establish its links with the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, the Hazaras and the many Pashtun who are unwilling to accept the Taliban. Meanwhile, it watches with dismay as one wing of the US establishment cosies up to the Taliban and another does battle with it. Unless the rallying cry of religion can once again unite Afghans, the way it did in the past, the ethnic and other divergences in the population will continue to ensure the absence of an equilibrium result in Kashmir or Afghanistan. Both India and Pakistan are, it seems, fated to continue their conflict in these two zones, unless better sense prevails and a “Live and let live” attitude develops.

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