US and the Kashmir tangle: WASHINGTON NOTEBOOK

By Tahir Mirza


THE tense situation in the subcontinent has not exactly dominated the headlines here, but it has certainly figured prominently in newspaper reports and editorial comments. Questions about it have been asked at State Department briefings on almost a daily basis.

Much store is set by what America can do to contain the crisis before it spirals totally out of control. So far, apart from telephonic contacts and working the diplomatic channel, the Bush administration has made one public gesture of note — sending out Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca to the region. She’s back in Washington, with opinion divided about whether her mission was a success or not. No noticeable restraint has become visible on the Indian side since her hurried trip.

The second most senior person in the State Department after Secretary Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, is due to travel to India and Pakistan towards the end of the first week of next month. The fact that the US does not seem in any desperate hurry to rush a senior diplomat to the region is taken by some as reassurance that war is not imminent between Pakistan and India, although that assumption appears to be based more on faith than on reality and probably rests on as shaky a ground as the belief that there will be no military conflict as long as there are American soldiers on Pakistani soil.

Officially, it has been said that Mr Armitage cannot go earlier because he has to mind the shop here in the absence abroad of Secretary Powell, who is with President Bush on the latter’s European tour. A leading expert on South Asia, Michael Krepon, head of the Henry Stimson Centre, has just come back from a visit to India and Kashmir, and is strongly of the view that in the absence of a very concentrated, very high-level effort on the part of the Bush administration, there is a high likelihood of an Indo-Pakistan war.

The task for American diplomacy is a complicated one. India is in a very defiant mood and has bluntly stated that it is no longer prepared to countenance what it calls “cross-border terrorism”. It has cleverly taken a leaf out of America’s own “war-on-terrorism” book to justify its proposal to go after militant sanctuaries in Azad Kashmir.

Washington cannot question the doctrine that it has itself adopted and propagated and it also to an extent shares Indian concerns, but it has to balance its concern with its need for Gen Pervez Musharraf’s and Pakistan’s backing for its military campaign in Afghanistan. It continues to say that it believes that the general is genuine in his commitment to control extremism and militancy.

This view may change if the US at some point begins to feel that Gen Musharraf’s domestic and external political agenda has become a liability for its own interests in the region. The million-dollar question is whether the US would acquiesce in some sort of a limited Indian strike across the Line of Control in Kashmir. And what will it do if it comes to the conclusion that Pakistan will reply to any intrusion with missiles or nuclear weapons.

The debate on the crisis among Pakistanis here sometimes gives the appearance of having become too personalized: the tendency is to blame Gen Musharraf rather than the military as an institution. This line of argument runs the risk of missing the wood for the trees, and ignores the fact that the seeds of cross-border militancy were planted in the late ‘80s by the ISI, and that the mindset on Kashmir that encourages militancy is rooted in almost our entire history as an independent nation, irrespective of the fact that this is a reaction to what India has done to Kashmir and Kashmiris.

India’s obvious distrust and dislike of Gen Musharraf helps further the argument of those (and these include some American think-tankers) who would wish to somehow delink the military from what is happening to us and blame it all on individuals. Their contention is not that Pakistan and military rule cannot coexist, but that Musharraf and Pakistan cannot coexist. It is often forgotten that for years, whenever politicians have tried to come to a modus vivendi with India, it is the military that has proved to be the main obstacle.

Whatever the feelings among individuals, all Pakistanis here are worried about the prospect of conflict, which if it comes would be ruinous. Perhaps they are even more worried than Pakistanis in Pakistan because being farther away from the scene leads you to imagine more than might be warranted by ground realities. It is said that distance makes the heart grow fonder; it also makes it more timorous.

* * * *

SOMETIMES (or perhaps often) you can only marvel at the American way of simplifying many extremely complicated questions.

Just as every Pakistani government sets up a Kashmir committee as if that would at one stroke bring the world round to our point of view, the Bush administration has, post-9/11, created a senior-level post of under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs that is meant to change perceptions of America in the Muslim world. The person appointed to the post is a hotshot advertising executive, Ms Charlotte Beers, who has been in various periods chairperson of both J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather.

Among her proposals is to set up “American Rooms” with Internet connections and other information resources in academic institutions and even shopping centres throughout the world, especially the Middle East.

“In these American Rooms,” Ms Beers said during a lecture at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies last week, “you can also use virtual reality to see a small town in America, to have an interview, to listen to someone recite the Declaration of Independence, to hear a beautiful piece of music.”

This is among suggestions made by Ms Beers to bridge the gap between what America says and what Muslims hear from their media. People are drowning in information, she said, but are missing the context.

So, the context is to be provided by Ms Beers through recitations of the Declaration of Independence. But what do you do if such a stirring recitation clashes with, for instance, President Bush describing Ariel Sharon as a ‘man of peace’ at a time when the Israeli prime minister is using US-supplied warplanes to snuff out Palestinian freedom and bulldoze Palestinian homes? Stand up and salute the Stars and Stripes and go to the nearest American Room to watch a video about an American family having Sunday brunch?

This may sound like a debater’s point, with a bit of journalistic verisimilitude thrown in. But Ms Beers is missing the point in her project-US campaign: the Bush administration’s policies and the rhetoric that goes with them have to change first. She should go back to selling whatever she was before she agreed to become involved in the rum game of politics. And wouldn’t the American Rooms themselves become easy targets for anti-American emotions?

Another event last week was a seminar on War in South Asia: Politics, Economics and National Identity in India and Pakistan arranged by the Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars. Unfortunately, this too turned out to be rather disappointing, at least its pre-lunch session, in that it tended to be too academic.

One speaker, Prof Charles Kennedy, of the political science department at Wake Forest University in Winston, Salem, and a former member of the executive committee of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, made the point that Pakistan’s inability to devise a workable constitutional and political system was totally unlinked to its India policy; all army coups were related to the corporate interests of the military and not directly to war with India. He was sharply brought to earth by a questioner who pointed out that the military had thrived on confrontation with India and the importance thus gained by the military had enabled it to dominate Pakistan’s politics. He might have added that the army had also set itself up as the guardian of the country’s ideological frontiers.

The Social Science Research Council’s Dr Itty Abraham said a distinction should be made between India as a state and India as a neighbour. It displayed different characteristics in each of its roles: overseas, it presented an image of a liberal anti-colonial crusader while with regard to its neighbours, it had adopted the colonial model of suzerainty.

Brig Feroz Khan, director of arms control and disarmament affairs at the Joint Services Headquarters in Pakistan and currently a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, talked of non-state actors that had come into play on the international stage. He said these non-state players were used by states for the latter’s own political purposes, but then acquired a life of their own.

* * * *

A FRIEND about to go to Pakistan has this to say: “We have funny health problems. Whenever I am about to go to Pakistan, I am asked by relatives and friends here to bring back such and such native medicines, ‘khameera gao zabaan’, for instance, and relatives and friends living in Pakistan send me long lists of patent western medicines to bring with me.”

After Enron, who’s watching the watchers?

GOOD accounting rules are the first condition for good corporate disclosure, which is why we argued that the rule-writers need insulation from lobbies. But once you’ve got good rules, you need someone to enforce them.

In 1933 Congress gave this job to independent auditors, who vet firms’ financial disclosures and certify that they are accurate. Yet this arrangement has always invited the question posed at the time by Sen. Alben Barkley: If auditors watch over companies, who watches the watchers?

“Our conscience,” is how one leading accountant answered Sen. Barkley’s question. Since then auditors have conscientiously staved off supervision, making empty shows of virtue whenever regulation loomed.

In 1977, at a time when Congress was threatening action, the industry set up the Public Oversight Board, which managed a peer-review system; the board was a peerless paper tiger, and no major auditor was ever sanctioned as a result of its reviews.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the industry convened two commissions on audit practices; both were ineffectual. All through this period, the responsibility for setting auditing guidelines and punishing miscreants was retained by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the profession’s own lobby. If an auditor made a multimillion-dollar error, the group would assume a really mean expression and prescribe a token training course.

For a long time this system of self-regulation survived, despite periodic scandal, because the strains it faced were less onerous than they are today. The economy was dominated by manufacturers, whose physical assets are relatively easy to value, rather than by “knowledge” companies, whose brands and intellectual property are arguably worth almost any number that audacious managers invent.

Moreover, cheap computing power had not yet multiplied the range of financial tricks available to get around accounting rules, and managers had yet to acquire the enormous stock-option packages that give them an incentive to beautify their books.

These strains on the system were reinforced by a bizarre development. Just as the pressure on auditors was growing, and even as the stock market was attracting a widening circle of vulnerable investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission grew less diligent at backstopping the weak self-regulators.

—The Washington Post

The sad face of Kashmir

By Victoria Schofield


GULZAR is a tailor in Srinagar who specializes in making British style ‘Prince of Wales’ suits in fine cashmere wool. But his shop has no customers and he spends most of the day standing on the street corner, dressed in a tweed jacket, to advertise his skills.

His plight is symbolic of the thousands of Kashmiris who depend on a steady influx of tourists for their livelihood. For thirteen years since the insurgency against the Indian government’s control of the state began in 1989, their trade has been reduced to a fraction of what it was in the heyday of Kashmir’s popularity as a tourist retreat for locals and foreigners wanting to escape the heat of the plains.

Handing me a bundle of letters from his previous satisfied customers, Gulzar says that he now relies on the journalists who come to the city to report sporadically on the insurgency. “I thank God I have some bread and butter,” he says, “but now I would like some jam.” In the next breath he asks me if I would like ‘a nice ladies suit’ which he could make me at once. “No need to pay me now,” he says hopefully, “you can pay me after Christmas.”

The valley of Kashmir is still a sad place. The normality promised as a consequence of the Indian government’s clampdown on militancy has proved a mirage. As Governor Saxena admits, even the injection of funds into the state has not always reached those to whom it was destined. And, following the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December last year, Kashmiris have again been made to pay the price.

The excited recipient of e-mail and STD facilities three years ago, the entire state is now cut off from electronic contact with the outside world. Only those in hotels and offices who can get a connection through New Delhi can use e-mail but this is slower and more expensive. Until the decision is reviewed, numerous cyber and STD booths remain vacant; the resentment of the young men who stand idle is plain to see.

Because of intensive security operations by the authorities, Srinagar city is, however, calmer than in previous years; children walk openly to school, with their satchels on their backs; the curfew is no longer enforced and there is less obvious military presence. Not all business is suffering: carpet manufacturers, who have outlets in India’s major cities, have made a profit and the fruits of Kashmir’s orchards continue to be harvested.

But life, especially for the villagers, can still be traumatic. They are constantly subjected to cordon and search operations in which civilians are invariably among the casualties. ‘Every day,’ says a teacher ‘we hear of yet another house burnt, more Kashmiris killed, more humiliation and heartache.’ Surprisingly the price of property in Srinagar has recently risen. But this does not mean that there is a boom in the state’s summer capital. Rather it reflects the desire of villagers to escape from the country and lead a more peaceful life in the city.

Kashmiris are still waiting for a miracle which will free them both from the occupying forces of the Indian army as well as the fear of militant attacks which can occur anywhere at any time. And in an international climate which is decidedly opposed to encouraging terrorist activity, they know that the only way forward is breaking the political deadlock.

On the one side of the political divide stands Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and his National Conference party whose adherents support the state’s status as part of the Indian Union. On the other, the 23-member Hurriyat Conference, whose respective ‘constitutions’ call either for the state of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan or for its independence.

In between these viewpoints, independent voices propose a variety of solutions, some involving international mediation to bring about tripartite dialogue between India, Pakistan and the inhabitants of the state, others merely requesting India to ‘vacate’ the valley and surrounding Muslim majority areas in Jammu so that it can become a self-governing semi-sovereign state with international guarantees and safeguards.

With elections due to be held for the state assembly in September, there is now a chance to see which voice predominates but only if all protagonists agree to participate. When elections were last held in 1996, the Hurriyat boycotted them, leaving Farooq Abdullah with a clear playing field to gain a majority vote. Employing a similar tactic this time is likely to backfire. As both Farooq Abdullah and the Indian government point out, until the Hurriyat parties participate, it is impossible to assess their popular support.

In addition, not participating looks like obstructionism which is not well received by international onlookers. But the problem of participating requires not only confidence that the elections will be ‘free and fair’ but also acceptance that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union. Such an admission would incur both the wrath of political hardliners for whom no compromise is possible and also that of the militants, who might resort to reprisals.

And yet, unless the Hurriyat takes part, Farooq Abdullah will once more be elected virtually unchallenged, something which those who are tired of the virtual monopoly he has had on the political scene for the past twenty years wish to avert. Abdullah himself also appears weary of the fight. His demands for autonomy status for the state have so far not been given serious consideration by New Delhi and it seems likely that he will try and introduce his son Omar as a new face with an untarnished political track record to boost the popularity of the National Conference. “This will be a mixed blessing,” says a Srinagar-based Kashmiri journalist. “It will mean that the National Conference may have more appeal. And so it is even more important for the Hurriyat to take part.”

In order to get out of the impasse, it is likely that those who would like to participate but, for the sake of their political reputation and their lives, dare not , will field proxy candidates. The Hurriyat is also attempting to demonstrate its strength by instituting its own election commission which will supervise an election amongst its supporters.

This initiative has not received any support from the Indian government and was given a setback in March by the arrest of one of the prime movers, Yasin Malik, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), accused of being the alleged recipient of $100,000 in contravention to India’s foreign exchange regulations.

Meanwhile, there is nervousness about the extent to which Pakistan can continue to support the movement in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Successive governments in Pakistan have consistently stated that their support is only moral and diplomatic and denied involvement in any “cross-border” terrorism.

But this statement is contradicted both by the Indian government and by evidence on the ground. And although political activists realize that the gun cannot be an answer to their problems, they are reluctant to say it serves no purpose because of the feeling that militant activity brought the issue out of ‘cold storage’ and gave it international recognition.

However, President Musharraf is now under increasing international pressure not to distinguish between condemning terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and condoning it in the name of ‘freedom fighting’ in Jammu and Kashmir. He is also facing his own challenges at home as he seeks to maintain his authority in Pakistan and, at the same time, overseeing ‘free and fair’ elections in order to return the country to civilian rule in October, 2002.

There is no doubt that Kashmiris are tired of the protracted insurgency and its consequences. But, todate those, whose political manifestos demand more than a return to the status quo before 1989, have not been prepared to renounce their objectives in order to bring about peace. ‘This would be like admitting that 13 years of the struggle, in which so many lives have been lost, has achieved nothing. Then what have we been fighting for?’

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