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DAWN - Opinion; May 18, 2003

May 18, 2003


Iraq under Baathist rule

By Anwar Syed

FOUNDED in the 1940s by two teachers, Michel Aflaq (1910-1989) and Saleh ad-Din al-Bitar (1912-1980), educated in French schools in Syria and later at the Sorbonne in Paris, the Baath (Resurrection) was professedly dedicated to socialism, Arab unity and freedom. Aflaq and Bitar claimed that a common language sufficed as a basis for Arab nationhood and an Arab state extending from Morocco to the Persian Gulf.

Established in Syria and Iraq, the two wings of the party soon became separate and rival entities. Its spokesmen in Iraq espoused Iraqi nationalism, and they would work for Arab unity if it were to be brought about under their leadership. They maintained that the Iraqi nation, born several thousand years ago, had created great civilizations from the Sumer and Akkad through Babylon, Assyria, Chaldea, and the Abbasid caliphate. Destined for greatness, Iraq should lead the whole Arab nation. Iraqi interests were, therefore, to receive first priority.

The party was organized along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union with an elaborate structure of cells, sections, divisions, and branches extending from the national to the local levels. A tightly knit and purposeful organization, its membership stood at 5,000 in 1968, increased to about 50,000 by 1978, and then decreased to some extent as a result of purges.

A manifesto in 1970 declared Iraq to be a People’s Democratic Republic committed to Arab socialism and Islam. Some of the higher-ranking party members constituted the principal state authority, namely, the Revolutionary Command Council. The Baath retained about two-thirds of the cabinet posts, including all the key portfolios. It maintained its own militia whose numbers exceeded 50,000.

The party created and controlled associations of professional people, industrial workers and peasants. Local councils under party control, and a parliament elected on the basis of universal adult franchise, were set up. The party, needless to say, won overwhelming victories in all elections. In presidential polls, the last of them held in 2000, over 99 per cent of the voters were said to have voted for Saddam Hussein.

The Baath’s commitment to socialism translated into state capitalism. Banks, insurance companies, some industries in addition to oil (cement, tobacco), and segments of others (flour mills, textiles) were nationalized. Foreign trade was controlled. The public sector (including oil) grew from 31 per cent of the GDP in 1968 to 80 per cent in 1977. One of the objectives here was to create jobs for the party faithful. By 1978 more than 20 per cent of the country’s workforce was employed by the state..

Islamic groups and movements opposed the Baath’s professions of secularism and socialism, and their opposition increased after the Islamic revolution in Iran. Al-Dawa al-Islamiya organized anti-government riots in Najaf and Karbala. Shia mujtahids were closely watched, and some of them were imprisoned or executed. On the other hand, the regime made certain concessions to mollify the ulema. Restrictions were placed on daytime eating during the month of Ramadan, the words “Allah-o-Akbar” (God is great) were added to the national flag in 1991, public consumption of alcohol was banned, and amputation of the right hand was prescribed for those guilty of robbery and car theft. Saddam Hussein was often seen praying in mosques.

Army officers did not dominate the government. In 1965 Arif’s government included only three of them in the cabinet, and by 1974 President Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr was the only former officer holding a key post. The generals were held in check by a system of strict surveillance done by the secret police, purges, and rewards made available through a network of industrial and commercial enterprises controlled by the military.

Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Nasiri al-Tikriti, born to a peasant family in the little known town of Tikrit in 1937, joined the Baath in 1957, rose to be its assistant secretary-general in 1966, and directed its internal reorganizations (purges) in the following years. On Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr’s retirement in 1979, Saddam became president of the country and head of the party.

An admirer of Stalin, he was a cautious, suspicious, ruthless, and sometime reckless man. During his ten years as al-Bakr’s deputy, and twenty-three as president, he got many hundreds of government functionaries, army officers, party officials, and actual or suspected opponents elsewhere executed. Reports have it that soon after becoming president he called higher party and government officials to a conference, many of whom were then dragged out and killed by firing squads. Extensive purges were ordered following failed coup attempts in 1982 and 1983. This modus operandi remained Saddam Hussein’s preferred method of preserving his hold on power.

The Baath ignored, indeed betrayed, its originally professed commitments. Socialism amounted to nothing more than state ownership and control of a large segment of the economy. Arab unity was derailed by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and raids on Saudi Arabia, and domestic unity remained elusive as oppression of the Shia and the Kurds continued. Freedom was nowhere to be found. The wars with Iran (1980-88) and America (over Kuwait in 1991), and the subsequent regime of UN sanctions, left Saddam Hussein’s government with little to spend on furthering social and economic modernization.

Saddam Hussein was no servant to any ideological persuasion. He was moved by an immense will to power and did whatever needed to be done, regardless of its moral status, to stay on top. He did not permit any autonomous political parties or other centres of power to develop. He reduced the only party that remained in the field (the Baath) to a mere instrument of his own will.

He may have wanted to do well by his country and people, but he insisted on being the sole judge of what their good might be. Like his predecessors he relied on individuals, rather than institutions, to carry out his purposes. These persons had to be ones he knew and of whose subordination to his will he could be reasonably sure. Many of them came from his clan and hometown. During the last fifteen years of his rule the Tikriti group filled more than one-third of the positions in the Revolutionary Command Council and the upper echelons of the party hierarchy.

Corruption flourished at the top and spread below. Saddam owned numerous huge and lavishly appointed palaces. His wife (Sajida), elder son (Udayy), half brothers (Barazan, Watban, and Sib’awi), a son-in-law (General Hussein Kamil) were said to be multi-millionaires. It is not true that his predecessors had been the same way. None of the three kings had more than two palaces. Qasim did not own a home of his own; he slept at his mother’s modest house or on a mattress in his office. President Abd al-Rahman Arif, toppled by the Bath in 1968, fled to Turkey and worked there as a hotel manager for twenty years because he had no other income.

Iraq is currently placed in the classic situation of a political vacuum. Having created this situation, the United States must not walk away from the responsibility of enabling the Iraqis to come up with a workable system of governance. Calls for America’s quick withdrawal from Iraq, coming from within the country and outside, are ill-considered; they are invitations to chaos and civil war. Certain facts and related considerations should, however, be kept in mind.

First, there are no political institutions in place, ready to fill the vacuum. Iraqi expatriates returning to the country at America’s behest won’t do. The only party that was operating until a few weeks ago (the Baath) is currently being dismantled. The army, being inherently hostile to democracy, is not an acceptable alternative. The mullas want to enter the breach and take power. Outside the government controlled press and electronic media, they constitute the only group that has maintained contact and regular communication with the people during the last forty-five years of dictatorship. But unlike the ulema in Iran, the mullas in Iraq, divided between Shia and Sunni, are not a coherent force. Moreover, they are not organized well enough to take and exercise power.

Second, one of the lessons of Iraqi political experience, highlighted during the monarchy, is that the people do not take kindly to a regime that is closely linked with a foreign power. Some of them have already spoken against any extended American presence on their soil. Yet the task ahead may take several years to accomplish, for there can be little doubt that the road to democracy in Iraq will be rough and crooked. Instead of a single foreign power, a consortium, including not only the United States and one or two European powers but representatives from within Iraq, may be better situated to bring an acceptable and stable political system to this country.

Estrangement of the Kurds and deprivation of the Shia majority could continue to pose troublesome problems. In this connection, two helpful factors may also be noted. The Kurds do not necessarily want to separate and become independent; they may be content with autonomy, especially if the oil-producing district (Kirkuk) is included in the Kurdish province. The Shia are surely tired of their subordination to the Sunni minority, but an equally dominant fact is that they are Arabs. They can have no interest in separation; they would simply want their due as the majority part of the population. But then the Sunnis may not want to part with even a portion of the privileges they have historically enjoyed.

The answer may be to think of Iraq as a federal union of three provinces: central and western Iraq (Sunni), northern Iraq (Kurdish), and southern Iraq (Shia), with a central government that is made competent and vigorous but whose jurisdiction is limited to a few functions which the three federating units agree to place in its charge.

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA.


At the cross-roads of history

By Kunwar Idris

WHEN the Sindh government recently appointed a minister for Karachi affairs and another for the rest of Sindh affairs an alarm was raised that it was an attempt to drive an ethnic wedge between the urban and rural people of the province. The alarmists should put their fears at rest.

It seems to be no more than an ingenuous device to create two more portfolios when every conceivable function of the government has already been split twice over for assignment to scores of ministers and advisers. Nevertheless, it is a bizarre innovation. It doesn’t make sense nor would it work. Our scheme of administration doesn’t envisage territorial ministries when every minister has a province-wide responsibility for his subject.

Sindh before One Unit had four or five ministers. West Pakistan province had eleven or so. The number of the ministers at the centre was similar. Now, Balochistan cabinet already has 13 ministers and its expansion is held up only because the partners in the coalition — and more poised to join it — are still arguing about their shares in the pie. In Punjab the tally is reaching 50 despite its being a single-party government and yet the thought, or compulsion, of adding to the number is never far away. It has defectors to appease or more to win over.

Being a minister has its rewards but excess of the commodity has its lighter and slighting aspects as well. A prime minister (when the cabinets were smaller) asked a minister at the end of his term who he was. More recently, newspapers reported that the newly appointed advisers and special assistants were required to prove their identity to enter the chief minister’s house.

A more serious concern about the governments put together, or still in the process, after the October 2002 elections is that the number of ministers is being determined not by need but by the factional interests or individual ambitions to be satisfied, and ability certainly is not a criterion in their selection. In other words, the politics and ministerial office are not for public service but for the fulfilment of self. Whatever good a government is able to do for the public has thus been made subject to this overriding consideration.

The politics of democracy everywhere suffers from such desires or compulsions which detract, in varying degrees, from the basic purpose of public service for which the governments are elected. General Musharraf’s meddling with the established electoral norms and practices has made it much worse in Pakistan. Worst of all, large and strong political parties — two or three in number — which form the foundation on which parliamentary democracy rests have been pulverized. The result is unwieldy and incongruous governments both at the centre and in the provinces. This pattern is unlikely to change whatever the result of the on-going bargaining on the Legal Framework Order.

All that Musharraf’s reformatory zeal has spawned over his three years as the supreme ruler is large assemblies and larger governments which refuse to function. Peopled by university and seminary graduates with the suspected corrupt and security-risks kept out, they exhibit no better standards of responsibility or performance than their condemned unlettered predecessors. Their example has rubbed on the councillors as well. They too are demanding pay and perks before they get down to work. That makes public representation a bloated and well-paid profession in a poor country where poverty and unemployment abound. For more than six months now the people’s representatives in thousands are living off the people’s taxes instead of helping the people.

Pakistan and India are about to enter into negotiations to mend their long-strained relations and in the ensuing goodwill seek a settlement of the Kashmir dispute which the UN resolutions, wars and jihad over 55 years could not secure. For this occasion, which is both delicate and portentous and only months away, Pakistan must take quick and radical action to replace its assortment of ministers (and their flunkies) and military men (and their retirees) with a democratic government led by a cohesive cabinet, a confident prime minister and a head of state who is not self-imposed but possesses democratic credentials.

It is vain to hope that the current bargaining on the LFO will throw up such a government. Prime Minister Jamali should also not delude himself into believing that his one-time consultation with some leaders and clerics has vested in him the authority required to negotiate and settle new terms of a vast and vexed relationship with a more experienced Indian leadership. His government is too shaky and heterogeneous for the Indians and the rest of the world to trust for a durable settlement. The conflicts that run through our national life have to be resolved and institutions strengthened before we confront India at the negotiating table which would need greater adroitness than past confrontations on the battlefield.

The LFO parleys may end either in a compromise agreement between the Q Muslim League and the MMA religious alliance on retaining some of its parts in the Constitution and excluding others or, failing that, the impasse may persist broken only by the protest shifting from the parliament to the streets.

Neither a QML-MMA agreement nor street agitations would strengthen the hands of Zafarullah Jamali in talks with Vajpayee or, before that, between an apologetic Khurshid Kasuri and a fiery Yashwant Sinha.

The QML-MMA alliance may help the Jamali government somewhat domestically but internationally it would prove a grievous setback. The Indians will certainly feel ill about the presence of fundamentalists in the government, and the country might also lose the American goodwill it so desperately needs in dealing with India. The Indians may spot among the Pakistan negotiators the patrons or sponsors of jihad (they call it terrorism) in Kashmir while the Americans already suspect that the MMA government in the NWFP is sheltering the Al Qaeda terrorists in the tribal area.

Chaudhry Shujaat, chief of the QML, has already succumbed to the MMA (we are all one, he says), and Zafarullah Jamali may go the same way for his first concern would be to keep his government going. Both need to ponder over its adverse effect on the crucial task ahead — Vajpayee says it may be the last chance to resolve the Kashmir dispute and Jamali finds him both cordial and sincere. Vajpayee is seeking for himself a niche in history; Jamali should not become merely a footnote in history.

A paralyzed parliament or a violent street agitation, succeeding or repressed, would rob the government of the credentials it needs for talks with India. The fate of the country must not remain hinged on the LFO. Another solution should be found to improve the representative credentials of the present set-up.

General Musharraf draws the legal and popular sanction for his presidency from a phoney referendum. The representative character of the parliament (paralyzed or in ferment) is only a little less phoney. The outcome of the general election was greatly influenced by the official agencies; the Election Commission remained helpless or partisan, the women members are all nominated and have no independent voice and, above all, the chiefs of the two major parties were in exile and their many other deputies imprisoned or disqualified.

To remain an effective president, General Musharraf should seek direct election with the whole country as his constituency. The political parties or other elements opposed to him may put up their own candidates. Musharraf should have no fear of that for he insists that his reforms have empowered the people at the grassroots. Thousands of councillors and nazims will act as his campaigners and polling agents. A gratified police which he has empowered more than the people will, inevitably, play its part.

An elected president should not need a vote of the parliament to remain in office nor, in turn, should he have the power to dissolve the parliament or dismiss the prime minister. The controversial National Security Council will also become redundant. He may then keep all the other powers listed in the LFO. It would do no harm.

Thus, a system of checks and balances will be established within the parliamentary system to which Musharraf has directed all his thought and energy, so far unsuccessfully. It would also give the country a credible government to choose its future course now that it stands at the crossroads of history.

‘Sine onere’

By Ardeshir Cowasjee

TEN years ago, towards the end of September 1993, prior to the ending of the prime ministerial caretakership of Moeen Qureshi (recognized now as one of the few highpoints in our political history), I wrote in praise of his achievements.

The fact that he had done no harm during his three-month tenure, I expressed the wish echoed by many of my fellow citizens that rather than have the scheduled elections with the already known result — the dreaded return of Benazir Bhutto and her spouse — the country would be better served were Moeen’s term to be extended.

During the week that followed, to my astonishment (how naive can one be?), it was reported that, at the last minute, Moeen had indeed acted in a manner damaging to the country. He had used the discretion allowed to him, the burden of which, being an educated man, he well knew, and rather than ridding the people of six untrustworthy men he had, against the advice of his own chosen ministers who knew better than he the calibre and corruptibility of the six, appointed them to high positions which would (and did) allow them, with impunity, to rob the exchequer and to use oppressive measures against the helpless people. Moeen later admitted that he had done so at the request and with the concurrence of Benazir, though at the cost to the nation.

So, in my next column Moeen was reminded of the Punjab and Sindh experiences in which discretionary powers had been misused and abused to the hilt by appointed and elected chief ministers who had plundered with the greatest of indiscretion. (The names of the plunderers, givers and the takers, were listed in the October 1, 1993, special issue of Dawn’s EBR, a document of record.)

Between 1985 and 1993 Punjab had three chief ministers, all of the PML — Nawaz Sharif appointed in 1985 who relinquished the chief ministership to become the elected prime minister in 1990. Then Ghulam Haider Wyne (1990-April 1993) who was assassinated that September 29, and Manzoor Ahmad Watoo, who, for 82 days from April onwards, ruled the province. All three were guilty of the abuse and misuse of the powers granted to them and all were worthy of prosecution under the laws of the land.

Nawaz used his discretionary powers to disburse at will from funds such as Jahez and Baitul Maal a sum of almost nine crore rupees handed out to undeserving, greedy, corrupt cronies and supporters. Wyne outdid him and handed out Rs.10 crores from his discretionary funds. Rs.7.5 crores was distributed to persons of his and Nawaz’s choice, five crore rupees to selected MNAs and MPAs, Rs.30 lakhs was given to his own institute in Mian Channu, the Markaz Anjuman Islamia, six lakh rupees went to the staff of the chief minister’s house, five lakh rupees was gifted to the ‘poor’ who gathered at Governor’s House on one of Nawaz’s visits to Lahore, and one lakh rupees was given as ‘Edi’ to the staff of Governor’s House.

In his short spell, Watoo managed to dole out three crore rupees to political associates, one crore rupees to a chosen few, Rs.13.5 lakhs as ‘inamat’ to his staff, Rs.10 lakhs as ‘Eidi’ at Okara and Dipalpur, and another Rs.10 lakhs to the ‘poor’. Rs.39 lakhs he dedicated to ‘entertainment and gifts,’ and on hotel expenses for himself and his friends he spent Rs.3.5 lakhs. His own personal entertainment cost the Punjab exchequer Rs.50,000 per day.

Such were the then known expenses, but over and above that, the discretionary allotment of plots from the Lahore Development Authority land had cost some Rs.200 crores. Were there to be any system of detailed and correct accounting, the sums spent by the three men would have been truly astronomical.

Sindh, during the same period, had suffered five political chief ministers: Ghous Ali Shah of the PML (1985-1988), Qaim Ali Shah of the PPP (1988-1990), Aftab Shahban Mirani of the PPP (six months in 1990), Jam Sadiq Ali, transferred from the PPP to the PML (1990-1992), and Muzaffar Hussain Shah who took over when Jam died. The province was fortunate in its one caretaker chief minister, the upright Akhtar Ali Kazi, for six months in 1988.

A fraction of the discretionary robbing recorded in Sindh involved plots of land. Had the total robbing under different heads been taken into account, it may well have exceeded that of Punjab.

Ghous Ali Shah, under his discretionary powers, allotted 1,234 plots for a total value at the then current market rate of Rs.220 crores. ‘Commuter’ Qaim and Mirani between them allotted 530 plots at a cost to the province of Rs.52.5 crores and of these 286 were allotted by Asif Ali Zardari via his appointee minister in charge of plot affairs, Agha Siraj Durrani. Jam Sahib managed the allotment of 402 plots worth Rs.41.5 crores. And by the end of September 1993 Muzaffar (now speaker of the Sindh assembly and on-and-off acting governor) had distributed 117 plots worth Rs.17 crores. The sum total was 2,283 plots of Karachi Development Authority land worth Rs.331 crores. Not bad going. But what was never known is how much land belonging to Sindh’s Board of Revenue was given away by these men during the eight years covered by their tenures.

Moeen Qureshi, as with his predecessors and successors in office, preached democracy. What he and the others did and do not preach or take into account is the fact that there can be no democracy unless there is on-going concurrent accountability.

Recommended to Moeen was that he procure and consult PLD 1991 SC 14 and read therein what had been spelt out by that most conscientious and dutiful of judges, Justice Shafiur Rahman, in his effort to curb those to whom discretionary powers are granted:

“A public official who undertakes to perform an act, even an act which is completely discretionary, must do so reasonably and in complete good faith without such delay as would frustrate its ultimate objective. One who accepts a public office does so ‘cum onere’, or with the burdens and obligations with its benefits. He thereby subjects himself to all constitutional and legislative provisions relating thereto and undertakes to perform all the duties of the office, and while he remains in such office the public has the right to demand that he performs such duties. The acceptance of every public office implies an agreement on the part of the officer that he will execute his duties with diligence and fidelity.

“The duty of a public officer to fulfil the obligations of his office should take precedence over all other matters. Every public officer is bound to use reasonable skill and diligence in the performance of his official duties, particularly where rights of individuals may be jeopardized by his neglect. In other words, he is bound, virtue ‘officio’, to bring to the discharge of his duties that prudence, caution, and attention which careful men usually exercise in the management of their own affairs.”

Every man or woman appointed to positions of power and every servant of the public should be made to carefully read (if not learn by heart) this passage from the judgment rendered over a decade ago in the case of ‘Chairman, Regional Transport Authority, Rawalpindi versus Pakistan Mutual Assurance Company Limited, Rawalpindi’.

The majority of those listed in the EBR are men attuned to taking oaths by which they have no intention of abiding, bending with the wind, looting without batting an eyelid, and bereft of remorse. It was not understandable in 1993 why a man such as Moeen Qureshi allowed himself to be persuaded into appointing, for instance, M.B. Abbasi who scraped the bottoms of both the NDFC and the NBP at the bidding of Asif and later absconded to the golf courses of the US.

It is now not understandable why Lt General Tauqir Zia who heads the Pakistan Cricket Board has so carelessly given away 17 acres of the Karachi cricket stadium land, worth Rs. 13 crores, to be used to create yet another of the ostentatious housing colonies for our retired army generals which are spread over the major cities of the land. General Tauqir Zia may be forgiven for the Pakistan cricket team having been booted out of the World Cup in the preliminary rounds (a first in our cricketing history), but he will not be forgiven for handing out, in such a cavalier fashion, land dedicated to the sport he is supposed to protect and foster.

In the hope that the message will get through to him, reproduced in an excerpt from a letter written to The Times (London) in February 1987: “Those who fear that fields will lose to bricks and those who might hope to gain from such an exchange would do well to remember the age-old anecdote about an open space in London. ‘Were I to enclose Green Park within my garden, what would be the cost?’ asked Queen Anne. ‘A monarchy, Madam. A monarchy,’ replied her prime minister, Robert Walpole.”

This little anecdote has been trotted out on many a previous occasion. Each time, it has fallen upon ignorant, deaf, and deafer ears.

Peace in Kashmir via pragmatism

By Dr Iffat Idris

THE end of the last century saw a number of dramatic and once unthinkable changes in relations between and within nations. The eradication of apartheid in South Africa, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, reunification of the two Germanies, Arab-Israeli entente under the Oslo Accords.

These dramatic shifts away from the long-established state of things have raised expectations that all such chronic problems and disputes can be resolved in the same wholesale historic manner. This expectation applies in particular to the fifty-six year conflict in the Indian subcontinent. Every time there is a move towards negotiations and entente between India and Pakistan, hopes are raised that the two countries will find a formula to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute once and for all. The three and a half wars (Kargil being the half) fought by them and their nuclearized status are cited as the reasons for them to permanently settle their differences.

It would of course be ideal if Pakistan and India were to reach a comprehensive agreement, paving the way for sustained regional peace and prosperity. But the desirability of this goal is matched by the problems and difficulties it involves. There are considerable obstacles in the path of a historic Indo-Pakistan Accord: vested interests on both sides (military, political and religious) with more to gain from conflict than from peace; the burden of history — public mindsets attuned by decades of mutually antagonistic propaganda to hate and distrust each other; weak political governments fearful of their own survival should they make concessions.

These obstacles are not easily overcome. All recent attempts at reaching an accord have floundered on one or other of them. Lahore accord collapsed on the double hurdles of Pakistani military opposition, and both Islamic and Hindu religious passion. Agra summit fell before political compulsions. Now, as Prime Minister Vajpayee makes his third and ‘last’ attempt at peace, there is a pressing need to learn the lessons of history.

Should Indian and Pakistani negotiators have the same ambitious and lofty goal of a comprehensive settlement, they will fail. This is a depressing but undeniable reality. The Jamali government, subordinate to a higher power, simply does not have the authority or credibility to reach a deal. (Note that any deal would require painful concessions by both sides.) Prime Minister Vajpayee is in a generous mood as his place in history beckons, but those around him with longer life expectancies do not share his generosity. Their mindset is still that of the typical ambitious politician: ‘how will my actions today affect my political career tomorrow?’

For all the talk of potentially massive peace dividends, the truth is that when it comes to winning over public opinion, neither people will take kindly to their leaders making concessions. It cannot be stressed enough that any Indo-Pakistan permanent peace deal will entail painful compromises by both sides. Should the Jamali government tomorrow agree to transform the LoC into an international boundary, be sure that there will be huge demonstrations on the streets of Pakistan against it. Should Vajpayee agree to the valley’s secession from the Indian Union, he can expect the same on the streets of India. In both India and Pakistan, public will exists for peace but not yet for the compromises necessary to make peace.

The impossibility of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement is not, however, the reason to abandon the exercise altogether. What is needed is a moderation of goals. Rather than aiming at a historic once-and-for-all difference-resolving accord, India and Pakistan should aim for a way to contain those differences, renounce war as a possible option and enable a functional relationship to evolve.

At the heart of this endeavour is Kashmir. Not the long-standing dispute over sovereignty between India and Pakistan, but the separatist movement within Indian-held Kashmir. This movement that took off in 1989 is the root cause of current Indo-Pakistan hostility. Before that, from 1965 onwards, Kashmir was on the backburner of Indo-Pak relations. (1971 was about East Pakistan/Bangladesh — Kashmir only got dragged in as an afterthought.)

The indigenous Kashmiri separatist movement on the Indian side of the LoC gave Pakistan an opportunity to re-engage in the state, and gave New Delhi a new cause to target Islamabad. Indo-Pakistan rivalry since 1989 has revolved around Pakistani efforts to promote the insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir, and Indian efforts to curb it. In tackling the movement, New Delhi has deliberately ignored its indigenous causes, preferring instead to focus on Pakistan’s role in it.

The logical conclusion that one can derive from this is that should the Kashmir movement die down, Pakistan and India will once again — as they did from 1965/71 to 1989 — be able to manage their other disputes and differences without much difficulty. If the temperature in Kashmir can be brought down from boiling point, Indo-Pakistan rivalry will cool down. Restoring peace to Indian-held Kashmir is the key to placing bilateral relations on a stable footing. This is a realistic and attainable goal for the current peace effort in the subcontinent. Calling for an end to the Kashmiri separatist movement is not meant in any way to denigrate the movement or its goals. The Kashmiris have a legitimate right to decide their own future. Under Indian rule they have been that right as well as the right to democracy and development. Since their movement began, they have suffered horribly at the hands of the Indian authorities. There is absolutely no question that Kashmiri separatism has both moral and legal sanction.

But the question is, will it achieve anything? Fourteen years of striving has brought untold suffering to the Kashmiri people. Fourteen years of striving has not brought them any closer to joining Pakistan, far less to independence that most Kashmiris probably prefer. Faced with Indian intransigence, do they go on fighting or do they compromise and try to get the best deal they can from New Delhi?

The choice before the Kashmiris is between idealism and pragmatism. Idealism dictates that — like the spider in Robert Bruce’s story — they go on struggling for a just cause against all the odds in the hope that one day they will succeed. Pragmatism dictates they acknowledge they are facing insurmountable odds, and that to go on battling would be both fruitless and self-damaging. The recent electoral success of Mufti Sayeed’s PDP in the held state (albeit in a flawed ballot) clearly indicates Kashmiri weariness of violent struggle and a willingness to look for ways out of it. It shows that the Kashmiris are beginning to put pragmatism before idealism.

But ending the separatist movement in Indian-held Kashmir does not depend on the Kashmiris alone. It also requires actions by the Pakistanis and even more by the Indians. Pakistan’s contribution has already been extracted, thanks to the US-led war against terror. Pressure from an uncompromising Washington has forced Pakistan to ban several armed groups and curb infiltration across the LoC. In the absence of Pakistani support, Kashmir’s separatist movement cannot be sustained for long — increasing the incentive for them to seek a deal with New Delhi.

New Delhi is the lynchpin for resolving the conflict in Indian-held Kashmir. The fate of the valley, and ultimately of the whole subcontinent, depends on its actions. The course it needs to take is clear. It has to win — if not the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris — then at least their confidence that they can live in security as part of the Indian Union. This will only come about through an end to all brutality and abuse in the region, repeal of draconian legislation like POTA and a genuine campaign to punish those responsible for human rights violations. Only when Kashmiris see the Border Security Force troops and army regulars being punished for gang rape, for example, will they believe they can get justice in India.

This has to be followed by investment and rebuilding. Kashmir has been shattered by the conflict: sufficient funds have to be provided to repair and rebuild. And New Delhi needs to learn from history. A major cause of the Kashmir movement was the drive by successive central governments to control the state either directly or through puppet rulers. New Delhi has to give Kashmiris genuine regional autonomy, the most important component of this being the right to choose their own government.

Should the Vajpayee government follow this recipe of respect for human rights, development and democracy, it could convince the Kashmiris to give up their arms and their aspirations for independence. It could ensure that they would settle for autonomy rather than independence. But should New Delhi choose to continue with the policies of the past fourteen years — brutal suppression and rigged elections — it will force Kashmiris to keep up their struggle, no matter how bleak the chances of success.

So far there is little sign that India’s government is taking the former course. Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed recently outlined a common minimum programme (CMP) to restore Kashmiri confidence and bring peace to the valley. It includes release of uncharged detainees, investigation of custodial deaths and other abuses, and disbandment of the notorious Special Operations Group (SOG). But by January pressure from New Delhi had forced the PDP-Congress government to abandon investigation of abuses by the SOG. Its decision to release political prisoners was condemned by BJP politicians as a ‘soft policy towards terrorists’. Should this kind of obstructionism persist from New Delhi, Mufti Saeed’s CMP will turn out to be a damp squid.

If Prime Minister Vajpayee is sincere about wanting peace and normalization in the subcontinent, he must first bring peace to occupied Kashmir. Peace in the valley may not permanently resolve Indo-Pakistan differences over Kashmir, but it will make them more manageable and non-incendiary. For now, this is the modest but achievable goal that India and Pakistan should aim at for the present.