Why Pakistan is obsessed with Kashmir

By Amulya Ganguli, IANS,

If Pakistan cannot envisage “long-lasting peace” with India unless the Kashmir problem is solved, as the country’s Foreign Secretary Abdul Basit has said, the reason has less to do with its concern for the “wishes of the (Kashmiri) people” than with the question of Pakistan’s own survival as a nation.

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Having already lost East Pakistan that became Bangladesh in 1971, the ruling establishment in Islamabad is scared of allowing Kashmir to slip out of its grasp as well. Hence, the persistent attempts to foment subversion in the valley and also organise large-scale incursions by both the mujahideen and the army, as in Kargil.

The jehadi attacks on the Indian parliament in 2001 and in Mumbai in 2008, apart from random acts of terrorism, are also intended to weaken India so that it will become easier to wrest Kashmir from it.

The fear in Islamabad is that if India succeeds in holding on to Kashmir, then Pakistan will slowly start unravelling. The reason is that, first, a “long-lasting peace” based on the fading of hopes of securing Kashmir will undermine the army’s dominance over Pakistan. If India is no longer seen as a major military threat, the army will lose its raison d’etre.

But the second reason is more potent. Pakistan had expected to make up for the loss of its eastern wing by annexing Kashmir. It would have been a great morale booster for a country which has always been paranoid about coming second to India, whether in cricket or in diplomacy.

The inability to make any headway in Kashmir will confirm the present-day reality that Pakistan can no longer claim parity with India. The earlier hyphenation, encouraged by America, is gone. India has forged ahead as a vibrant multicultural democracy while Pakistan is seen as the nursery of Islamic terror.

Not only that, it is also perceived to be coming apart at the seams with the army having to use helicopter gunships to retain control over its north-west while Balochistan is in the grip of an insurgency with or without India’s help. It is worth recalling that even the religious extremists of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north-west had pointed out during their conflict with the Pakistan Army that India has never used helicopters to control the unrest in Kashmir. The difference between a democracy and a virtual military dictatorship was evident even to the fundamentalists.

There are other causes of disquiet in the Pakistani establishment. It is that a “long-lasting” peace will enable India to exercise its “soft” power via its cultural influence, of which the most overwhelming will be Bollywood movies and Hindi film songs.

There is a revealing passage in Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif’s book, “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”, on General Zia-ul Haq’s death, in which the hero (or anti-hero), Ali Shigri, is travelling in a car driven by Major Kiyani of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The latter “reaches into his glove compartment”, the passage says, “and starts rummaging for a tape. ‘Asha or Lata’, he asks”. It may be mentioned that General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani headed ISI before he became Pakistan’s army chief.

Since the two-nation theory was based on exploiting supposed Hindu-Muslim incompatibility, Pakistan’s efforts throughout its history of six decades have been to assert its distinctive identity. It is for this purpose that it designated itself as an Islamic republic despite Jinnah’s obvious preference for a secular state, as outlined in his Aug 11, 1947, speech.

Any resolution of the Kashmir problem on India’s terms will mean that the widely admired Indian secularism will influence Pakistani society. The result will be a curbing of the excessive emphasis on religion, which was encouraged by General Zia, leading to the emergence of extremist groups.

As suspected by India, the clandestine links between the army and these elements have helped the latter to thrive since the military regards them as “strategic assets” in the event of a war with India. The removal of the Kashmir issue from the India-Pakistan equation will mean that the militant fundamentalists will be orphaned by the withdrawal of support from the army.

In addition to secular concepts, Indian democracy is also likely to act as an inspirational model for Pakistan. Its experiments with the system haven’t been successful till now because of the army’s frequent interventions and its overpowering presence based on the exploitation of the anti-Indian bogey. The army’s return to the barracks will boost democracy.

No one can say how real is the Pakistani fear of Indian (read Hindu) cultural dominance because the two communities lived side by side for centuries before the partition of 1947 and still do in India. As is obvious from the sub-continent’s past history and India’s present experience, the identities of neither have been diluted-as they haven’t been in the cases of other minorities in India such as the Sikhs or the Christians or even a minuscule one like the Parsis.

In all likelihood, therefore, it is the roots of the composite culture for which South Asia has long been known which will be further strengthened.

(8.8.2009-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])