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America’s Last Chance

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It is vital for America to put pragmatism in the front and ideology in the back seat. This article is written from the perspective of American interests: Now might be America’s last chance to gain control over Pakistan’s nukes, before neo-Taliban elements take control of Pakistan’s military.

There is little doubt that the trend in The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is away from democracy rather than towards it. Therefore, there is little doubt that when — and not if — General Musharraf gets overthrown, the next ruler of Pakistan will be a fundamentalist under the control of Pan-Islamic jihadi elements. Meanwhile, today’s 25 nukes in Pakistan will multiply to 500 and 1,000 nukes over the next ten years. The worst thing that America could do now would be to legitimize Musharraf’s nuclear blackmail, and thereby further encourage Islamic militants.

Rather than imagining today’s situation as a static one, American strategic thinkers need to project the most likely scenario over the next five to ten years. American choices today should be based on future projections of these critical matters. Since the average political lifespan of a Pakistani ruler has been around five years, before he gets killed by his successor, planning for US security on the presumption of the General’s ability to rule would be a dangerous blunder.

It is daily becoming clearer that the General does not enjoy the power, within his own country or even within his own army, to the extent that US policy expects and assumes. This is especially so in the dangerous hot spots of the Western areas of Pakistan, where Pashtun speaking tribes are harboring Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, most probably including UBL himself. No previous Pakistani government has been successful in controlling these tribal areas.

I would like to state that the most dangerous area in the world today is the region sandwiched between Afghanistan on the West and sections of Pakistan on the East. This region includes parts of Eastern Afghanistan and Western Pakistan. It is connected with Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, and this turns Kashmir into an extension of the Al Qaeda / Taliban theater of terrorism.

While the outcome of the Kashmir real estate dispute itself has little direct consequence to American interests, it is this greater issue — of long-term control concerning Pakistan’s nukes — that looms overhead. This should be the focus.

In fact, a hypothetically “independent” Kashmir should be seen in the context of the real potential for its transformation into a Taliban State. What might the situation look like if Kashmir were to become a Taliban State, replacing Afghanistan as the nexus of Al Qaeda and neo Al Qaeda militants? This cannot be ruled out as the ultimate consequence of any plebiscite, since Kashmiris are not likely to opt for Pakistan, and an independent Kashmir would not be free from Pan-Islamic forces.

If Kashmir were to fall under militant Islamic control, then Central Asian countries to the North and India to the South would be the logical areas of jihad expansion. What was done on September 11 from the globaljihad base in Afghanistan would seem trivial by comparison, if, as dreamed by jihadis, the Crescent of Islam gets re-established from Morocco to Indonesia, covering almost half the world’s population. India is the key obstacle in the way of their dream.

Therefore, it is urgent that the US State Department should re-educate its staff about the nature of Pan-Islamic thinking today. This should be done free from ideological baggage, and strictly as a matter of coming to terms with the way these people think on the ground. In particular, the ‘economic class struggle’ theories so pervasive in academe should be thrown out of the window in such an exercise. For, it is clear that the jihadis are not motivated by economic cravings, to drive in BMWs, or to indulge in other Western ways of living. Their struggle is not for wealth, and many of them left wealthy Arab families. Western thinkers must do an honest job of trying to learn the tenets of fundamentalist Islam as a religion unto itself, even though liberal Muslim scholars might wish to describe an entirely different Islam.

It is the religion as interpreted by the bearded men on the ground, running the madrassas, that matters in assessing the aspirations of jihadis, and not the Islam as interpreted by its relatively few Westernized liberal voices. Yes, we all wish Islam were more like it is cranked up to be on American college campuses today, and should encourage any movement in that direction. But, meanwhile, we must plan based on what it is perceived to be by those who are driven to such extremes based on religious dogma.

The basis for understanding Pan-Islam should be the question: What is taught in madrassas where jihadisare recruited? This is not the Islam as taught at the Harvard Divinity School or at the conferences of The American Academy of Religion. That Islam is what certain voices would wish it to be, but we must understand the reality of what it means to its militant adherents who we must now confront. The project of Reforming Islam is a vital one, but is not to be confused with the immediate project of understanding Islam as is today.


“Why doesn’t India do a plebiscite in Kashmir?” This has become such a common question today. Yet, few who raise it have bothered to delve into the deeper issues involved. In particular, I have not seen serious analyses done where the multiplicity of factors would be considered individually. These factors cover many areas, such as: legal case; global military, political and economic ramifications; ripple effects within India and Pakistan; and precedence setting. I shall list these issues briefly below, in the hope that all these would get debated extensively rather than in superficial headlines.

Legal Case:

As per British rules for the Independence and Partition of India in 1947, the ruler of Kashmir signed a document merging Kashmir into India. This is the basis for India’s legal claim.

Pakistan’s legal claim is based on the subsequent UN Resolution(s) calling for (1) withdrawal of all Pakistani military forces from the entire state of Kashmir, to be followed by (2) a plebiscite to be done by India.

The legal situation today with respect to the UN Resolution is as follows:

* Pakistan has violated provision #1 because it never withdrew its military forces from Kashmir. Note: the UN Resolution did not call for withdrawal of India’s forces from Kashmir. In fact, it acknowledged that in the interim, until a plebiscite was carried out, that the entire Kashmir would be de facto under India’s military control. Hence, this matter constitutes a breach of the UN Resolution on Pakistan’s part.

* In addition to the 30% of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan today, another 20% of Kashmir is controlled by China, as a result of its war with India in 1962. Furthermore, China has merged this part of Kashmir with Tibet. Any plebiscite would also require China’s participation, and since the populations have merged with Tibet, this would bring up the broader issue of a plebiscite for Tibet as well. China is simply not interested in any talk of plebiscites, in any region under its control.

* While Muslims were a majority in Kashmir in 1947, it was a slim majority, and the identity of Kashmiris had always been based, not on religion, but on its own rich heritage of language and culture – an identity they proudly call Kashmiriyat. However, recently there has been a heavy influx of population into Pakistan Controlled Kashmir, including Arabs, Afghanis, and other Pakistanis. Meanwhile, Hindus and Buddhists have been ethnically cleansed from Kashmir’s all three parts (Pakistan, China and India controlled), as a result of jihad activity sponsored by Pakistan. These massive population movements present difficulties in implementing the plebiscite that was envisioned fifty years ago at the UN. The population of Kashmir today has a substantially diminished percentage ofindigenous Kashmiris as compared to the time of the UN Resolution.

Hypothetically, if push comes to shove, India could choose to allow free flow of people from within India into Kashmir. Given that Kashmir is very sparsely populated, and has approximately 1% of India’s total population, it would not take much to turn Kashmir into a Hindu majority state. Hence, the game of demographic shifts could just as easily be played by India. If this is not considered fair, then what means would one propose to reverse the demographic manipulations in Kashmir over recent decades as mentioned above?

In brief, a plebiscite that accurately measures indigenous Kashmiri sentiments per se, is not easily viable today, and it is certainly not in India’s hands solely, as often alleged. The solution is to be explored looking forward and not back.

Global Military, Political, and Economic Ramifications:

The China-Pakistan Karakoram Highway runs through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. It gives China access to warm water ports of the Indian Ocean and is the strategic axis in their military alliance. On the other hand, if this part of Kashmir were controlled by India, not only would the China-Pakistan land link disappear, but also, India would then share a direct border with Afghanistan, and through it, to Central Asia. (Note: Pakistan would still have a long border with Afghanistan, and through it to Central Asia.)

Besides military contacts and links, this tiny region within Kashmir is also a potential path for natural gas pipelines from the rich Caspian Sea to the Indian and ASEAN economies.

Furthermore, the Indus river flows through the Indian controlled Kashmir. It supplies most of the fresh water to Pakistan and much of North India. Besides irrigation, this water is also a resource for electricity generation. Right now, India is honoring the Indus Water Treaty signed with Pakistan in 1960, but the government is coming under increasing pressure to cancel it, and to renegotiate a new and more equitable treaty.

Central Asia has more oil/gas reserves than the Arabian Peninsula; more diverse cultures, nationalities and ideologies coming together than any other place in the world; and very militarily strategic terrain. Control over Kashmir is made more critical because of its location.

The US would not want such a strategic location to become another Talibanized State similar to what Afghanistan was. Yet, an independent Kashmir would not be sustainable. It has too many neighbors, with porous mountainous borders — a point now finally understood by the world concerning India’s problem in dealing with cross-border terrorism. Hence, Kashmir as a demilitarized, Switzerland-like neutral and peaceful haven is just a panacea for the academic idealists who lack a sense of pragmatism.

The religious significance of Kashmir to Buddhists and Hindus has not been appreciated in the media. Whereas the Palestine issue revolves around the unique religious importance of that sacred geography to Muslims, there is no special significance of Kashmir to the Muslim world, except as more territory. On the other hand, Shaivism, an important Hindu denomination, is based in the Kashmiri sacred, geographic landscape; similarly important is Kashmir to the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist history. Given how important Palestine is to the Muslims, would it be a reasonable expectation for people to appreciate similar sentiments of Hindus and Buddhists with respect to Kashmir? In order to be secular, the Indian government has never made this point, whereas if the US were facing a similar situation, it would certainly consider the sentiments of the Christian majority without compromising its secular ethos.

Ripple Effects Within India and Pakistan:

Neither Pakistan nor India would remain viable sovereign states in the long term, depending on the hypothetical loss of Kashmir to the other.

In Pakistan’s case, far too much has been invested in the myth of a “Pakistani Kashmir,” at the cost of economic and human development of its own people. In fact, an independent Kashmir would also not suffice to meet the needs of the grand myth of Pakistan. If Kashmir were to become independent of both India and Pakistan, the cross border terrorism by Pakistan would continue, with or without the Pakistani government’s official participation, except that it would be against a much weaker enemy than India.

Here is a likely scenario of what would happen in case India was to lose Kashmir: Similar plebiscites could be demanded by any district with a pocket of Muslim majority. There are eight such Muslim enclaves in India, and a recent study has shown that all Hindu-Muslim violence over the past fifty years has been localized to these eight. Even before any such plebiscite demands get articulated, Hindus would suspect this to be the general Muslim trend everywhere, and would start acting in anticipation of it. This means that the Hindu-Muslim relations in India, now soured in eight localities, would become sour across India. Here, I must remind readers that India has 140 million Muslims, about the same number as Pakistan’s total population. Hence, the scale of this violence would dwarf anything witnessed in Bosnia or Palestine. The ultimate result of this would be a Balkanization of India.

To Pakistanis rubbing their hands in glee at such a prospect, it would be important to consider that any Balkanization of India would certainly be accompanied by exactly the same for Pakistan as well. The US should note that this would turn the entire sub-continent into a thousand Bosnias and Palestines — the ultimate playground of the likes of UBL.

Precedence Setting Worldwide:

Kashmir has only 1% of India’s population. Would a district with 1% of the US population be entitled to a plebiscite? How about similar separatist movements in Spain, UK, Italy, and China? None of these countries want to discuss such topics.

As a matter of principle, should the world move towards religion-based sovereignty, or should it work towards pluralism? The former is easier to achieve short term, whereas the latter is very complex and filled with risky uphill work. But which is the better goal in the long term?

The answer here would impact what happens in USA, as it becomes even more diverse. By 2050, whites will become a minority in USA, and Islam will be one of its largest communities. Will Dar-ul-Islam struggle against the United States of America, inspired by such precedence?

Does globalization demand pluralism or exclusivism, democracy or totalitarianism?

Rethinking ‘Sovereignty’

Should the rights of sovereignty of fewer than 10 million Kashmir residents (many of whom are recent illegal migrants from other regions, displacing the indigenous Hindu Kashmiris into refugee camps in India) be at the cost of the aforementioned legitimate interests of the 3 billion people across the surrounding regions of Asia?

Conventional ideas of sovereignty, that became operative since the Middle Ages, need to be challenged philosophically.

Already, people no longer have sovereignty rights to destroy the ozone layer over their own air space, or to kill endangered species, or to cause acid rain, and so forth. Cyber gambling and other crime is prosecuted across national boundaries, as are drug supply and money laundering.

Even though I technically own “my” house in Princeton, there are egress and ingress rights belonging to neighbors, and many kinds of easement rights to utilities in the broader public interest. There are many limits to what I may do on my own property. The same principles should also be applied to sovereignty.

Conventional sovereignty may be an obsolete idea in preference to EU styled pan regional approaches. For instance, India’s historical access to the Silk Route cannot legitimately be blocked for gas pipelines and other modern items of flow, and nor should this be at the mercy of an enemy controlling the toll booths and gates.

A principle of globalization that is important to debate is as follows: The rights of society at large must supercede the rights of relatively small communities who physically occupy a localized geography.Globalization must balance localization.

What the locals deserve, then, is human rights within the context of broader geopolitical structures.

Negotiating with Pan-Islam

Given the military and economic vulnerability of Kashmiris, especially in light of the heavy infiltration by foreign jihadis, no deal would be sustainable without the participation of the larger global forces that operate indirectly. However, who would speak for and commit on behalf of Pan-Islam, to honor any such deal that would guarantee non interference?

Yet, ignoring Pan-Islam would be tantamount to de-legitimizing the Koran. The injunctions and edicts concerning Dar-ul-Islam are well codified in Islamic canon. The Nation of Islam must supercede all man-made sovereignties, it says very clearly and unambiguously. So we cannot have it both ways: we cannot, on the one hand, pretend that all is well between Islam and the rest of humanity, and on the other hand, ignore such Islamic injunctions that are its very pillars.

Given the Pan-Islamic nature of jihad today, without an ironclad guarantee from Pan-Islam, I would never trust the validity of any deal in which jihadi activity would have to cease and desist in perpetuity. We need open and candid negotiations with whosoever speaks for Pan-Islam. As it is, it is tough enough to determine who speaks for the Palestinians; it would be much tougher to determine who speaks for Pan-Islam.

It is often heard nowadays that a global conference on Kashmir should be called. I disagree about its usefulness. For, the forces that are most powerful in controlling events on the ground in Kashmir indirectly, i.e. Pan-Islamic fundamentalism, are not likely to be at the table. No deal of any kind would make any difference to their activities.

General Musharraf simply cannot honor such a guarantee, just as Yasser Arafat has failed to end the jihadin Palestine. If Musharraf cannot stop terrorism now, despite a massive military buildup of India and intense international pressure, then how could he possibly stop terrorism against Kashmir if the Indian military were not there?

America’s Real Nightmare

In summary, the Kashmir issue is several times more complex than the Palestine issue. It is unsolvable in the near future, although bilateral dialog must occur between India and Pakistan, to commence confidence building measures.

The US should not plan its strategy for the region on the assumption of a resolution in the foreseeable future. Rather, the US must focus on its own vital security interests, which were stated at the beginning of this article.

Given that a deal guaranteed by Pan-Islam is impossible at this stage, here is the next best thing to do: there should be a conference on how to restore genuine and long term democracy in Pakistan, one that would bring economic prosperity to its people, through modernity, education, secularism, and separation of mosque and state. In any such project, India should give its full support. Let the Kashmir real estate dispute not distract from the urgent issue concerning democracy versus the impending militant takeover of Pakistan. Bhutto is right!

Some problems are unsolvable, and Kashmir is one of them under the present circumstances in Pakistan. It is far better to be good neighbors, who compete for development of their citizens, rather than engage in conflict. If this immediate agenda could be made to work, then a future generation might well be in a better position to resolve the Kashmir issue. By then, there could be an EU styled common market of Asia with free flow of people, money and goods — making the notion of any plebiscite obsolete.

Meanwhile, the Kashmir issue should be put in escrow, and the immediate American question should be: who will control Pakistan’s nukes? This could be America’s last chance before the answer turns horribly unacceptable. In fact, many Western media analyses indicate that the Al Qaeda’s highest priority now is to take control of at least some nukes. Their strategy, it is felt by these reports, is to precipitate an India-Pakistan war, giving their supporters in the ISI a window of opportunity.

Prevention of nuclear terrorism should be the foremost goal for the US. This requires out-of-the-box thinking, which does not appear to be Colin Powell’s area of strength. Bush does appear very open to strategic rethinking, and Rumsfeld is courageous enough to help him do so. Considerable talent in US think-tanks has reached similar conclusions, but there seems to be reluctance to deal with the drastic shift in policy required. These uncomfortable policies seem to have become the shadow side of many US decision makers.

Facing the issue squarely implies immediately placing Pakistan’s nukes into American safe keeping on Pakistani soil, with the understanding that US Special Forces would remove these only in the event that the government changed into one that was unacceptable to the US.

In the long term, the establishment of grass-roots democracy in The Islamic Republic of Pakistan would be the best safeguard against such threats, and this must be started now.

While Colin Powell has assumed that Musharraf holds all the cards, the fact is that he owes his legitimacy as President of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan to US support and generosity.

Finally, the hot new idea of American/British patrols of the LOC has merit, provided: (a) there are formal limits to what they may do, and (b) a part of the job is to eradicate militant training camps in POK. The latter could be a very creative way to help Musharraf eliminate the Al Qaeda from his soil without losing face.

Published: 2002