The war of words between India and Pakistan has seen several devastating strikes by both sides in recent weeks. The other kind of war is, however, waning. The level of violence in Kashmir is down sharply over the last year. Days now go by without a jawan being killed. Civilians are not as fortunate, but the jihadis are killing fewer of them also. By the recent standards of Kashmir, this is pretty good.
The immediate cause of this is that the level of infiltration is down. The last Indian army chief says that the infiltration level for 2002 was about half that of the previous year. Some of this may be due to new technology deployed by security forces along the line of control and due to increasing Kashmiri aversion to jihadis, but Pakistan is also sending fewer jihadis compared to 2001. The Indian threat of attack last year was the main immediate cause of the decline, but other forces are also at work.
The elections held by President-General Musharraf in Pakistan were not democratic, but nonetheless did permit some political expression. The rise of the fundamentalist grouping, the MMA, was the most important new development. The performance of this group has been surprising in some respects. The MMA includes Qazi Hussein, the godfather of the Hizbul Mujaheddin, the pro-Pakistan Kashmiri outfit that dominated the militancy in the mid-1990s. It also includes Samiul Haq, the Dean of Jihad. It was the alumni of Haq’s madarssa that led the way in the Pakistani terrorist onslaught in Kashmir in the late 1990s. Yet now, the MMA has surprisingly little to say about Kashmir. Neither during the election campaign, nor afterwards, has the rhetoric of jihad in Kashmir been the most frequently repeated theme in MMA speech. They do not accuse Musharraf of being soft on India.
There is a split among Pakistani fundamentalists between the Punjabis and the Pathans. The Punjabis, such as Lashkar–e-Toiba, retain Kashmir as their highest priority. The Pathans are now more concerned with Afghanistan and America. The constituency for keeping Kashmir as Pakistan’s highest priority has shrunk. Further, the harsh scrutiny to which Pakistani migrants to America and other Western countries are now being subjected has made a deep impression in broad segments of Pakistani society. When Foreign Minister Kasuri visited America for 10 days recently, his highest priority topic was not Kashmir, but the treatment of Pakistanis in America. Since 1989, trips to the West by Pakistani ministers focused on Kashmir far more than other issues, regardless of the needs of their people.
There is a subtle shift of identity under way in Pakistan. The hostile focus on India is being diluted. The Pakistani army has always had a vested interest in pressing the “Kashmir cause.” It has succeeded because other sections of the Pakistani elite, and sometimes masses, have agreed with its posture. The mass base for the Kashmir cause was lost years ago.
The growing resentment toward aspects of America’s war on Islamist terrorism has forced much of the elite to broaden its perspective. Since it contains the world’s largest concentration of terrorists, Pakistan and its people face the greatest scrutiny from America’s anti-terror campaign. Being America’s crucial ally in the war on terror simply means that Pakistan agrees to face this scrutiny in exchange for assistance. It does not mean Pakistanis like it.
Ejaz Haider, a Pakistani columnist, has in recent years put forward many clever, if unwise, ideas on how Pakistan could pursue the Kashmir cause. Recently he was visiting the Brookings Institution, and major policy think tank in Washington. He was misinformed when he enquired about whether he needed to register. Immigration officials arrested him while he was smoking outside Brookings Institution for failing to register. He expressed great bitterness about the episode in the Washington Post. It is unlikely that Ejaz Haider, and many others like him, fail to grasp the connection between their pursuit of the Kashmir cause, and their humiliation in the West.
For India, the Kashmir issue is also in flux. The state election in Kashmir last year has generated a palpable shift both within Kashmir and internationally. The separatist Hur-riyat Conference stands weakened by the rise of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s government. While other countries continue to suggest that India open talks with Pakistan about the issue, the Indian definition of the main issue—cross-border terrorism—has continued to gain acceptance internationally.
India has been building up its conventional military strength, as well as nuclear capable forces, in recent years. Many new weapons have been imported, developed jointly with Russia, and developed mainly at home. The number of new weapons systems entering service is accelerating, even while military spending remains at about 2.5 percent of GNP. For the time being, the balance of conventional forces is shifting in favor of India. However, this may not go on indefinitely. Pakistan’s finances and exports are booming. If these trends are sustained, the whole Pakistani economy will improve. At minimum, Pakistan could slow the shift in the balance of forces through an arms race.
The optimistic scenario is that within Pakistan the realization will grow that the confrontation with India inevitably produces humiliation on other fronts. The pessimistic scenario is that the army remains in charge. As the Pakistani economy improves it acquires more weapons, and feeling emboldened, intensifies terror.