Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Peace process and terrorism

Peace process and terrorism
Dr Shabir Choudhry 19 July 2006

Peace process between India and Pakistan was on the right track. It helped to diffuse tension and helped to create appropriate environment that families divided for decades were able to meet their love ones. It also helped to put Confidence Building Measures in place that both countries could start difficult journey to peace. But there are many who don't want peace in South Asia, especially peace between India and Pakistan and peace in Kashmir.

One can argue that the pace of peace process was slow, and did not meet expectations of many, as the suffering people wanted early end to their ordeal. Apart from that the present government set up in Pakistan also wants to see early solution to the Kashmir dispute which will surely help them to divert attention from many burning issues. One can see rational of this, but at the same time we have to see that deep layers of hatred and animosity deliberately orchestrated since 1940s will take some time to overcome.

People with vested interest have influence on both sides of the divide, and they see peace as a serious threat to their commercial and political interests. It is this lobby which wants to see India and Pakistan in constant state of war; and for that purpose religious extremism and hatred are used as weapons to achieve their objectives.

With peace comes political and economic stability; and it also encourages tourists to visit Kashmir. Tourists bring bread and butter to houses of poor Kashmiri people who have been suffering and have been in dire need of economic help for the past seventeen years. Tourists came and brought ray of hope that the worst was over for these poor people, but people with vested interest had other plans.

Arrival of tourists, in one way, was a signal that situation in Kashmir was coming to some kind of 'normalcy'; and that was a nightmare for those who have made this struggle a lucrative business. A series of bomb blasts especially targeted at the tourists did the trick, and they had to flee Jammu and Kashmir to safeguard their lives. Plight of these poor Kashmiri people whose kitchen is largely depended on tourism won't be appreciated by those who promote violence in holy name of 'Jihad', throw bombs to frighten the potential tourists; or by those who every now and again give call for strikes, as their kitchens are run by others.

Mohammad Shafi who rows a shikara (pleasure boat) in Srinagar, does not receive this 'mann o salva' which some political and Jihadi leaders do. Like many of his colleagues he has to earn his living which exclusively is depended on tourism. After bomb blasts and threat to their lives tourists packed their bags and went home leaving people like Mohammad Shafi to ponder from where the next meal is going to come.

Some days after the bomb blasts, while talking to BBC reporter Mohammad Shafi said that he has not 'earned a penny for three days'. That is because some one thought it was a good deed to throw a bomb and kill and injure innocent tourists who came to relax in Kashmir, and in return provide some income to people like Mohammad Shafi, who said: "I come every morning to the ghat [boat terminal]. But every evening I go back home empty handed. I have to support a family of eight".

Islamabad based Kashmiri journalist and political analyst M Maroof Khan, while talking to me said: 'It is sad that innocent tourists have lost lives in these bomb blasts. In every conflict it is the poor people who suffer most, but these blasts will have far reaching consequences as the planners didn't want just to kill some tourists. In my opinion they have a wider agenda. They wanted to send a message that there could not be peace without making militant groups part of the process. Musharaf government could only do so much to support the peace process, as they don't have control over all the groups.'

So what is the ultimate agenda of those who have committed this crime, I asked? Do they want to ensure that no tourists come to Jammu and Kashmir, and that there is constant hostility between Muslims and non Muslims? 'That is one objective', Maroof Khan said. 'In my opinion their main target is the peace process itself. India and Pakistan had proudly declared that the peace process was 'irreversible', but now it has been put on hold and previously arranged Foreign Secretary level meeting has been called off. In view of this, who appears to be winning: those who want to derail the peace process or those who want to take it forward?'

When analyzing India Pakistan relations and especially the thorny dispute of Kashmir, it is not possible to look at one event in isolation and reach any concrete conclusions. One has to look at other trends and unfolding events. Elections result in Pakistani Administered Kashmir also has a story to tell in this regard. Those powers who, according to Maroof Khan wanted to send a message through these bomb blasts, have also sent a strong message by managing outcome of these elections.

They have not only rewarded their loyal ones but have also demonstrated that people who matter must not under estimate their ability to call shots on both sides of the divide. Their message is clear and loud that they cannot be sidelined when it comes to matters related to India and Pakistan relations and Kashmir. Many political observers see the Mumbai blasts in this context as well, and believe that both set of events- blasts in Mumbai and in Kashmir- have a common agenda.

There is no evidence that Musharaf government is behind this; in fact, it is foolish to think on those lines, as the Musharaf government sincerely wants to pursue the peace process. However in view of some analysts it is not inconceivable that some influential groups in Pakistan might have done this to derail the process because they think he has already given in too much without receiving anything in return? Some of them even accuse Musharaf government for betraying the Kashmiris and the Kashmir cause.

Soon after these blasts it was feared that the terrorists might have succeeded in derailing the peace process, but it is good to note that common sense has prevailed in New Delhi and in Islamabad. Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh, while reflecting on the events said: "For the time being, I think the dialogue process has suffered, I wouldn't say setback". What this means is that it is merely a postponement of the meeting rather than halt in the process.
Pakistani government right from Musharaf downwards was seriously concerned about these developments, and various officials have issued statements condemning the blasts and hoped that this would not derail the process as it would be 'tantamount to playing into hands of terrorists'.
But Pakistan's Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani is confident that the peace process will go on. While talking to media he said: "One thing is obvious no one can stop the peace process. It will continue. If any government tries to reverse it, the pressure from the people and international community will force them to resume it."
I share his enthusiasm. Those who helped to start the peace process when armed troops of both countries were facing each other with 'eye ball to eye ball' situation assured them that the process will continue despite all the hurdles. Even at that time it was known to all concerned that the road to peace in Kashmir and South Asia is a bumpy one; and that there were powerful groups who would not only try to derail the process but could also target protagonists of peace, as it happened to General Musharaf.
Stalling the peace process or putting it on the back burner will surely be construed as a victory for those who have made terrorism as their business. This will also lead to old blame game which embittered the relationship for many decades, and which allowed forces of extremism and hatred to create space for them.
But the question is can a democratically elected government answerable to people ignore these bomb blasts? Can they ignore death of hundreds of innocent men, women and children, and loss of billions to property and business? Answer of course is no. No responsible government can afford to close its eyes to these horrendous crimes. It is however possible to get away with these incidents in a society where democracy is a taboo word, and where rulers are not answerable to people.
One can understand the dilemma of India and Pakistan. Pakistan has done so much to crush extremists, and yet India and some Western countries demand more actions, and Musharaf government clearly doesn't find much space to manoeuvre. India on the other hand has also made some positive moves to support the peace process, but demand of Pakistan and that of Kashmiris is that it is not enough.
It is true that there has been some progress on road to peace but we cannot resolve the Kashmir dispute by these measures only. Both India and Pakistan need to take some daring and concrete steps to move forward. Indian contention is that how can we take more steps, for example, reducing the size of its military in Jammu and Kashmir when 'terrorism' is a very potent threat. It is a logical argument. But Indian policy makers also need to think that if peace process is stalled, it will be a major achievement of terrorists; and this will boost their morale and encourage more terrorism.
Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at:

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