Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Pakistan’s toxic obsession with Kashmir is still generating fresh victims, Jonathan Kay

Pakistan’s toxic obsession with Kashmir is still generating fresh victims, Jonathan Kay
13/06/03 | 
Pakistan is beset by such a bewildering array of militant political and religious movements that it is sometimes difficult to keep them straight. The most spectacular events — such as last week’s drone-strike killing of Waliur Rehman, a major Pakistani Taliban leader — make the front pages in the West. But many others do not.
That is the case with Arif Shahid, a 62-year-old Kashmiri political leader who was gunned down on May 15 near Islamabad, after he’d met with an NGO that promotes a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir question. His killing received some scattered coverage in Western media outlets, including the BBC. But it deserved wider attention, because it represents a new threat to Pakistan and the nations that sit on its bloody borders.
In many ways, Kashmir is a microcosm of Islamic civilization’s self-destructive tendencies in this part of the world. When India and Pakistan became separate entities in the late 1940s, Kashmir’s maharaja (pictured above) wavered between the two regional giants. It was only when Pakistani-supported guerrillas came flooding into Kashmir that he sought terms with India, which took control of most of the contested territory.
Pakistan’s obsession with control of Kashmir lies at the root of many of its modern pathologies: The jihadi groups now sowing chaos and mass murder in Pakistan and Afghanistan got their start in Kashmir as proxy forces supported by the Pakistani military and its intelligence branch. The deployment of these forces became a toxic manifestation of Pakistan’s obsession with incorporating local Muslim populations into its land mass — a spirit that continues to affect Pakistan’s hegemonistic relationship with Afghanistan.
But it is important to remember that the enduring political — and sporadically paramilitary — battle over Kashmir is not a simple fight between Pakistan and India: There is a large swathe of public opinion in Kashmir that seeks independence from both countries.
Indeed, Arif Shahid was a champion of that very cause. His All Parties National Alliance (APNA) sought the creation of a new state, and sought to end Pakistani rule and military oversight in western Kashmir (which is divided into quasi-autonomous entities known as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan). He wanted no part in the pointless terrorist campaign waged by Sunni militants against India on Kashmiri soil — and often spoke of Pakistan as a “colonial” power in the region. This infuriated the Pakistanis, who tried to prevent him from traveling, and accused him of “anti-state activities.” It is unknown whether the Pakistani military or its proxies had involvement in his killing. But it would surprise no one if they did.
The history of Kashmir is complex, and whole books have been written about the fateful period in the late 1940s, when this physically magnificent part of the northwestern Indian subcontinent was divided in the way it was. But whatever the rights and wrongs of what happened more than six decades ago, one can understand why even many local Kashmiri leaders have grown weary of the violence and dysfunctionality that is now part of daily Pakistani life.
Indeed, the murder of Shahid shows that things are getting worse: The lives of enemy “infidels” are regarded as cheap among Sunni militants. But Shahid wasn’t an Indian stooge. He was merely someone agitating politically for self-determination. And his killing is a big event: It is the first time a pro-Kashmir independence figure has been targeted for assassination in this way.
Notwithstanding this year’s relatively peaceful election in Pakistan, the larger pattern in this country is unmistakably grim: Anyone who deviates in any way — whether theologically or politically — from hardline Islamo-nationalist rhetoric is seen as a potential target. The killers who struck down Shahid have simply given Kashmiris one more reason to reject Pakistani rule.

— Jonathan Kay is a Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. This article originally appeared in New Europe.

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