The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Voices break Kashmir barrier
- Outside three interest groups, opinion favours normal ties

Islamabad, March 3: “Kaun jeeta hai teri zulf ke sar hone tak (Who knows whether one would live to play with your hair),” sighs a young Pakistani woman, commenting on India waiting for things to change in Pakistan so that it could begin a dialogue with a truly representative government.

“Our countries are like a divorced couple fighting. They are not beyond using their children as weapons and don’t care what happens to them in the bargain,” she says.

A shopkeeper in Jinnah Super asks: “How many generations will be lost to this animosity' Why has India banned direct travel' What wrong have the ordinary folk done' Let the politicians fight but let the people meet. The people don’t want jang (war). We never want to hear the word uttered.”

A journalist criticising the Kashmir policy of the government says: “Laanat hai Kashmir par (To hell with Kashmir). We can’t give education, health and justice to our own people but we shout about our Kashmiri brothers. And the Kashmiri brothers are saying — To hell with Pakistan, we want Independence.”

Talking to a cross-section of people in Pakistan one gets the feeling that there are only three constituencies for the Kashmir cause: the maulvis and the jihadis they have created; the people who live between the Indus and the Jhelum rivers — northern Punjab or the Potohar region, where most of the Pakistan Army’s officer corps comes from — and the Kashmiris who live in Pakistan and today are influential businessmen and intellectuals. The rest of Pakistan couldn’t be bothered and does not want the relationship to be held hostage to Kashmir.

Today, a remarkable change seems to be taking place in Pakistani society. Jingoism seems to have taken a back seat as ordinary folk abuse politicians for fomenting animosity with India; people openly speak out against state-support for militant Islamic fundamentalist (jihadi) organisations; and opinion makers are not afraid of arguing for improving relations with India by keeping the Kashmir issue aside.

These may be marginal voices with little influence on policy in Islamabad. Yet what is remarkable is that at a time when anti-Pakistan sentiment seems to be finding easy acceptance in India, Pakistanis have the courage to speak up for building good relations with their most important neighbour. “I don’t mind if the Indian flag flies in Srinagar as long as the real power is with the Kashmiris,” declares M.P. Bhandara, a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan.

Arguing against the use of jehadis for encouraging militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, Bhandara says, “I can assure you that a lot of people here are saying that if the mujahideen were ever to come to power in Kashmir, it would be like another Afghanistan. Kashmir then will be a cockpit of uncertainty for a hundred years.

“Pakistan has to convince the world and India that exporting jehadis is behind us.”

He says that the strategy of infiltrating irregulars into Kashmir had failed — in 1947, in Operation Gibraltar in 1965 and again in the 1990s — and it was pointless to continue with it.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of physics at the Quaid-e-Azam University, describes Pakistan’s Kashmir policy as “hopelessly misconceived.” He argues: “In the changed international situation since 9/11, the global sympathy for the Kashmir struggle has diminished. With Islamic extremism as the chosen target, America is now more likely to weigh in with India. Pakistan must accommodate itself to the new realities. The bleed-India policy has only wrought death and destruction on both sides of the border without bringing us even an inch closer to resolution.”

Hoodbhoy wants General Pervez Musharraf to live up to what he promised the nation on January 12, 2002, on banning the jehadis. “The only alternative to not making a clean break with the past is to once again allow the jehadis to grow and increase their power over provincial governments as well as in the Army,” Hoodbhoy argues.

Najam Sethi, a renowned journalist, says: “We should put Pakistan first. For that you need to put Kashmir in a freeze. My position is that we need a secular society in Pakistan and therefore all our policies should built on that premise. The Pakistan Army’s position is that everything should flow from our policy towards India.”

Criticising the infiltration of jehadis into Kashmir, Sethi says this must end. He claims that “of the two types of non-conventional weapons available with Pakistan — nuclear weapons and the jehadis — the Pakistan Army’s view is that using the jehadis is a small price to pay. But we say that it is crippling price. We also oppose nuclear weapons. The logic is that we should build friendship with India.”

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