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NEW DELHI: What are the implications of the developments in the "AfPak" theater of operation for Jammu and Kashmir? In the immediate term, the question is consequential to the outcome of the current round of talks between India and Pakistan.
On a wider note, the answer is pertinent in the ongoing end game in AfPak. But, for some, it is a useful question, since the Kashmir issue predates the Afghanistan problem. To others it is pertinent since the problem of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir dates to the departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan. With the possibilities of a draw-down of US presence, increasing with bin Laden's death, the question assumes significance.
The Pakistani answer to the question is more pertinent. Pakistan's actions have so far been directed by its aims of preserving the military's internal hegemony, its nuclear assets and its position on Kashmir. It is unlikely to give up its Kashmir position for strategic reasons, too. It would not like the ire of anti-India groups directed its way, especially at a time when it is in the cross-hairs of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
There will, therefore, be no unilateral rollback of terror infrastructure as demanded by India. It reportedly has 250 fighters in Kashmir and about 750 waiting to infiltrate to set the temperatures for the summer's campaign. Forty have reportedly made their way in already, a figure provided by the state administration but disputed by the Indian Army.
Currently, Pakistan is not backing these overly since it is tied down on the western border, with reports on possible operations in North Waziristan increasingly likely. While a festering Kashmir does provide it an alibi against moving purposefully to its west, this summer Kashmir has been peaceful. This increases the likelihood of Pakistan playing along with the exit plan of the west in terms of prioritizing its western concerns over its own.
What does this imply for Kashmir? The answer is already evident in Kashmir. It has had a relatively peaceful summer. This owes as much to India's preventive policing measures based on lessons learnt over the last three summers as to restraint on Pakistan's side in instigating its proxies. The talks between the two countries are the way Pakistan is seeking to keep the issue alive, rather than having it resonate on the streets.
How is the Indian security establishment answering the question? India does not believe that there is any connection in the solution to AfPak and Kashmir. It has managed to ward off US preference that a solution to Kashmir could help with resolving AfPak. The only connection India sees is that a reversion to the 1990s, in a hasty exit of the west from Afghanistan, could lead to a return of terror to the Valley.
India is in a position of strength. This has an intrinsic and extrinsic dimension. Its intrinsic dimension is in the positive trends towards normality in Kashmir. Terrorism has been nullified. Militancy is unpopular. The work of the army, led by a charismatic Muslim general, Ata Hasnain, is a big reason behind that.
Meanwhile, a three-member team of interlocutors, set up by the Home Ministry last year, has submitted six reports so far and is expected to come up with its final report by fall. India has not taken game-changing initiatives such as reconsidering the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This indicates prudence and readiness for a rainy day.
The extrinsic factor is that post 26/11 re-engagement between the two states is on course. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has accepted an invite to visit Islamabad tendered during the recent visit of the newly appointed Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
For the re-engagement, India prefers a credible interlocutor. Pakistan has sent indicators that the peace process has the Army's backing. With the initial round of separate engagements having culminated in the foreign ministers' meeting late last month, the prospects of the "composite dialogue" resuming are bright.
Tacit US prodding may have a role to play. Hillary Clinton, in her speech at Chennai during her India visit last month, spelled out US expectations, taking care to keep off Kashmir. She said, "Reconciliation, achieving it, and maintaining it, will depend on the participation of all of Afghanistan's neighbors, including both Pakistan and India. We all need to be working together ... We will continue to encourage New Delhi's constructive role ... We also believe Pakistan has an essential role and legitimate interest in this process, and those interests must be respected and addressed."
It is not too early to hazard a preliminary assessment. Pakistan, through its restraint in Kashmir this summer, has seemingly incentivized India to stay the course in the re-engagement process. For the moment, this establishes the commitment of its Army to the peace process.
India has, on its part, made corresponding moves on both the home and external fronts. The prospects now depend on how the US is able to engage and moderate the Taliban by deft management of the upcoming conferences in Turkey and Bonn later this year. In effect, the Kashmir issue is crucially dependent on how the AfPak end game unfolds and its outcome.
The triple bomb blasts in Mumbai was designed to stall any progress in relations between the two states, and it imply that the two countries have not traversed out of the woods yet. There is a need to move on the Kashmir issue, irrespective of how the AfPak situation evolves. India and Pakistan must stay the Kashmir course on an independent, if parallel, track in working towards making Prime Minister Singh's visit to Pakistan a success. (Global India Newswire)
(The writer is a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi