Nawaz Sharif snatches Kashmir defeat from the jaws of victory

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Thani 03, 1420 1999-07-16


by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 10, Rabi' al-Thani, 1420)

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan followed the traditions of his predecessors when he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Kargil. After a brilliant military operation in which the Indian army was given a bloody nose for the first time, with serious cracks appearing in its ranks, the Pakistani prime minister threw it all away with the Washington Accord he agreed on July 4 because of diplomatic pressure from Washington and Europe. Spinelessness has been a peculiar characteristic of Pakistani rulers, from Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan, to Junejo and Nawaz Sharif.

The manner in which the opportunity was thrown away added to the pain, notwithstanding the rosy picture painted by the government’s spin-doctors. If getting the American president, Bill Clinton, to demand that Pakistan should take “concrete steps” to relieve tension by withdrawing its “forces” from Kargil amounts to ‘internationalising’ the Kashmir dispute, then Sharif has succeeded brilliantly.

But is that all internationalisation means? Of what worth is Clinton’s assurance that he will take “personal interest” in urging both India and Pakistan to renew efforts for a bilateral dialogue in the spirit of the Lahore declaration, if India refuses to allow third-party mediation? In any case, US involvement in a dispute concerning Muslims has been nothing short of disastrous. Muslims had better be wary of such involvement, a hint of which was given by William Safire in the New York Times on July 9.

Safire, an American Jewish columnist, compared Kashmir with the situation in Kosova and the Iraqi Kurdistan. It is important to note that he did not mention the Turkish part of Kurdistan where the Turkish army is involved in a brutal campaign of suppression; nor did Safire mention East Timor, which is perhaps much closer to Kashmir’s situation and where a referendum on independence is due next month. Safire mentioned “protectoration” of Kashmir as a possible solution in the manner of Kosova and Iraqi Kurdistan. Kosova has been effectively occupied by NATO forces, while the west insists it remain part of Yugoslavia. Iraqi Kurdistan is occupied by American and British troops.

Safire writes: “In Kashmir, we see a protectorate-in-waiting.” Later still, he opines: “Nobody planned this protectoration trend. Nor does it offer finality, because the world (sic) is not about to take over the world. But it seems to be a way of giving peoples time to sort things out for themselves.” The New York Times often reflects the views of the US State department. It is an open secret that the US has long coveted the Dosai Plains on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. The ‘Protectorate’ idea may be the first public shot in America’s campaign to realise this objective to contain China, the emerging superpower which Washington fears as its principal rival.

The US is also using India to undermine China, much as it used Beijing in the seventies and eighties against its other rival, the erstwhile Soviet Union. China has played a subtle diplomatic game, not allowing American machinations to detract it from its planned course of rapid economic development. Even the bombing of its embassy in Belgrade in May, called a “mistake” by the US, has not been allowed to get it embroiled in any costly adventure. The Tiananmen Square uprising in June 1989 was directly instigated by the American desire to destabilise China. It failed but Uncle Sam does not give up so easily.

Its blatant pro-Indian bias over Kargil as well as in Kashmir gives the game away. As early as May 1993, when the former Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao was visiting Washington and a correspondent asked him about human rights violations in Kashmir, Rao stated, with a straight face, “There are no human rights violations in Kashmir.” When the correspondent persisted citing Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Asia reports, Clinton interjected: “The prime minister has already answered that question.” The US president was not unaware of the Indian army’s brutal campaign of suppression, murder, pillage and rape in Kashmir but he wanted to support the denial of India’s horrible record in order to win New Delhi over to the US.

There is a body of opinion that holds that India’s nuclear tests last year were given the green light by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to boost Delhi’s position vis-a-vis China. Statements issued by Indian officials, especially defence minister George Fernandes, in the immediate aftermath of the Pokhran explosions strengthen this theory.

Thus, if Sharif was not very successful in eliciting the kind of support from China that he was looking for during his shortened trip to Beijing at the end of last month, it should come as no surprise. It is unrealistic to expect others to conduct one’s foreign policy. Pakistan must do its own work.

True, there was immense international pressure on Islamabad to back down on the conflict in Kargil. But the manner in which the political retreat was conducted is nothing short of disastrous. For once, the mujahideen were really punishing the Indians. The Indians, too, have violated the Line of Control on several occasions, of which Siachen stands as the most glaring example. In fact, according to some insiders, it was the Indians’ occupation of additional territory in Siachen last January that triggered the Kargil operation.

Pakistan, for its part, has remained largely mum about the recent Siachen setback. Worse, it has thrown away the great advantage it had gained in Kargil. Naturally, there is much anger in the streets of Pakistan, where opposition parties have been able to bring out large noisy demonstrations denouncing the Washington accord, despite oppressive summer heat. The mujahideen, too, who have successfully battled the Indian army on the frosty peaks of the Himalayas, have felt betrayed. They rejected the accord as well as an appeal by Sharif and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) to “withdraw.” On July 9, at least 11 mujahideen leaders met Sharif, who again appealed to them to withdraw. Salahuddin, leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen, said it is India that needs to withdraw its army of occupation from Kashmir. He asked rhetorically: “After Kargil, are we to be asked to withdraw from the Valley as well?”

The mujahideen’s occupation of peaks in the Kargil-Drass-Batalik sectors last winter was a brilliantly executed move. It exposed a major lapse in Indian intelligence and exacted a heavy price in Indian efforts to recapture these heights. Indian propaganda could not hide the humiliation its army suffered at the hands of a few hundred lightly-armed freedom-fighters. More important strategically, the commanding heights also enabled the mujahideen to target the Kargil-Siachen road trapping 17,000 Indian troops on the Siachen glacier.

Nawaz Sharif’s political-diplomatic gaffe has thrown all this away. While it is unrealistic to expect that the mujahideen could have held out indefinitely against the Indian army, their immediate position was quite secure. A more dignified arrangement could have been worked out to settle this matter and secure better terms for future negotiations. The major drawback in the Washington agreement is that it talks about the “sanctity” of the Line of Control. There is nothing sacred about it; it is a line which separates the two armies facing each other in Kashmir, which came about as a result of war. If India can violate it, why can Pakistan not do the same? Besides, it is the mujahideen who are the real inhabitants of the land; why should they leave their homeland in the clutches of India’s brutal occupation force?

The people of Kashmir as well as Pakistan deserve better from their political leaders.

Muslimedia: July 16-31, 1999

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