Sarita Sarvate

U.S. Must Put Pakistan on Notice and Think Independent Kashmir

Apr 15, 2001

Pacific News Service

BY SARITA SARVATE

Partnering with Pakistan to fight al Qaeda is like using the fox to guard the hen house, writes PNS contributor Sarita Sarvate, for Pakistani-born terrorism is behind the Kashmir crisis today. An independent state of Kashmir is one way out of the crisis -- but only if combined with a strong change of policy by Washington, which must recognize how its short-term ally Pakistan is destabilizing the entire region.

I was at a party the other day when the hostess asked me the question I seem to hear everywhere I go these days: "Do you think there is going to be a war between India and Pakistan?"

"Yes," I replied.

"What can we do about it?" she asked in horror.

"I guess it is time to think of an independent state of Kashmir," I heard myself saying.

She looked at me in disbelief.

"But before the two countries can sit down to negotiate," I added, "America's strategy in South Asia must change."

"But Pakistan is our ally," she insisted. "We need Musharraf to fight al Qaeda."

"Using Pakistan to fight the al Qaeda is like using the fox to guard the hen house," I replied.

Her eyes blazed.

This was a neighborhood party, after all, and I could tell it was time to change the subject.

But as I left the gathering that evening, I couldn't help marveling at the deftness with which American politicians have brainwashed the American public into thinking that U.S. friendship with Pakistan is mutually beneficial.

The truth is that America's involvement in Pakistan has brought my native subcontinent closer than ever to the brink of nuclear war.

The border conflict between India and Pakistan dates back to the end of colonial rule 50 years ago, when the British, in their moral highhandedness, bifurcated a subcontinent to create the secular India and Islamic Pakistan. Kashmir, a princely state with a Hindu ruler but a majority Muslim population, sought to join India. Pakistani fighters invaded the region and India took the dispute to the United Nations, where it languishes to this day.

For the last decade, Pakistani militants have been wreaking havoc in the once pristine Kashmir valley, making it torturous to live there and rendering it off limits to the thousands of tourists who once flocked to see its beauty.

For years India warned the State Department about links between Kashmiri terrorists and the Taliban. Washington only acknowledged the links after Sept. 11, when America itself became a target of similar attacks.

Since then, America has decided to use Pakistan to fight the very terrorism that was born in Pakistan's own madrassas, or fundamentalist Islamic schools. The perverse outcome of this strategy has been that the al Qaeda, driven out of Afghanistan, is zeroing in on Kashmir.

Only recently, Pakistani officials finally admitted that al Qaeda fighters are waging "holy war" in Kashmir.

Now, India has amassed hundreds of thousands of troops along the border in response.

India has not been blameless in the Kashmir issue. Knowing its vulnerability there, New Delhi has long tried to control internal state politics in Kashmir, often contributing to heightened Hindu-Muslim tensions.

After 50 years of border skirmishes, two wars and tensions that make all parties feel as if they live constantly on the edge of doom, it is clear that the only solution to the Kashmir problem is the creation of an autonomous state in the valley.

That independent Kashmir state, with few resources except tourism, will be forced to be secular simply out of economic reality.

But India will never seriously negotiate with Pakistan as long as the latter continues to be ruled by a military dictator who is a puppet of the State Department. And India will never give away Kashmir as long as it remains a potential haven for Pakistani militants.

America's strategy must change course. Its policy toward Pakistan must be driven by a goal of lasting peace in the region, rather than short-term self-interest.

For the time being, Washington is doing the right thing by sending representatives to India and Pakistan to save the subcontinent from nuclear holocaust.

But in the long run, Washington must take much more radical steps. It must voice absolute opposition to Islamic terrorists in Pakistan, regardless of whom they target. The United States must also unequivocally support India's democracy and urge Pakistan to follow suit. Only then will India pay heed to Western overtures for a negotiation on Kashmir.

Sarvate (naladamayanti@yahoo.com) is a physicist and a writer for India Currents and other publications.