The India Factor: Keeping Kashmir in Focus
There is yet another factor in the Islamisation process. And it is the existence of India. Once upon a time, decades ago, in order to wrest the helm of power, the Pakistani military went about ruthlessly undermining the nation’s nascent political system and staked its existence and future on the Kashmir dispute with India. From Ayub Khan in the 1950s to Pervez Musharraf in the post-9/11 days, Pakistan has followed the same refrain: the Pakistani military must remain in power instead of the untrustworthy Pakistani political leaders because it is dedicated to countering India’s inherent design to destroy Pakistan.
Zia concluded that the cheapest and the most convenient way to “bleed” India was to incite a resurgence of Islamist jihadis, especially in the Indian-held part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
That argument suited both the Pakistani military and its foreign supporters, such as London and Riyadh, which wanted this dispute to continue in order to undermine India and control the weak Pakistani establishment. While the British objective was to create an independent Kashmir, independent of both India and Pakistan, the Saudi objective was to spread Wahhabism, the kingdom’s state religion. Through one military coup after another, the dispute over Kashmir was put forth by Islamabad to the hapless Pakistani citizenry as the compelling rationale for the unending military rule.
At the same time, following the resounding Pakistani military defeat in 1971–1972 in what is now Bangladesh, when more than 90,000 Pakistani soldiers ended up in Indian POW camps, Islamabad came to realise that a military victory over India to gain control of disputed Kashmir was well-nigh impossible.
Years before the withdrawal of the Soviet army from Afghanistan in 1989, and the subsequent American disengagement from that country, Pakistan’s president Zia ul-Haq had come to realise that an armed conflict with India to annex Kashmir was a nonstarter. After three wars with India, despite what London said or the amount of arms Washington sold to Pakistan, it finally dawned on Rawalpindi that the Indian military is fully capable of crippling its Pakistani counterpart. At that point, Zia concluded that the cheapest and the most convenient way to “bleed” India was to incite a resurgence of Islamist jihadis, especially in the Indian-held part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. During the mid-1980s, when the Soviet army was still in Afghanistan, it was General Zia ul-Haq, with the help of his Islamist military officers and various Sunni terrorist groups, who unleashed a well-organised operation to infiltrate India and promote religious extremism inside it. More important than annexing Kashmir, Zia’s aim was to reinvigorate “anti-India nationalism” in Pakistan. The first target was the Indian part of Punjab, bordering J&K, where the Khalistani movement was launched using Sikh religious fanatics and some disgruntled locals.
Meanwhile, though the violence in the India-held part of Jammu and Kashmir made the headlines, violence also occurred in the Pakistan-held part. The Pakistan side, which had been broken up into Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas, was largely inhabited by Shias. In 1948, Shias and Ismailis, two of the many branches of the Shiite hierarchy, constituted 95 percent of the population. Now, reports indicate that the Shias and Ismailis represent only 53 percent of the population there and that the Wahhabis now constitute 42 percent. In other words, to facilitate his operation to “bleed” India, Zia unleashed a violent anti-Shia movement on the Pakistani side to bring in the Sunnis, with their Wahhabi-like orthodoxy and their virulent anti-India zeal.
All material and military assistance was provided to Kashmiri militants by Pakistan. As a result, over the years, intimidated Kashmiri Hindus have left the valley en masse, making the valley almost 100 percent Muslim-inhabited today.
At a seminar in New Delhi in 1999, Indian security analyst Major General Afsir Karim pointed out that the covert campaign to introduce fundamentalist Islam in Kashmir was designed to alienate Kashmiri Muslims and create a communal divide between Hindus and Muslims. Muslims were urged to overthrow the regime and demand separation from India. All material and military assistance was provided to Kashmiri militants by Pakistan. As a result, over the years, intimidated Kashmiri Hindus have left the valley en masse, making the valley almost 100 percent Muslim-inhabited today.
Under the influence of Pakistan’s only national institution—the army—the Pakistani elite tolerated this approach for a number of reasons. To begin with, the 1972 separation of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, was widely acclaimed within Pakistan as the handiwork of India. Any effort to take over the Muslim-majority Kashmir from India is, therefore, considered a valid retaliatory action. In addition, democratic forces within Pakistan failed to gain traction and remained submissive to the armed forces because the raison d’être for the power of the Pakistani military was the projected threat from India to dismember the country. If Pakistan had abandoned its “bleed India” policy then and put a halt to supporting the anti-India terrorists and other dissidents, it is not altogether unlikely that India would have pulled a majority of its troops from the Pakistan border, thus reducing the threat of an Indian attack. That would, no doubt, have undermined the Pakistan army’s claim that it should be in control of Islamabad.
Over the years, the myth of a potential Indian invasion has been created through a sustained campaign and accepted as a self-evident truth by the Pakistani citizenry. In the forefront of the campaign is the Pakistan military, backed by London and Riyadh, and often by a few in Washington, as well. According to this myth, resolution of the Kashmir dispute is the only way to usher in a durable peace between India and Pakistan. The fact remains, however, that while a judicious resolution of the Kashmir dispute, brought about by Islamabad and New Delhi in collaboration with Kashmiris residing on both sides of the disputed Line of Control, would certainly help the Kashmiri Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists who have resided in J&K for decades, it would do little to improve India-Pakistan relations.