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It?s gone too far

When unknown persons attacked a bus full of Gujarati tourists in Kashmir on May 25 and followed it up with attacks on two more buses full of Bengali tourists, every last person in Kashmir was convinced this was not the work of Kashmiris.

india Updated: Jun 19, 2006 02:00 IST

When unknown persons attacked a bus full of Gujarati tourists in Kashmir on May 25 and followed it up with attacks on two more buses full of Bengali tourists, every last person in Kashmir was convinced this was not the work of Kashmiris. They blamed Himachalis who were being bankrupted by the revival of tourism in Kashmir. The explanation was farfetched but was not dismissed immediately, even within the state government. But Monday’s succession of grenade attacks upon the pilgrims headed for Amarnath shows that the Kashmiri public has been deluding itself.

The truth is that a new wave of terrorism has begun, whose only purpose is to cut all links between the Valley and India, no matter what it costs the people of the Valley. Its author is the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, and it is succeeding only too well. The day after the attack on Bengali tourists, my flight to Srinagar was half empty as the rest of its passengers had cancelled their bookings. The same day, more than a thousand tour buses left Srinagar to return to the plains. The attack on the Amarnath pilgrims is likely to complete the job.

But this is only a side effect, a bonus to be derived from the achievement of the Lashkar’s main purpose — to provoke a communal bloodbath in India, and thereby remove any remaining chance of peace between India and Pakistan. The latest attack coincided with the killing of nine Nepali labourers in Kulgam, who were killed only because they were Hindus. Four weeks earlier, terrorists had killed 35 Hindus, carefully singled out, in Doda.

But the killing of Hindus because they are Hindus is no longer confined to J&K. In the past eight months there has been a spate of such attacks all over India. These began with a string of bomb blasts on the eve of Diwali in Delhi, which claimed 52 lives. It was followed by an attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, and a succession of bombs planted in and around temples of Varanasi. Miraculously, these failed to ignite a communal backlash, but the terrorists came within a hair’s breadth of success when they almost succeeded in penetrating the RSS headquarters in Nagpur on June 1. Although this attack has been played down, the government is now convinced that the real target of the fidayeen

was the organisation’s Reshimbag premises where a thousand RSS volunteers were undergoing ‘officers’ training’. Had the fidayeen not gone to the wrong building, they could have killed scores of senior RSS cadres. One shudders to think what that would have set off in the country.

The Lashkar’s (and Jaish-e-Mohammad’s) purpose cannot be more obvious. Between October 2004 and April 2005, Musharraf publicly buried the Islamist dream of ‘Muslim’ Kashmir becoming a part of Pakistan, and accepted a modified version of the status quo in which, in crucial respects, it would remain a part of India. The only way left to upset this arrangement was to trigger a communal holocaust within India that would drive the Kashmiris into Pakistan’s arms.

Even in failure this piece of bigoted insanity has achieved a part of its purpose. The Nagpur attack provoked Vinay Katiyar and former Delhi Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma to announce a reward of Rs 1 lakh on the head of every slain militant. Had they not been publicly rebuked by Vajpayee and Advani and forced to retract, they would have put a price on the head of every Muslim found ‘moving around in suspicious circumstances’.

And it has, for the time being at least, left the peace process stone dead. On Tuesday the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan, told a national daily that the PM’s much-awaited visit to Islamabad was no longer on the cards. Although he made a passing reference to the continuing terrorist attacks, Narayanan put most of the blame on the lack of progress over withdrawal from Siachen.

But Siachen is a smokescreen. The real reason is the changed character of terrorism that India is now facing. The Lashkar unveiled its new, nihilistic strategy just when the Indian government had ceased to make a complete cessation of infiltration across the Line of Control a precondition for further talks.

The targeted killing of Hindus has raised a series of new issues. How, the PM’s advisors are asking, can he be seen supping with the Pakistani President when people from his country are blowing Hindus up and trying to incite a communal bloodbath? What will he do if terrorists kill a lot of Hindus on the eve of his visit or when he is actually in Pakistan? Should he break off talks and head home, or continue regardless of what happens? Will he not be accused of becoming India’s Neville Chamberlain, seeking peace at any price? How will the PM carry the people of India with him on any agreement he reaches with Musharraf? How, for that matter, will he forge a consensus within the political parties, especially with the BJP?

In the new situation created by these attacks, many of the arguments advanced previously by this writer, among many others, to justify pushing ahead with the peace process despite the continuing infiltration into Kashmir, no longer hold good. So long as the violence was confined to Kashmir, and was aimed mainly at the Indian or Kashmiri State, it was possible to argue that Musharraf either could not afford to give up the leverage this gave him in dealing with India, or could not control some of the local army commanders who were turning a blind eye to infiltration across the LoC.

But the attempt to provoke Hindus into attacking Muslims across India creates a qualitatively different situation. While it may be aimed as much at Islamabad as at New Delhi, the fact is that the headquarters of the Lashkar, and its entire infrastructure, is in Pakistan and not India. Thus only Musharraf can bring it to heel. There is, therefore, no more room for ambivalence. Pakistan has to decide whether what the Lashkar is doing will serve its interest. If not, then it must stop the Lashkar through whatever means. If this is not done, India will be unable to continue with the peace process as that would mean it does not disapprove of the campaign to provoke genocide in India.

This will, admittedly, not be easy. The Lashkar has been the ISI’s sword arm in Kashmir for the last seven years. Under the latter’s tutelage it has been establishing cells in India for at least eight years. It has been recruiting disaffected Indian Muslim youth, and more recently Bangladeshis, to carry out its acts of terrorism in India. But in the last eight months it has gone too far.

I have written innumerable times about what the failure of the current dialogue on Kashmir will mean for Kashmir and for communal harmony on the subcontinent. But Pakistanis too need to think, with hard-headed realism, about what it will mean for them. The war in Afghanistan is not showing any signs of ending. Pakistan’s involvement in it is fuelling the anger of the tribes in Waziristan and eroding Musharraf’s popularity throughout the country. The Baloch rebellion and the ham-handed way in which the Pakistan army is trying to control it, is adding to the flames of discontent. A few hardliners in the Pakistani army still believe that it is possible to prevail militarily against both the Baloch rebels on the one hand, and the Taliban and its tribal kin in Waziristan on the other. But even that would require it to pour in vastly larger numbers of troops into both areas. These can only come from the Indian border.

The alternative, to withdraw from the American ‘war on terror’, will also be much easier if Pakistan makes its peace with India and has its support. Thus no matter how we look at it, Pakistan has as much at stake in the peace process as India. The ball, therefore, is in its court.