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Living under threat of conflagration
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Indian Muslims may like it or not; their position in the Indian society is largely affected by terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and state of Indo-Pak relations. Any development in either of the two spheres recoils on them, mostly against their wishes. Indian Muslims do not share or support the separatist tendencies manifested by certain sections of Kashmiri Muslims. That is one important reason why Indian Muslims have not organized any large-scale protest against the excesses of the security forces in the state. 

On their part, Muslims of Jammu & Kashmir have insulated themselves against the aspirations of their co-religionists elsewhere in India. Political forces, particularly those who find any stick convenient for attacking the loyalty and patriotism of Muslims, seldom notice the thin dividing, line. However, in a democratic society, the human rights activists have stood up against ‘so-called’ state terrorism.

The audacious attack on Parliament shook the nation badly. Naturally, it has pushed the Indo-Pakistan relationship to the brink. Horror and desire for revenge were the inevitable reactions throughout the country. The Opposition that was all set to embarrass the Union Government over POTO and the coffin scam was overwhelmed by the overflow of public indignation against Pakistan. So the Government instead of finishing at the receiving end, secured a unanimous chorus of approval and unfettered freedom to take any action. So, the Government shot its first Uttar Pradesh election salvo—recall of the Indian High Commissioner and worse, suspension of the Samjhauta Express and the Delhi-Lahore bus service. 

Although symbolic, the two were instruments for the people of India and Pakistan for moving closer to each other. It is not clear how that step is going to help the fight against terrorism. If the Government of India believes that terrorists relied only on the two and PIA flights, they have themselves to blame. Terrorists can use any land, sea or air route, which helps them in reaching their destination.

The Government is consciously generating war hysteria. Obviously a story was planted that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had seriously considered various options including Prithvi missile strikes. It reflects poorly on the secrecy of deliberations of a sensitive body like CCS.

After the attack on the Parliament, there are many who feel, that we cannot live perpetually under the shadow of terrorism. They demand retaliation and end of cross-border terrorism. It is at a time like this that calmer thinking is required. Faced with similar situations, nations and their leaders behave maturely. We may recall the U.S-Soviet Union face-off during the Cuban crises in 1962. Both withdrew from the brink because they understood the murderous implications. Forty years down the line, we have a right to expect Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf to show the same maturity. 

The terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament was not an isolated event. Kashmir has been living with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and the security forces’ response to it for over a decade now. As the terrorists and the security forces took on each other, the latter combed the population of the Valley to pick up the local elements supporting the jehadies. Innocent people suffered in the crossfire between the militants and the security forces. For years they have lived under the fear of the bomb, the bullet or the landmine. However, the rest of Indians, never demanded from their rulers, the end of the menace of terrorism in Kashmir by resolving the Kashmir problem.

The Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes recently declared ‘India will retaliate so massively in reply to a nuclear first strike by Pakistan that it will be finished.’ It is no longer a secret that the two countries have nuclear capability. That is why the escalation of tension on their borders has caused worldwide concern. It should be clear to the people on both sides of Indo-Pak border that there is nothing to be gained by launching a conventional, or a nuclear war.

Talking about nuclear conflict without realizing the consequences, is height of absurdity. It is not such a simple proposition. The world will not be a mute bystander watching Pakistan go up in nuclear mushroom cloud. Pakistan cannot be wished or whittled or whisked away. India has to live with it as a neighbour even after the war. 

Nor is it certain that a war will exterminate for good, the terrorists either on Pakistan or India’s soil. Terrorism is a weapon of malcontents of every description—religious, political or social. Addressing its root causes shall curb it. The people of India and Pakistan must resolutely urge the two governments not to talk war. They should exert pressure on their governments to look at Kashmir with a new perspective; not as a piece of geography that is linked to egos, but as a problem of living, breathing, tortured and traumatized human beings who need some respite. The attack on Parliament has jolted us out of slumber. Let us, just for a moment, step into their shoes, and imagine what hell it would be to live under the shadow of terror all the time.

For all practical purposes, Jammu and Kashmir is a centrally administered territory. It is shocking that the people of Jammu & Kashmir do not figure prominently in the Centre’s scheme of things. The people of Jammu & Kashmir are looking at the sky, keeping their fingers crossed lest the war clouds burst over their heads. No senior minister or any prominent leader of National Democratic Alliance has cared to visit Jammu & Kashmir in the aftermath of 13 December attack on Parliament.

For an average resident of the state, the only source of information is the media. The leaders of the ruling National Conference are keeping a low profile, so are leaders of the Opposition parties. The Central Government has not taken the people of the state into confidence. There has been no attempt from New Delhi to speak to the leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, not even to those, known to be ‘nationalists’. The sense of alienation is already there. By not initiating any dialogue the alienation has led to "confusion" and "helplessness." The general reaction to the withdrawal of communication facilities from the public call offices in Jammu & Kashmir has been hostile. The logic behind the decision defies understanding. It would be easier to identify the caller who makes the call from PCO through "conferencing".

The obvious solution of the vexatious Kashmir problem is the acceptance of Line of Control as international border. Notwithstanding the rhetoric, Indian public opinion is ready to accept the solution. India and Pakistan should prove their commitment to the welfare of the people of Kashmir, by granting fullest autonomy to the respective parts in both countries. The rigid position adopted by the leadership in Pakistan and India may enjoy some popular support. But in practice that rigidity is breeding ground of militancy and terrorism.

What Gandhiji said 75 years ago is valid even today:- "Those who claim to lead the masses must resolutely refuse to be led by them…In matters of vital importance, leaders must boldly act contrary to mass opinion, whenever it does not commend itself to theirs."

That is precisely the nature of challenge to leaders of both countries.

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