Al-Qaeda’s message to Kashmiris reinforces India’s self-serving narrative
In a 14- minute video message released earlier this week, Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri urged Kashmiri 'mujahideen' to ‘single-mindedly focus on inflicting unrelenting blows on the Indian Army and government, so as to bleed the Indian economy and make India suffer.’
He also reprimanded Pakistan for exploiting the Kashmiri struggle for its political objectives and stressed that the ‘fight in Kashmir is not a separate conflict but part of the worldwide jihad against a vast array of forces’.
Kashmiris should be outraged at this three-dimensional message. A shrewdly worded message from a militant chief, no matter how supportive, is never helpful. And from the perspective of ordinary Kashmiris, it is hardly favourable either.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir have been making huge sacrifices in their legitimate struggle and have lost close to 100,000 innocent lives in the past four decades. The socio-economic losses are unquantifiable.
Their struggle is not part of any worldwide 'jihad' but for their right to self-determination as enshrined in the United Nations charter and the universal declaration of human rights. There are numerous UN resolutions on Kashmir, with the first one adopted in January 1948. Under these resolutions, both India and Pakistan are committed to hold a plebiscite to determine whether Kashmiris want to join Pakistan or India. The latter now rejects these resolutions and is even working to revoke Articles 370 and 35-A from its constitution- clauses that give special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir are very sensitive about their struggle and possessively guard its credentials. Even if there is violence from their side (in reaction to grisly state oppression), it is limited to Jammu and Kashmir and their targets are always Indian security forces. It is no coincidence that massive Hindu yatras, or pilgrimages, in Jammu and Kashmir go smoothly every year without any violence from Kashmiri freedom fighters.
A shrewdly worded message from a militant chief, no matter how supportive, is never helpful. And from the perspective of ordinary Kashmiris, it is hardly favourable either.
Since 9/11, the Kashmiri struggle has been under a great deal of pressure with very little appetite for violence even against foreign occupation. At this time, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s message only helps reinforce the Indian narrative that Kashmiri Mujahideen are terrorists and that they get their support from global terror networks as well as from Pakistan.
The message is critical of Pakistan and that is perfectly understandable. During the last 15 years, Pakistan has nabbed hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives and handed them over to the US. Pakistan is also committed to not allow its soil to be used for militant activities aimed at any country in the world, as contained in the Pakistan-India joint statement of June 2004.
Pakistan’s joint military operations of Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fassad against terrorism have achieved tremendous results, leaving no space for militancy in Pakistan. The merger of tribal areas bordering Afghanistan into the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province is another major and long overdue step, which will further improve the situation.
Undoubtedly, global militant networks look for space to perpetrate violence in pursuit of their political agenda. Al Qaeda is no exception. Long-standing political disputes, namely, Jammu and Kashmir and Palestine, provide grist to the mill of toxic terror propaganda aimed at influencing impressionable minds and preparing foot- soldiers. No one country, however dominant, can eradicate terrorism. Nevertheless, international efforts against militancy must not help perpetuate foreign occupation and suppress fundamental human rights.
As for Jammu and Kashmir, the status quo is untenable. India cannot realise its global aspirations by riding roughshod over international norms and UN resolutions. A recently-issued report by the UN human rights commissioner reaffirmed the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. However, prospects do not appear encouraging.
As expected, India has rejected the report. It is also opposing a visit by a UN team to investigate into human rights violations whereas Pakistan has agreed to allow the team to visit Azad Jammu and Kashmir provided India agrees to the same. In the process, it is Kashmiris who continue to suffer. They are finding it extremely difficult to sustain themselves, but still unwilling to give up their freedom struggle. It is as Churchill once said: ‘The soul of freedom is deathless. It cannot and will not perish.’
Pakistan had hoped that after the general elections in India, New Delhi would return to the negotiating table and resume the dialogue process. However, there is yet no clear sign from the Indian side that it is willing to move beyond perennial stalemates and from conflict management to conflict resolution. Its blasé mantra that ‘talks and terror cannot go together’ is least helpful, to put it mildly.
Pakistan, too, has suffered hugely from militancy in both internal and external dimensions. It is time the two countries resolve their long-standing Jammu and Kashmir dispute and work together against militancy in South Asia and beyond and for regional peace and prosperity.
Indeed, ‘diplomacy is the art of the possible,’ provided we let it work.
• The writer is President of the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. He was previously Pakistan's ambassador to Germany and Pakistan's High Commissioner to India.