Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Dateline Srinagar: Pakistan conundrum hangs over Kashmir poll success

Why did the authors of Mumbai not try to disrupt the voting?…

30 December 2008
The Hindu
Pakistan conundrum hangs over Kashmir poll success
Why did the authors of Mumbai not try to disrupt the voting?

Siddharth Varadarajan

Srinagar: If the principal reason for a high voter turnout during the
recent assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir was the absence of
militant violence, to what extent was Pakistan responsible for
ensuring that extremist groups operating from its territory did not
disrupt the polls? The question is important because this
“non-interference” — for which no less a person than Farooq Abdullah,
leader of the victorious National Conference, publicly thanked
Islamabad on Sunday — seems to be at variance with New Delhi’s
understanding of what Pakistani policy vis-à-vis India is in the wake
of last month’s dramatic terrorist attack on Mumbai.

Though the Indian government has been careful to blame only “elements
from Pakistan” for the Mumbai incidents, senior officials have spoken
freely off the record about their belief that the November 26-28
terrorist operation could not have been launched without the knowledge
of the Inter-Services Intelligence and the top military leadership in
Rawalpindi. To be sure, Indian officials do not believe the ISI’s
motives were Kashmir-centric. Instead, their view is that the
Pakistani military establishment wanted to trigger a military and
diplomatic crisis that would allow it to honorably disengage from the
American-led war on the Taliban and burnish its fraying credentials as
the defenders of national honour. And, in the long term, many Indian
officials believe, the Pakistani army would like to unsettle the
prospects for peace with India so as to fend off internal political
demands for a reorientation of the military towards a more ‘normal’
relationship with civilian authority.

But if these motives propelled the ISI to either mount or at best turn
a blind eye to the Mumbai plot, why did the same agency — which
essentially manages Rawalpindi’s links with militant groups active in
Jammu and Kashmir — not seek to disrupt the assembly elections? Dr.
Abdullah summed up the prevailing assessment here when he told
reporters, “I think Pakistan did put pressure on [the militants] that
they should not do anything to affect the elections”. What makes this
policy of “non-interference” even more counter-intuitive is that it
came at a time when U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and his South
Asian advisors have given ample indication of their desire to play a
“mediatory” role between Pakistan and India on the Kashmir issue. A
low turnout, which is what a spurt in militant violence would have
accomplished, might well have placed the Indian government on the
backfoot. It would have also allowed the separatist political
leadership in the valley to claim a victory and more credibly
establish their continuing relevance. Why would the ISI, which was
prepared to authorize so audacious a terrorist outrage as Mumbai as a
means of reminding the world that South Asia remains “a nuclear
flashpoint”, pass up the opportunity to heighten international
interest in the “core issue” bedeviling bilateral relations with

One answer may be that militant groups and their handlers in Pakistan
suspected the international community would not have been particularly
bothered by a low voter turnout. If the world’s tolerance for militant
violence has fallen dramatically post 9/11, recent shifts in the
global balance of power have also made the world more understanding of
India’s position in Kashmir. The killing of more than 50 unarmed
Kashmiri protestors by security forces during the land transfer
agitation in the valley this summer, for example, generated little or
no criticism around the world. Under the circumstances, then, using
militancy to disrupt the polling might not have yielded much of a

In this context, it is noteworthy that no attempt was made by either
the terrorists who attacked Mumbai or the authors of the email
claiming responsibility (the so-called ‘Mujahideen Hyderabad Dakkan’)
to highlight the Kashmir issue. It is almost as if the planners had
realised the futility of trying to secure a tactical advantage within
the narrow battleground of Kashmir and had decided to move towards a
strategy of broadening the terrain of potential conflict. The world
may well have lost interest in the “Kashmir issue” as far as the
grievances of a section of its people are concerned but it is still
alive to the danger of a war between India and Pakistan, whatever the
trigger. And the Mumbai attacks were tailor-made to create the
impression of imminent war. Thanks to a deft disinformation campaign
by the Pakistani military, some less-than-careful and even loose
remarks by ministers and officials on the Indian side and a media that
has discussed war scenarios ad nauseam for the past three weeks, the
world is getting increasingly panicky about the danger of war. No
amount of militant violence in Kashmir during the elections could have
produced the same result.

Many observers in Kashmir believe, however, that the conundrum has
another answer. That the absence of violence was the result of
Pakistan’s active cooperation with an Indian request made several
months earlier, and that the Mumbai attacks were orchestrated by
Pakistan-based terrorists without the involvement of the ISI.
According to this narrative, the motive of Mumbai was to disrupt an
emerging back-channel understanding between the two countries and
increase tension to the point where some of the military pressure
being brought to bear on the Taliban and al-Qaeda on the
Pakistan-Afghanistan border might be relieved.

Whatever the truth, the fact is that Pakistan’s decision to lay off
the assembly elections for its own reasons has been an unexpected
bonus for the Indian government. It has created a more favourable
terrain for New Delhi to pursue a solution to the Kashmir problem,
both in its domestic manifestation and in terms of its bilateral
context. Provided, of course, the two countries are able successfully
to ride out the present crisis by acting decisively against the
terrorists responsible for Mumbai.

5 comments on “Dateline Srinagar: Pakistan conundrum hangs over Kashmir poll success

  1. Khurram Ali Shafique
    January 15, 2009

    Or maybe Pakistan has understood that the people of Kashmir themselves can win freedom from India through democractic process :). After all, the majority in Kashmir wanted to be free even back in the 1950s, otherwise why would the late Nehru have shied away from plebiscite in order to settle this issue for once and all? In the end, democracy is the best solution if it is not a limited democracy but an absolute democracy.

  2. Charakan
    January 6, 2009

    Very logical arguement.Wish more people are logical than hawkish in Media. Read my post about the same issue.

  3. Anonymous
    January 3, 2009

    Equation must be “Pakis to always loose progressively more” by not giving up terrorist activities. NOT what will hey gain by giving it up!! Anything elses is scatter brain clap trap….

  4. Ravi Kiran
    January 2, 2009

    Well , you have always been for “talking to pakistan irrespective of what ever it does” . while war is not an option our “deep pakistani ability” should be seriously looked at . Pakistan did not do something to disrupt kashmiri polls is understating the effort of the security forces . India will never accept an “US envoy” as it very well understands this envoy games .Every “element” in pakistan is guilty . The civil element might have not known about this if at all they know it they still will not say a no to it . They will defend the terrorists and radicals as passionately they do today. This should primarily be looking back and seeing why Pakistan launched this proxy-war and how much civilian leadership supported that .Kashmir was their ambition for life and they clearly understand that without terrorism India would not even talk kashmir . Today if we are talking kashmir it’s because of terrorism otherwise India would have been insufferably defiant . Saying that a certain elements in pakistan especially the civilian government does not want terrorism is saying that they have left the claim on kashmir . All of them are guilty. All of them . As i have said we should have a relook at our “deep pakistani capability” , a relook at the “rivers going into pakistan” from the indian land . A relook at the whole internal security mechanisms , not just laws but organizations and their capability to function .

  5. Anonymous
    December 31, 2008

    It’s not <>quite<> true that the Mumbai terrorists did not refer to Kashmir. I seem to remember the terrorist who claimed to call up from Nariman House during the siege did refer to Kashmir. However that only strengthens your point – if Kashmir <>was<> among their concerns, the calm during the elections is even more puzzling, given the past history of disruptions. I think that the ‘denial’ that came from Pakistani official sources, and the explicit ‘our hands are clean and we are ready to cooperate’ statement came in the earliest days precisely because the official ISI <>wasn’t<> involved. But once Kasab was caught, they <>did<> act to restrict access to his family, because they thought that <>any<> publicity from that score could only redound to their detriment. However, today, 30 Dec, Mahmud Durrani’s statement seems to indicate that Pakistan has realized that the blanket denial has not washed, they now emphasize that they are victims too, and will cooperate with India in getting to the bottom of this. This <>might<> indicate, along with your basic thesis, that the ISI and the Pakistani Establishment can be negotiated with; that they <>can<> deliver, and that once they commit themselves they honor their agreements. A general toning down of the rhetoric on both sides and a moderation of the overall tension can then lead to a common attack on the ‘non-state actors’. It also requires a clearer understanding of what the ISI-Army-Establishment in Pakistan actually wants. The statements of people like Parthasarathy, Chellaney etc (‘hawks’) however, worry me, because they overly demonize the Pakistani state. It’s bad enough as it is, there’s no need to make it look even worse, and suggest courses of action that could plunge the entire area into greater anarchy.

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This entry was posted on December 29, 2008 by in Indian Foreign Policy, Kashmir, Pakistan, Terrorism.



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