23 March 2002
The Times of India
Slowly, Pak’s new Kashmir policy takes shape
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
Islamabad: While it is impossible to gauge the extent to which Pakistan is still backing militant operations in Kashmir, there is no doubt that it has acted to snap the presence groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed had built at the grassroots level throughout the country. The mujahideen collection boxes that were a fixture in shops have vanished. Offices and propaganda stalls have been shut down, even in Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas.
Soon after the Dec. 13 Parliament attack, LeT spokesman Yahya Mujahid said any ban would make no difference to his organisation. Today, his leader is in jail and he is out only because he has repositioned himself as the spokesman of the ‘Jamaat-ud-Dawa Pakistan’. Even so, he is constantly on the move, changing his mobile number virtually every week. He appealed to this correspondent that he not be linked in any way to the LeT. "Please", he said, "you must understand I no longer have any connection with Lashkar."
It is as if Pakistan has finally decided to clean up the way it is projecting the Lashmir issue to the world. The United Jihad Council has been sidelined and its chief, Syed Salahuddin, has been asked to remain in Muzaffarabad, away from the press. A ‘National Kashmir Committee’ under the chairmanship of Sardar Abdul Qayoom has been set up. "What is happening is that the salience of Kashmir as a political problem is coming to the fore", said Nasim Zehra, journalist and member of the committee.
Pakistani officials say Islamabad wants to "call India’s bluff that Kashmir is all about terrorism". The involvement of Kashmir-linked militants in the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl has further convinced the Musharraf regime that its Kashmir policy has what one official described as "a major image problem". While acknowledging New Delhi has been "quite successful" in convincing the international community that the main problem in Kashmir is cross-border terrorism, officials say Pakistan is not averse to the tap of militancy being turned off so that India is "forced to confront the political dispute which exists".
The Kashmir Committee, said Sardar Qayoom, will provide political direction to the "Kashmir struggle". "Today, we have six to eight thousand mujahideen but they should be under political command. That is where the Sikh movement failed". One of the initiatives his committee would work on was a ceasefire, he said, "but not as an end in itself. If we request militants to stop fighting, they would like to have a substitute".
On the ground, it does appear as if Pakistan has begun implementing its ‘put politics in command’ strategy, a fact Prime Minister Vajpayee acknowledged when he told Parliament the changes in Pakistan were having "a good effect".