Certain facts lead to certain questions and answers.
When the earthquake struck Kashmir, the Pakistan army was dug in along the LoC in full strength. Yet it took days to mobilise and help the hapless people of Azad Kashmir. On the other side, the Indian army did little to bail out the stricken in Kashmir. Under the same circumstances anywhere else in the world, armies would have rolled in aid of civil administration immediately. So what use are the armies of India and Pakistan if they can go to war with each other time and again but not come to the rescue of their own people when they are most urgently needed?
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf did the right thing to request assistance from all countries of the world, without excluding those with which Pakistan has no formal diplomatic relations like Israel, and those like India with whom Pakistan has the worst relations in the world. General Musharraf also solicited assistance from the American Jewish Congress that represents the richest and most powerful community in the United States. His appeal was based on sound reasoning: the people of Kashmir are in acute distress, Pakistan doesn’t have the resources to help them fully, so the cause of unprecedented human suffering shouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of national pride or prejudice. But when India offered physical assistance in the form of men and helicopters, the government of Pakistan balked. It was prepared to accept Britishers for emergency relief work but Indians weren’t kosher. It was prepared to accept American helicopters flown by American pilots but Indian helicopters flown by Indian pilots were taboo. Certainly, there can be no military security justification for refusing Indian assistance – every inch of disputed Kashmir is mapped by satellites, including positions of both armies along the LoC. But in similar circumstances, India too would have responded in much the same way to the idea of Pakistani troops on Indian soil. Indeed, India’s arrogance has invariably stood in the way of accepting foreign assistance in times of natural adversity. Thus the thought of Indian soldiers on Pakistani soil and vice versa even in times of civilian distress is still abhorrent to the mindsets of the Pakistani and Indian ruling elites. That is why both governments were quick to spurn the sentiments of Mir Waiz Farooq, the All Parties Hurriet Conference Kashmiri leader, to launch a joint relief operation across the LoC. When, if ever, will this attitude change?
Observers have also noted how “seismic shocks can translate into political upheavals”. The cyclone in East Pakistan in 1970 irrevocably turned the Bengalis against the Punjabi ruling elites of Pakistan and sowed the seeds of the country’s dismemberment one year later. In Algeria, Turkey and Egypt, insensitive handling of quake disasters led to a wave of anger at corrupt, lazy and incompetent governments and created a groundswell of support for Islamic parties. These groups were able to fill the political vacuum because of their superior organisational abilities. In the wake of this quake, and given the historic military-mullah alliance and the political shunning of the mainstream parties by the Musharraf government, is Pakistan fated to go down that path too? We might do well to recall a survey of public pinion conducted by an internationally reputed news organisation recently in which respondents in both India and Pakistan were asked to identify the object of their greatest or least trust among the following four socio-groups: army/bureaucracy, religious leaders, media and politicians. The answers were acutely instructive. In Pakistan, a majority trusted religious leaders the most and the army/bureaucracy the least. In India, it was the other way round: they trusted their army/bureaucracy the most and their religious leaders the least. The media and politicians, surprisingly, came second and third in both countries, despite the fact that one is a functioning democracy and the other is a functioning anarchy.
Of course, it is not inevitable that Pakistan should succumb to the religio-political fate of pariah nation-states. President Musharraf could demonstrate some raw courage and real vision in democratising Pakistan and cementing peace with India. That would entail cutting the umbilical link between the military and mosque, allying with the mainstream parties that want peace with India, sharing power rather than office with them, and building a national consensus for a sustainable and realistic “solution” in Kashmir that takes into account only the wishes and aspirations of the Kashmiris rather than insisting upon any Pakistani locus standi relating to the “unfinished business of partition”. On India’s part, it would demand an equally bold and visionary agenda to concede its blunders, demilitarise the region and grant Kashmir maximum freedom for self-determination short of secession from the India union. International dispute resolution should be about alleviating peoples’ suffering and not about massaging our insufferable elites.
If the quake enables India and Pakistan to forget a bloody past and plan a bright future, we may yet be able to forgive, if not forget, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri in the last fifteen years. If not, then there may be more unnatural upheavals in store for all of us.