“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Firdous is optimistic that Pakistani intelligence services are finally pulling back from sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir; but is that not what General/President Musharraf promised after his January 12, 2002 speech?

(Mr. Firdous Syed, 43, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is currently the Chairman of the “Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies,” and associated with the J&K National Conference. Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and has since joined mainstream politics and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

Kashmir gets rid of Pakistan’s shadow

When most of India was preparing itself for a negative response from Islamabad on the Mumbai terror dossier, the adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, dropped a bombshell by conceding — “Some part of the conspiracy has taken place in Pakistan”. More dramatic is the formal acceptance that Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, operational commander of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was the “possible mastermind” of the attack.

The LeT, until recently fully supported by the ISI to wage war against India in Kashmir, espouses Kashmir’s complete merger with Pakistan.

Though banned, an admission by Pakistan about the LeT’s involvement in terrorism signals the withdrawal of official support to this group. Even if Pakistan’s military is not completely on board, it will become difficult for it to have truck with any militant group, no matter what guise they take in Kashmir.

This is a remarkable development, which leads to the question — is this volte-face a merely tactical shift or a real change of strategy? A long list of explanations of Pakistan’s turnaround is in circulation, the most plausible one being sustained American pressure to show positive results. The day Rehman Malik spoke to the press in Islamabad, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan – Pakistan Richard C Holbrooke – had just left for Kabul after his first visit to Pakistan. Analysts in New Delhi believe Holbrooke, known as a diplomatic bulldozer, had to wield the stick of economic sanctions to make Pakistan come out of self-denial. Pakistan, reeling from a deep economic crisis, recently negotiated with IMF for a bailout package. The next instalment is due in the first week of March. It will find itself in a tight spot if the financial injection does not come on time.

But the separatist grapevine paints a different picture; not just sticks, but also carrots.

“According to insiders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, Holbrooke asked Pakistan to wind up its terror infrastructure for subtle American involvement in a settlement on Kashmir.”

Maybe Hurriyat is dreaming. It is interesting, however, that during his visit to Delhi, Holbrooke brought India, Pakistan and the US into a common triangle — “What is happening in Swat now is a common threat to the US, India and Pakistan”. But what he said to an American TV channel in the week gone by leaves nothing to speculation: “As everyone knows, the Pakistan army has focused on India for decades, and most of us believe they have to reorient their attention much more to the west. To do that there has to be much more confidence between Pakistan and India.”

In Indo-Pak affairs, the truth vis-à-vis Kashmir is always cloaked in murky deals. It is difficult to find a definitive answer to what happens behind closed doors. Nonetheless, what seems to be a dramatic shift — Pakistan’s withdrawal of support to militancy — has all these years been a gradual process. The common man in India may find it difficult to believe, particularly against the backdrop of Mumbai, that Pakistan is not vigorously abetting militancy in Kashmir any more. But people in Kashmir understand: Pakistan has virtually closed the tap on militancy in Kashmir.

Changed circumstances on the ground only confirm this notion.

The initiation of a composite dialogue between India and Pakistan led to a ceasefire at the LoC in November 2003. Since then, militant violence inside J&K is on the decline. In 1995 militancy-related incidents stood at 5,946; in 2008 only 703 incidents took place.

The arrival of freshly trained militants is also at an all-time low. IGP Jammu range K Rajendra is on record saying: “infiltration attempts this winter have almost come to a naught and things are shaping up for the better on the LoC”. The recent assembly elections were the most peaceful since militancy began in 1990; “a comprehensive decrease of 86 per cent was registered in militancy-related incidents during the elections in 2008, as compared to the 2002 assembly elections”.

Pakistan has all along been a factor in the Valley. Due to its strong patronage of the militant cause since 1989, support for it had sky rocketed. But from 1994 onwards, fatigue began to creep in and support for Pakistan dwindled proportionately. Diehard Pakistan supporters kept their hopes alive. For the last few years, however, among this section is a widespread feeling of ‘letdown’ by Pakistan. The militants also feel betrayed. These are all indications of Pakistan’s rethink on its policy of abetting militancy in Kashmir.

At last Pakistan has realised that continuing to support militancy in J&K has become a high-risk low-yield option. The theory of a war of a thousand cuts, bleeding India slowly to death, has proved to be an utter disaster.

In 1990, when militancy was at its peak, Pakistan’s economy was doing well if not better than India’s. New Delhi had to mortgage the family silver for debt servicing. But India steered itself out of rough waters. Today it is an economic powerhouse and has considerable military might. By comparison, Pakistan has lost its way completely; its economy is in a mess and political anarchy grows with each passing day.

Malik’s press conference and peace deal with Taliban in Swat indicate the gravity of the situation. Pakistan is in a state of panic. Circumstances after 9/11 forced Pakistan to divorce the Taliban and after 26/11 it has had to abandon its support of militancy in Kashmir. For the foreseeable future, provided its present political structures remain intact, Pakistan will not be able to support any militant incursions inside India. Kashmir may still experience flashes of sporadic violence, but they will be purely residual in nature. Kashmir will eventually quieten. The prospects of peace are bright, but a lot hinges on Delhi’s handling of Kashmir. It will have to understand: Winning a battle is not enough, concluding a war is important.