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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Analysis: Opening up Kashmir

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Indian helicopter relief mission
Gen Musharraf turned down India's offer of helicopter help
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's proposal to open up the Line of Control in Kashmir to help the quake-affected people rebuild their lives has had the expected effect at international level.

India has welcomed the move, saying it has always advocated greater movement of Kashmiris across the LoC.

The response from the rest of the world - in particular the US and the UK - has been similarly enthusiastic.

In brief, the initiative fits perfectly with general expectations that the 8 October earthquake may help bring the troubled neighbours closer.

For example, it is being said that once borders are opened - with the LoC move being backed by massive international support - it is much more difficult to shut them again.

At the same time, a de facto change in the ground reality will also help the two nations get past the legal and political complications of moving away from their stated positions on Kashmir.

'Military sensitivities'

Some observers, however, warn against being overly optimistic given the complex political dynamics unleashed by the quake inside Pakistan.

Even if we accept the argument that Indian choppers should not be allowed inside Kashmir, they could have been based in North-West Frontier Province
Mirza Aslam Beg
Ex-Pakistan army chief

Any peace overture towards India has traditionally been welcomed by Pakistanis - and this one has, too.

But even the president's supporters in the media have found it impossible to praise his LoC proposal without mentioning the possible costs of refusing Indian aerial support.

Pakistani analysts say Gen Musharraf's peace initiatives cannot, and should not, be examined independently of his earlier decision to turn down the Indian offer of helicopters.

That offer was refused citing "military sensitivities" - a concept that seems to be an overriding concern for military establishments the world over.

Pakistani soldiers bound for the quake zone
India's offer could have freed up Pakistan helicopters, analysts say

But its invocation at a time of widespread death and destruction in Kashmir generated no small amount of revulsion in Pakistan.

Kashmiris have described Gen Musharraf's refusal to allow Indian helicopter pilots to operate on Pakistani soil as an equivalent of "signing the death warrants" of thousands of Kashmiris still stuck on top of inaccessible mountains.

Some said it was evidence Pakistan was only interested in Kashmir's territory and not its people.

Others have wondered if it is possible to explain the doctrine of military sensitivities to a child with broken limbs - stuck atop a mountain dying from hunger and cold.

Given that the president's argument rests on seemingly untenable technological or strategic bases, it is little wonder that most Kashmiris have interpreted it as a matter of ego more than reality.

No secrets

Former military leaders and politicians laugh at the mention of "military sensitivities".

You cannot ignore the fact that atrocities by Indian forces are continuing in Kashmir, so [refusing Indian helicopter help] must be the right decision
Prof Ghafoor Ahmed,
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal

"Unfortunately, our concept of security is deeply flawed," former Pakistan army chief, Mirza Aslam Beg, says. "With today's technology, nothing is a secret."

PPP parliamentary leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim says: "The army had similar reservations when our government wanted to introduce cell phones in Pakistan some 15 years ago."

Independent defence analyst, Hasan Askari Rizvi, says the decision had a lot more to do with the psychology of the interaction between the armed forces of the two countries than with the ground reality.

"They have interacted in a negative context for such a long time that it is not possible for them to become accommodating overnight," he says.

Gen Beg adds: "Even if we accept the argument that Indian choppers should not be allowed inside Kashmir, they could have been based in North-West Frontier Province.

"Surely, that is not a sensitive area and doing so would have freed up Pakistani and other helicopters currently operating in the NWFP for Kashmir."

Many aid agencies and relief workers - who have seen the extent of death caused by the quake - have expressed great anger.

"The only sensitivity at play should have been human sensitivity and nothing else," said one aid worker during the BBC news website's live link-up from Muzaffarabad five days after the quake.

'Right decision'

The president's only allies in this situation, it seems, are the religious and militant groups directly involved in the Kashmir conflict.

Quake victims
Human sensitivity should replace military, say many aid agencies

"I think they must have given it considerable thought before refusing the helicopter offer," says senior leader of the hardline Islamist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, Prof Ghafoor Ahmed.

"You cannot ignore the fact that atrocities by Indian forces are continuing in Kashmir, so it must be the right decision."

This is the context in which one must examine the initiative to open the Line of Control.

Gen Musharraf's "no" to Indian aerial assistance has alienated Kashmiris as well as the mainstream secular forces in Pakistan.

It has made him dependent on religious and militant groups - people sworn to ending "Indian occupation" of Kashmir through whatever means possible.

Against this backdrop, suspicions between the two militaries may remain strong enough for them to put politics before the desperate plight of thousands of Kashmiris stranded in frigid mountain ranges still trembling from aftershocks.

No wonder observers are urging restraint in interpreting the open borders initiative.

Given the political complexities at play in Pakistan, it may serve no other purpose than to divert the world's attention away from Pakistan's decision to refuse Indian aerial help.


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