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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Trusting Musharraf on Kashmir
Villagers in Mehlu, 40 miles from Islamabad
Pakistani villagers have more urgent concerns than war

The residents of Mehlu, a village 40 miles from Islamabad, are not worried about the possibility of war with India.

They have much more pressing concerns such as recruiting a good teacher for their local school and persuading the authorities to build a decent road to the village.


I only discuss religious matters... it is up to General Musharraf to look after political issues

Local religious leader

Like many Pakistanis, the villagers are devout Muslims who shun extremism.

Whenever the local pir or religious leader visits the village, the mosque is packed with people who hang on his every word.

'Doing fine'

But the pir does not use the pulpit to call for Jihad or holy war.

"I only discuss religious matters", he said, "it is up to General Musharraf to look after political issues."

Most Pakistanis share the pir's relaxed attitudes. And they still trust General Musharraf to do the right thing about Kashmir.

"He is doing fine," said Ahmed who runs the only shop in Mehlu.

A small crowd of men waiting to make their purchases grunted their assent.

Uncharted territory

Under relentless pressure from Delhi and Washington General Musharraf has scaled back Pakistan's logistical support for Kashmiri militants.

Pakistani soldiers patrol the Line of Control
Musharraf has secured the Line of Control

He is now preventing them from crossing the line of control in Kashmir. It is a risky strategy.

For 50 years Pakistan's state broadcasters and national newspapers have produced a never-ending stream of propaganda putting forward Pakistan's case for Kashmir.

"The young people should be going to fight in Kashmir", said Siarullah, a farmer in Mehlu, "the Kashmiris are Muslims. There is a religious connection."

Army loyalty

The fact that General Musharraf runs a military government has allowed him to implement a policy which no democratic leader could have got away with.

General Pervez Musharraf
Military standing allows bold Kashmir strategy

If a civilian government had tried to block the line of control the army would, in all likelihood, have intervened.

No Pakistani officer likes to disobey the order of his army chief.

Even if many in the military and in the intelligence agency, the ISI, are reluctant to block the line of control, there is no suggestion yet that anyone has tried to undermine General Musharraf's decision.

But they know that if General Musharraf blocks the Line of Control permanently, the struggle for Kashmir could enter a new phase.

India would be under much less pressure to offer the compromises necessary to reach a solution.

Benefit of the doubt

So far the general has managed to blur his decisions on Kashmir. Most Pakistanis view the current developments as temporary tactical moves in a longer game.


The struggle for Kashmir has become a central part of Pakistan's national identity

Its not yet clear how destabilising that would be. But should the impression grow that General Musharraf has indeed given up on Kashmir then he would face a backlash.

It is not yet clear how destabilising that would be.

The religious parties have already mounted some large street protests to complain about the army's new Kashmir policy.

So far most Pakistanis, like the villagers of Mehlu, have shown no sign of joining the demonstrations.

That could change.

The struggle for Kashmir has become such a central part of Pakistan's national identity that some analysts believe the military regime could not survive if it became widely believed the cause was lost.

But others argue that if General Musharraf can deliver real economic progress and provide the people with the teachers and the roads they want, then many would be prepared to accept a major policy shift - even on Kashmir.

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