International Papers

Bullets (and Bombs) Over Kashmir

On Monday, raiders detonated a car bomb outside the state assembly building in Srinagar, the capital of the disputed Kashmir state, and then entered with guns blazing. The assault killed at least 31 and wounded 60. The Indian media claimed that Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based Islamic group, had claimed responsibility for the attack and named the driver of the suicide vehicle as a Pakistani national. According to the Hindu, the incident prompted Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to write a firm letter to President Bush requesting U.S. assistance “to urgently restrain Pakistan from backing international terrorists in Kashmir” and asking for assurance that the Kashmir dispute would be included in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The Indian foreign minister was in Washington Monday, where Bush confirmed that the United States has a global agenda and is not engaged in a “uni-dimensional” hunt for Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization.

The Times of India struggled to understand why Pakistan would “mount such a savage attack in Kashmir at a time it has been strenuously striving to be on the same side as America.” Among the ToI’s theories: 1) Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf needs “to pacify the jehadis and demonstrate his commitment to Kashmir.” 2) “It could be a message from the jehadis that general Musharraf can overrule them only at his peril.” For the Kashmir Times, the “mindless massacre” proved that the combatants in the Kashmir valley are autonomous: “To them Kashmir … is more important than Pakistan, and they are likely to take advantage of a situation, when all eyes, including ours, are turned away in other directions.”

Pakistan’s Frontier Post suggested India was behind the attack, noting conspiratorially that it coincided with the Indian foreign minister’s Washington visit. An editorial said India is “trying to the hilt to cash in on the strong international sentiment against terrorism” and “to have the Kashmiri freedom struggle branded as cross-border terrorism and Pakistan as a terrorism-sponsoring state. … But since their initial tricks in this direction have come a cropper, they are working in various devious ways to convince the Americans that they are as much the victim of foreign-sponsored terrorism as the Americans.” It concluded, “Engineered terrorist acts may not get it what it wants from the international community.” News International also intimated that India may have staged the attack in order to gain Washington’s attention and sympathy: “The compulsion for it are the changes in the international situation after September 11 and Islamabad moving closer to Washington jeopardising Delhi’s effort to emerge as an American surrogate in the region.”

Who’s up next? The press speculated about who will rule Afghanistan if the Taliban are removed. The three main candidates are the Northern Alliance, described by Robert Fisk in Britain’s Independent as “the confederacy of warlords, patriots, rapists and torturers who control a northern sliver of Afghanistan”; deposed King Zahir Shah, who ruled Afghanistan 1933-73; and a catch-all “broad-based government.” Dawn of Pakistan said that although the Northern Alliance has been united in common opposition to the Taliban, it is composed of “guerrilla groups that were once at loggerheads with each other.” What’s more, although Pashtuns comprise 38 percent of the Afghan population, the Northern Alliance is composed mainly of non-Pashtun ethnic groups, especially Tajiks and Uzbeks. As an editorial in the Khaleej Times of Dubai observed, “The Pashtuns … just cannot be wished away even though it is an undeniable fact that the Taleban were dominated by, and represented the aspirations of, this particular tribe.” There was widespread agreement that even at 86, Zahir Shah is popular with many Afghans. News International reported Sunday that “mere news of Shah’s return” is taking a heavy toll on the Taliban’s popularity. Canada’s Globe and Mail suggested a “transitional UN administration, of the type seen in East Timor,” a notion endorsed by Robert Fisk:

What Afghanistan needs is an international force … to re-establish some kind of order. It doesn’t have to be a UN force, but it could have Western troops and should be supported by surrounding Muslim nations—though, please God, not the Saudis—and able to restore roads, food supplies and telecommunications. … In this context, the old king might just be a temporary symbol of unity before a genuinely inter-ethnic government could be created.

Follow that story: The Bangladesh Nationalist Party won an unexpected landslide victory in Monday’s elections. With its coalition partners, the Islamist BNP achieved a two-third majority in the 300-seat parliament, handing the rival Awami League what the Times of India described as “its worst electoral drubbing.” Despite election observers’ verdict that the election had been “generally free and fair,” Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina denounced the results as “rigged,” vowed to boycott parliament, and warned that the Islamist parties allied with the BNP would “use Islam as a political weapon, tarnishing the country’s image as a secular … nation in the international community.” An op-ed in the Daily Star of Dhaka attributed the BNP’s success to “fervour permeating a segment of voters in the warlike situation prevailing after the twin-tower disaster in New York” but also blamed the Awami League for nurturing “hooligans” within party ranks and for Hasina’s “personalized and partisan rule.” Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post speculated that although the pre-election caretaker government offered the United States use of Bangladesh’s airspace, ports, and other facilities in the event of a military strike on Afghanistan, the BNP administration “might adopt a more neutral position on the question … hoping to satisfy both her Islamic allies and the US.”