The Tragedy of Flight IC-814
No one can guess the horror of Ms. Rachna Katyal as she sits aboard the Indian Airlines plane (IC-814) in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Recently married, Ms. Katyal was on her way home to Delhi from a honeymoon in Kathmandu when her plane was hijacked for a horrifying ride across southern Asia. Because her husband Mr. Rippan Katyal looked too long at one of the hijackers, he was killed and his body thrown from the plane. A few hours ago, Mr. Katyal was cremated while his wife was denied permission to leave the plane by those who still hold it and most of its passengers hostage.
After a period of speculation, reports now confirm that the hijackers demand the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani who has been in an Indian jail since 1994. This is at least the fourth attempt by Mr. Azhar's organization, the Harkat-ul-Ansar, to spring him from jail (a previous attempt, in July 1995, resulted in the death of several foreign tourists). Mr. Azhar, a professor at Karachi's Jamia Uloom-i-Islami, came to India on a Portuguese passport to coordinate the activities of two bands of extremists. First, those under the command of Sajjad Khan (or Afghani), a Pakistani with the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, and, second, those with Nasarullah Mansur Langaryal of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami International (founded in 1980 by the Jamaat-ul-ulema-Islam and the Tablighi Jamaat of Pakistan with the blessings of the US). The Indian security forces arrested all three in a fortuitous operation.
New Delhi Television now reports that one of the hijackers is Mr. Ibrahim, a brother of Mr. Azhar. The hijackers asked for the release of the Pakistani extremist (along with 160 associates), and their act has once more raised the question of Kashmir for the world. The <Washington Post> offered the following comment: 'Focused as it is on a Kashmiri separatist leader, the incident again highlighted the trouble that continues to plague the Indian subcontinent because of the conflict over the majority Muslim region. Most Indians are Hindus, and controversy over control of Kashmir has sparked intense border skirmishes with the neighboring Muslim state of Pakistan" (Howard Schneider, 'Jet's Hijackers Demand India Free Pakistani,' <Washington Post,> 26 December 1999, A1).
Once more the US mainstream media fails its readers, but goes along the grain of US strategy in the region. To say that 'most Indians are Hindus' and to speak of Pakistan as a 'Muslim state' adopts the kind of ethnicist rhetoric of the right wing chauvinists in both India and Pakistan. India is a multi-ethnic state despite the shenanigans of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Islamicists in Pakistan face a civil society uncommitted to their bigotry. Furthermore, 'controversy over Kashmir' is hardly the reason for the border war of June-July 1999, since that violence was fomented principally by the instability occasioned by the nuclear tests of May 1998. The trials of Kashmir will not be solved by its absorption into Pakistan or by its formal independence (a position dropped by most former secessionists).
The US's idea of 'democracy' in such places is to preach Balkanization along ethnic lines, a racist notion that does not even allow for the multi-religious and multi-linguistic character of Kashmir. If Balkanization was a bad word until recently, Madeline Albright and the State Department seem to have adjudged it to be a worthwhile strategy in the Balkans itself. The military-feudal government of Pakistan uses Kashmir as a political wedge with which to create instability along its border with India. The bourgeois-landlord government in India, meanwhile, fails the Kashmiri people whose own voice is given no place in the discussions over its future. While India and Pakistan sit at a table and talk about Kashmir (in circumlocutions, no doubt), the Indian government refuses to talk to disaffected and alienated Kashmiris. The Left movement in India has as one of its principal demands the re-creation of trust amongst the people and the provision of 'maximum autonomy within the Indian Union' (from the Communist Party of India-Marxist). Religion is not as much a wedge in Kashmir as the lack of structures for political power and socio-economic development in the region.
People such as Mr. Azhar see the Kashmir struggle as an opening for an Islamic jihad rather than for the liberation of the Kashmiri people themselves. In 1994, Mr. Azhar told Pakistani Television that 'soldiers of Islam have come from twelve countries to liberate Kashmir. Our organization has nothing to do with politics. We fight for religion. We do not believe in the concept of nations. We want Islam to rule the world.' While once the Kashmir-based Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front fought for the development of the Kashmiri people, the Pakistan-based (and latterly Afghanistan-based) Islamicists fight without a program for Kashmir itself. Their struggle is already alienated from the people. However, the hideousness of the Hindu Right produces insecurity amongst many Muslim youth, some of whom turn to these well-funded Islamicist organizations to ease their own fears within their own land. This is the tragedy of Kashmir, caught as it is between the vise of competing, but still relatively marginal, reactionary forces.
The US now has Mr. Azhar's group on its terrorist list. Those notorious cruise missiles that struck Afghanistan in August 1998 killed HUA militants in Khost, as they trained for their various jihads. However, the activities of Mr. Azhar's group allow the US to further its strategy in Southern Asia, which is to ensure that the states there remain weak and, therefore, open to penetration by US capital. On 6 October 1999, Karl Inderfurth (Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs) told the School of Advanced International Studies that US attention was focused on South Asia for, principally, 'the economic potential of the regionI the South Asian region is potentially one of the world's largest markets, and commercial opportunities are growing. Liberalization is improving the investment climate for US business throughout the region. India is one of the ten major emerging markets, especially for the high-tech sector.' As the militants, the right wing and the US officials seem eager to keep the pot of Kashmir on boil, this will facilitate an active US entry into matters of state in South Asia (as it latterly has done so). Strong South Asian solidarity might block the will of the US, and it may even ask that the Seventh Fleet withdraw from the Indian Ocean and its Diego Garcia base (on which, more in a separate commentary).
Meanwhile IC-814 sits on the tarmac in Kandahar. The Indian foreign minister is recalcitrant to negotiate with the hijackers, since 'our position on terrorism is well-known.' The Pakistanis allege that the hijackers may be Indian secret agents whose mission is to embarrass Pakistan. The Taliban asks the UN to intervene, and Erick de Mul of the UN in Afghanistan frets about the situation. Images of the incident travels across the world. Reports of dangerous 'Islamic terrorists' revisit the kinds of stereotypes made common during the 1991 Gulf War. Context vanishes, as the US media speaks with a mixture of condescension and concern for the region. There is little concern for the alienated Kashmiris, for the failure of partition as a solution to the problem, for the production of more such crises through the failure of capitalist development that side of the imperialist curtain. The Katyars join a long line of the victims of the insurgency over Kashmir, one that will continue as long as the right rules the destiny of South Asia.