Liberating Kashmir from Indian colonialism was supposed to be one of the constants in Pakistan’s foreign policy: one that would not change, regardless of who was in power. After all, it was the unfinished business of partition and the government’s excuse for maintaining a huge military with a disproportionately large budget—open and hidden— to match India’s military might. All other needs of Pakistani society—education, healthcare, clean drinking water, alleviating poverty and so on—were put on hold for Kashmir. Ordinary Pakistanis were asked to make sacrifices until their army had marched into Kashmir as liberators, to the loud cheers of the oppressed Kashmiri masses.

Now general Pervez Musharraf, as the army chief who also heads the government, has admitted that UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir are not practical, and that it cannot be liberated by force either. Does this mean that the military will now stop using up the bulk of the country’s meagre resources? Perish the thought. Like the big bad wolf, the military has developed such a rapacious appetite that it must devour more rather than less to survive. Had a civilian government made such a retreat from a policy that was considered sacrosanct for more than five decades, there would have been massive demonstrations in the streets, followed soon thereafter by a military coup. But there is no one to banish the oversized and overgrown military.

Far from admitting failure and returning to the barracks, Musharraf and his army have intensified the war against their people. Pakistan is in a state of virtual civil war. Musharraf continues to make soothing noises, telling the Kashmiris that he will not abandon them (even as he is busy doing just that), as he did on November 18, when he met Kashmiri leaders and members of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in Islamabad. He said that just because Pakistan was showing flexibility in discussions with India, it should not be expected to “agree on any unilateral and unconditional solution to the Kashmir issue.”

Fine words: but Pakistan’s Kashmir policy is no longer formulated in Islamabad or at army headquarters in Rawalpindi; no matter what Musharraf says, Washington dictates that policy. This also points to the real constant in Pakistan’s foreign policy: to appease Uncle Sam. In the eighties Pakistan backed the Afghans against the Red Army because that was what the US wanted; in the mid-nineties the mujahideen were banished and replaced by the Taliban in order to appease the US; in September 2001 Pakistan changed its policy as a result of a single phone-call from US secretary of state Colin Powell. Likewise Musharraf’s abandonment of Kashmir is also the result of pressure from Washington.

For more than two years he has been dropping broad hints, under instructions from Washington, about moving away from “stated positions” on Kashmir. The Indians, however, refused to budge, demanding that certain conditions be fulfilled first. Eight pre-conditions, euphemistically called confidence-building measures (CBMs), were identified, including Pakistan’s stopping “cross-border terrorism”. India has now expanded this to 72 CBMs; more may be added.

As part of his grand retreat, Musharraf announced on January 6, after his meeting with then visiting Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used for terrorist activities against India. The withdrawal of support from the Kashmiri mujahideen may be considered a relatively minor concession; the greater retreat is on a principle. Does Pakistan consider Kashmir to be part of India? Is the Line of Control (LoC) an international border with India? Musharraf claims that he is “allergic” to making the LoC a permanent border; if so, what did he mean when he said Pakistan’s territory would not be used for “terrorist attacks” against India? When did the Kashmiris turn from freedom-fighters to terrorists? Is it possible for a man in uniform to comprehend these questions?

During his visit to Delhi on November 23-24, Pakistani prime minister Shaukat Aziz discussed several issues, including the future of Kashmir, with his Indian counterpart and with Kunwar Natwar Singh, India’s foreign minister. The Indians want Pakistan to concentrate on the ‘composite dialogue’: i.e. talk about everything under the sun except Kashmir. If Kashmir is mentioned, it is only for India to ask when Pakistan will relinquish control of Azad Kashmir. Natwar Singh said on November 12 that “the composite dialogue is progressing satisfactorily... so far there has been no back-tracking or setback except what the prime minister has stated that Musharraf must live up to his January 6 announcement that he will not permit his country’s territory to be used for terrorist attacks on India or any other country.”

Emphasising that the two countries were making ‘progress’ in other areas, he noted that official-level meetings were being held about the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, Khokhrapar-Munabao train link, reopening of Indian and Pakistani consulates in Karachi and Mumbai respectively, nuclear confidence-building measures, and the visa regime. How these steps are supposed to advance the cause of Kashmir is not clear.

Although the Indians want Pakistan to concentrate on fulfilling an ever-expanding list of CBMs, there is little or nothing they are prepared to concede on Kashmir. For instance, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh is reported to have told Musharraf during their meeting in New York last September that he will not accept any “territorial adjustment”, nor accept division of Kashmir on any religious basis. So what exactly is he prepared to discuss? On November 11 he announced a token reduction of Indian troops in Kashmir: about 20,000 out of a total of some 500,000, although that can hardly be expected to bring cheer to the long-oppressed Kashmiri masses. Indian soldiers continue the degrading practice of raping Kashmiri women to humiliate and break them and their families.

When asked during his meeting on November 18 with Kashmiri leaders what solution he expected for Kashmir, Musharraf said: “There may not be any instant solution available. But if independent Kashmir is not a viable option, then the Muslim-majority areas of Kashmir Valley, including Poonch Kustwar, Doda, Browa, should be allowed to form their own identity or be allowed to go with Pakistan. I believe that religious, ethnic and linguistic considerations cannot be overlooked while finding a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue.” He seems to be floating proposals without realizing that the Indians have shown no sign of any willingness to accept anything. They are quite content with the status quo; it is for Pakistan to change the ground realities to force India to move beyond it. Musharraf also talked about some kind of a buffer zone in the Muslim areas of Kashmir after the withdrawal of all Indian troops from occupied Kashmir. One must wonder whether India has agreed to any such withdrawal, or whether Musharraf was smoking something when he made the remarks.

At the end of October Musharraf proposed dividing Kashmir into seven areas: the plains (including Jammu), the foothills up to 7,000 feet, Pir Panjal, the Kashmir Valley, the Great Himalayan zone, the Upper Indus Valley, and the northern areas (including the Karakoram). Five of these zones or regions are under Indian control, while two are with Pakistan. There has been much talk about turning the Line of Control into a soft border so that Kashmiris from both sides can travel freely, without passports or other travel documents. At present the Indians seem prepared to concede only a little bit more autonomy to Occupied Kashmir if Pakistan does the same for Azad Kashmir. They still insist, however, that there should no outside mediation, either by the UN or by the US.

Given the disparity between the psychological makeup of the two countries’ rulers and Musharraf’s lack of legitimacy in Pakistan, India’s rulers clearly feel that they can take him for a ride. All they are offering is the prospect of more talks.

If this is what the exercise is all about, then what was the point of 85,000 Kashmiris sacrificing their lives? And what was the purpose of 10,000 Kashmiri women being raped by Indian troops because they and their families demand freedom from Indian occupation?