Pakistan’s recall of its Chess Olympiad team is a self-goal


Pakistan’s Chess team arrived in Chennai with players from 200 countries for the 44th Chess Olympiad was recalled because a symbolic torch relay through 75 cities had crossed Srinagar. This withdrawal reflects a self-damaging reaction to Kashmir by Pakistan’s deep state that poisons its peace, politics, and prosperity. We hope that despite the learning disability of Pakistan’s deep state, three structural changes convince it to end the export of terrorism to J&K and accept the Line of Control as the International Border. This decision will also place the Pakistani people’s prosperity ahead of the Pakistani army’s plan of perpetual conflict.

Defeat in three formal wars birthed Pakistan’s fourth proxy war in J&K, starting in 1988. The first act of this proxy war — midnight bomb blasts at the Central Telegraph Office and Srinagar Club in July 1988 — was a symbolic public announcement of the return from training in Pakistan by the first batch of terrorists; the self-titled “HAJY boys” — Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Wani, Javed Nalka and Yasin Malik. In September 1988, the first Kalashnikov was recovered from the mother’s kitchen of Pakistan-returned BSc graduate Manzoor Islam in Kupwara — the police used the small arms dictionary to identify the unfamiliar weapon.

Pakistan’s role in early assassinations is obvious: Inspector Saiddullah in Maisuma (who was the police face arresting Pakistan returned militants), Tika Lal Taploo in Lal Chowk (the RSS Valley head, who had taken a vocal position against Pakistan), Neelkanth Ganjoo in Hari Singh High Street (as sessions judge, he had delivered the death sentence to JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat), and Mohammed Din in Tangmarg (who received the Padma Shri for alerting the Indian army to Pakistan’s 1965 invasion of Rajouri).

It’s unclear whether the deep history or events in 1988 caused the Valley’s “phase transformation”. Deep history indeed provided fuel. But which of the many events? The dithering Maharaja taking Ramchandra Kak’s poor advice in 1947? The marauders led by Major General Akbar Khan of the Pakistani Army that attacked India and crucified Salim Sherwani in Baramulla in 1947? The arrest of Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah in 1953? The return of the Haji Pir pass to Pakistan in the Tashkent agreement of 1965? The partition of Pakistan in 1971? The Simla agreement that resulted in India returning land and prisoners without freezing borders in 1972? Or General Ziaul Haq partnering with Jamaat-e-Islami Emir Mian Tufail Mohammad to Islamise his military after hanging Bhutto in 1979?

But the late 1980s promise by PoK President Sardar Qayyum Khan to General Zia to deliver “Kashmir to Pakistan in two instalments” has three possible triggers. First, America’s partnership with Afghanistan’s Mujahideen. Second, Rajiv Gandhi’s adamant call to Farooq Abdullah at his Gupkar Road residence in 1987 asking him to ensure that Muslim United Front candidates like Muhammad Yusuf Shah, later called Syed Salahuddin — then Batmaloo mosque preacher, later Hizbul Mujahideen Chief, and currently Jihad Council Chief based in PoK — must lose his Amira Kadal election. Finally, entitled politicians weaponised Article 370, religion and took Pakistan’s aid to grow their power, wealth, and dynasty. Even Baba-e-Quom Sheikh Abdullah — whose 1982 funeral procession took 10 hours to cover the 8 km from the Polo View to Nagin because of lakhs of mourners — became dynastic towards the end, with some people calling him “Kunba Parast”. On a recent visit to pay respects, we were sad that the grave of Sher-i-Kashmir — who fought Pakistani marauders in the Valley alongside the Indian army in 1947 — needs protection from desecration by a police platoon and concertina wire.

A better future beckons because of three structural changes. First, Army and Air Force cross-border strikes after Uri and Pulwama have changed Pakistani calculations that assumed perpetually timid Indian responses. With multi-decade security force requests for “hot pursuit” finally granted, the superior firepower of central forces is creating the conditions for a phased return to J&K Police enforcing law and order through context awareness, community embedding, local intelligence networks, local recruitment, language fluency, paramilitary support, and special operations groups.

Second, ending Article 370 could lead to the entry of new politicians in the next elections. Article 370 made J&K politics oligopolistic, if not monopolistic. Politicians in other parts of India are not less corrupt, myopic, or self-centred. But first-generation regional leaders like Lalu Prasad in Bihar, Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu, Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra, and Jyoti Basu in West Bengal used politics to churn the status quo of power, elites, and class.

Third, J&K will see economic vibrancy with property rights (Article 370 legitimized a Tehsildar’s refusal to register a telephone exchange – central government property — in the name of the President of India), long-term investments (there is now a Radisson Hotel in Sonamarg ), and strategy diversity (Kashmir, Jammu, and Ladakh will attract different jobs). Economist Albert Hirschman wisely suggested that interests trump passions.

Pakistan denied 14 talented players including Amer Karim, Junaid Sohail, Mehak Gul, Aleena Zahid and Wasif Zenobia the chance to win the Chess Olympiad because “India politicized a prestigious international sporting event”. This misunderstanding of politics is unsurprising — most deep states are unfamiliar with Bernard Crick’s 1962 book In Defense of Politics, which celebrated the self-healing genius of brutally competitive politics within a stable constitution. The then J&K Chief Justice AS Anand told us that his 1980s request to an Oxford University librarian for a copy of the Pakistani constitution got the smiling response: “We don’t keep magazines and periodicals.” Strategy is the art of moving the possible to plausible and probable. Peace in Kashmir has moved from possible to plausible. Ongoing hard work in creating new jobs and politicians in Kashmir combined with the Pakistani people controlling their deep state will make it probable.

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