As intended, the attackers have left behind different narratives of Nadimarg. To India’s conservative ruling alliance, it indicates a continuance of Pakistan’s nexus with terrorism, reason enough to continue the ‘no talks’ policy. To Pakistan’s military rulers it represents yet another attempt by India’s ‘dirty tricks’ department at painting Pakistan black in the hope that that Pakistan follows Iraq in United States’ unilateral attempt at reshaping of the world order. For liberal Indians, it joins Wandhama and Chhitisingpora as yet another eminently avoidable milestone in the ongoing human tragedy in Kashmir. To liberal Pakistanis, it is the face of fundamentalism they have to exorcise from their body politic. Precedence indicates that the identity of the attackers will remain elusive. While the conservative end of the political spectrum in both countries prefers to see Nadimarg as attributable to the other side, the liberal end views it as explicable in light of internal pathology of both states. The dialogue within both states between respective liberals and conservatives may indicate the plausible direction of the future.

Indian conservatives see Kashmir as a symptom rather than a cause of the Indo-Pak estrangement. To them Pakistan has a grander design, that of dismembering India. India therefore cannot make concessions in Kashmir that will give it the appearance of a ‘weak state’. The apprehension is that doing so would invite further subversion, this time of its co-religionist minority by Pakistan’s ubiquitous ISI. Therefore, the hardline has to be persisted with, even to the point of threatening war as was tried out through last year. The hope is that the political and human face of Mr. Sayeed will act as a restorative, while placating both internal, Kashmiri and external critics of India’s Kashmir policy. The lesson drawn in these quarters is that, with winter’s respite over, Nadimarg sets the tone for the coming summer campaign for both states.

The liberal counter to the argument of Pakistan being locked in an ideological struggle with India is that it is self-serving as it helps forward the majoritarian agenda in Indian politics. It prevents addressing of the causes of alienation in Kashmir, thereby keeping it alive for continued utility in construction of a coextensive internal and external ‘Other’ against which it is sought to redefine Indian identity. To liberals, Kashmir must be politically addressed not only to end the human tragedy there, but also to forestall a feared nation-wide replication of Gujarat. This implies that India requires simultaneously and progressively to engage Pakistan, reverse political encroachment on Kashmiri jurisdiction and rein in its security forces.

Pakistan’s ruling elite and its conservative backers, amongst which number fundamentalist parties, prefer a restive Kashmir. To them this alone will compel India to concede the ‘issue’ as a ‘dispute’ and arrive at a compromise. To the military, it helps negate India’s military superiority by tying India down in Kashmir, while diverting fundamentalist energy within Pakistan towards its perennial foe, India. To fundamentalists, being seen as defenders of Pakistan’s Kashmir cause and of the Muslim ummah is useful for expanding their political presence and power in Pakistan. Thus they are willing to combat India to the last Kashmiri and, where possible, demonstrate their reach through strikes elsewhere in India as at Red Fort, Akshardham and the Parliament.

Clearly the effect of its Kashmir engagement on Pakistan has not been lost on its liberals. The impact of the unfolding ‘war on terrorism’ in both Afghanistan and Iraq has principally been in the entrenching of the newly emergent fundamentalist parties in electoral politics there at the cost of the mainstream parties. In the worst case, this could lead to the instrumental alliance of a conservative military with the fundamentalists being overturned, bringing to fore the threat of a nuclear armed fundamentalist state - one already noted for its links with transnational terrorism. Such a denouement would only serve extremists elements on both sides, for these are known to feed on each other. Having two neighboring nuclear-armed states with radical regimes portends catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent. A more plausible scenario is the continuance of political dissonance in Pakistan. The TINA factor will likely lead to the international community relying principally on the dictatorship of President Musharraf, a prospect not very appealing from point of view of a democratic future for Pakistan.

The limits of an adversarial relationship have already been demonstrated to both states. In keeping its armed forces mobilized for close to a year, India revealed a vulnerable threshold of tolerance. It is obvious to Pakistan that, despite the jehadis being quasi-autonomous, it would be the target of Indian retaliation that could eventuate in a nuclear exchange. Polities in both states are susceptible to a ‘creeping coup’ by the extreme Right, even though both regimes are flirting with these very political formations for instrumental and temporal ends. The considerable energies and resources their confrontation has absorbed, has benefited institutional coffers of ‘security’ oriented organizations such as respective nuclear enclaves, militaries, military-industrial complexes, covert operations wings of intelligence agencies, realist think tanks, arms dealers and foreign arms manufacturers. This has the effect of skewing the balance of visibility, and in turn of persuasiveness, against equally compelling alternative ideas and their votaries, on the concept of ‘security’, such as ‘human security’.

Nevertheless, India persists with a policy of ‘no talks without an end to cross border terrorism’. The advantage India seeks to derive is that any future Nadimargs this policy will attract shall help it marginalise Pakistan, sever the US-Pakistan alliance and result in the long hoped for ‘talibanisation’ of Pakistan. The human cost is deemed bearable given that India’s redoubtable Army will preserve Kashmir from the fate of Chechenya. In so far as the effect of any future Akshardhams, it will only redound to the benefit of the ruling political formation, and close the circle of argumentation by rationalizing the policy. Politically, the future Prime Ministerial candidate of the ruling party would have lived up to his mantle of ‘Iron Man’; a hard-line would have neutralized carping from the opposition looking increasingly threatening with each provincial election victory; and last, but not the least, the ideological agenda of the sister organizations representing the Far Right would have increased political space. It is deemed unlikely that there would be any escalation this time, given that Pakistan has been suitably, if not completely, impressed by the ‘coercive diplomacy’ of last year. Predictably then, Kashmir will witness continued operation of a ‘strategy of exhaustion’ (an Indian addition arguably attributable to Mr. KPS Gill to the American dominated strategic lexicon). The only hope in the horizon is the mission of Mr. NN Vohra, however given the past record of personages with equally impressive credentials such as Mr. KC Pant, and others as Mr. Jaitley and Mr. Jethmalani, it is not easy to be enthused, particularly at a time when national elections are only a year away.

On Pakistan’s part, President Musharraf has already indicated that his changing of their Kashmir policy would amount to political suicide, and, admittedly, his is a liberal face compared to the yet unknown alternative. A bellicose India would continue to provide the rationale for Pakistan Army’s occupation of the political hub-center in Pakistan. This will prevent the displeasure of the United States with dictators, demonstratively expressed with respect to Saddam, from embracing Pakistan. Thus Pakistan hopes to undercut Indian strategy, by proving its worth to USA as an ally in a Muslim world alienated by the ongoing conflict in Iraq. With continued resources coming its way, the dysfunctional political reality skewed against democracy can expect to persist in Pakistan to the benefit of the fundamentalist parties. For Pakistan too a policy of ‘more of the same’ has benefits for its decision makers and their support bases. The future certainly can be expected to hold more Nadimargs, though tighter Pakistani control over any possible Akshardhams can be expected for fear of breaching levels of empathy of the United States.

Strategic thinking is remarkable for its absence. Repeated Nadimargs and twelve years of the same potion have not made India realize its limitations. Pakistan for its part is content to stoke the fires aware that this will not fetch ‘self-determination’ for Kashmiris, only continued misery. That the situation is not any worse is hardly reason enough to find projection of the same into the future acceptable. The political survival of rulers of both states is dictating the national course rather than any enlightened conception of the national interest. Strategic sense demands a more mature understanding the national predicament brought on by a conjuncture of poverty; social susceptibility to religious extremism; militarisation of society; and intercourse through rhetoric despite the nuclear backdrop.

Expecting political sagacity in the rulers is to be naive. Expectations of South Asia attracting constructive attention of the international community would also be delusion, despite the Powell-Straw Joint Statement on Violence in Kashmir, apparently prompted by the Bush-Blair meeting at Camp David, and released in the wake of the Nadimarg incident. Their near-term agenda amidst the preoccupation with the aftermath of Iraq War is to keep India from feeding fundamentalism in Pakistan. With that achieved they can be expected to continue to ineffectually urge inattentive governments towards arriving at an indeterminate modus vivendi. Thus, neither the internal nor the external political situation favors a change in the status quo.

This reality energises the question of what other course is open.

What can the State do to avoid a repeat of Nadimarg? Glib prescriptions such as tightening security, investigation and punishing the culprits, institution of preventive measures etc, are the oft-repeated ones. But a liberal turn to politics in both states alone can retrieve the situation over the long haul. The ideological battle with religious obscurantism will have to be won individually in both states. Since extremists on both sides feed on each other, this is not a battle the liberals in both states can be expected to fight in isolation of each other. It is an not easy one either, as India in particular is taking pains to prevent the development of cross-border liberal linkages such as through its visa denial regime. Also, little leverage can be expected from the much-hyped democracy-friendly actions of the US in the vicinity. These will be sensitive to its own self-interest and to the compulsions of the two regimes rather than to the political predicament of South Asia or its peoples.

Sustenance in this oncoming battle can only be drawn from the liberals of the other side and their slow and steady successes against superior, organized foes now in control of the state apparatus. In effect, this is the South Asian battle that will herald a South Asian future. It is a battle to be dedicated to the nameless and numberless victims of the subcontinent'’s historical encounter with religious extremism, the latest ones being twenty-four Hindu Kashmiris, including eleven women and two children, at Nadimarg.