FOR more than a week now, hundreds of thousands of Muslims have filled the streets of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-ruled Kashmir, shouting “azadi” (freedom) and raising the green flag of Islam. These demonstrations, the largest in nearly two decades, remind many of us why in 2000 President Bill Clinton described Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan, as “the most dangerous place on earth.”
Mr. Clinton sounded a bit hyperbolic back then. Dangerous, you wanted to ask, to whom? Though more than a decade old, the anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir, which Pakistan’s rogue intelligence agency had infiltrated with jihadi terrorists, was not much known outside South Asia. But then the Clinton administration had found itself compelled to intervene in 1999 when India and Pakistan fought a limited but brutal war near the so-called line of control that divides Indian Kashmir from the Pakistani-held portion of the formerly independent state. Pakistan’s withdrawal of its soldiers from high peaks in Indian Kashmir set off the series of destabilizing events that culminated in Pervez Musharraf assuming power in a military coup.
After 9/11, Mr. Musharraf quickly became the Bush administration’s ally. Seen through the fog of the “war on terror” and the Indian government’s own cynical propaganda, the problem in Kashmir seemed entirely to do with jihadist terrorists. President Musharraf could even claim credit for fighting extremism by reducing his intelligence service’s commitment to jihad in Kashmir — indeed, he did help bring down the level of violence, which has claimed an estimated 80,000 lives.