At the heart of the dispute over Kashmir is a conflict of definitions. The Kashmir problem has its roots in a botched decolonization that took place more than 50 years ago, when the British partitioned India so as to create a majority Muslim state, Pakistan. Kashmir had a Muslim majority but a Hindu prince, who chose to join India; its status has been in dispute ever since. For Pakistan, Kashmir has always been seen in terms of a national liberation struggle, and those fighting there are viewed as soldiers in an honorable cause. India, for its part, sees the guerrillas who cross the Line of Control as murderous bandits. Especially since Sept. 11, India has portrayed itself as being in the front line of the war on terror. Delhi asks, If Afghanistan and the West Bank deserve the application of military force because they shelter terrorist groups, why not Pakistan?
It is a good question, and one that deserves a careful answer. It's never easy--and is often presumptuous--to give advice to those who live in the shadow of the terrorist's bomb. Yet before policymakers in the West decide that India deserves unstinting support, it is important to understand that there are different kinds of terrorism and that combatting them requires distinct strategies.
Experts generally define terrorism as the indiscriminate use of violence against civilians by actors who aren't part of a nation's formal machinery of state. Within that field, it's possible to identify two subcategories. "Political" terrorists have an identifiable goal, which may be precisely that of mainstream politicians. "Millenarian" terrorists are different. They have no political agenda and owe their allegiance not to any institutions or geographical expressions on earth but to a higher authority in heaven. The classic examples of the first are the armed wings of national liberation movements, like the Irish Republican Army, Israel's Stern Gang and Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military arm of the African National Congress. It is quite possible to support the aims of such groups while deploring their means. The classic example of the second category, of course, is Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, for in conventional terms bin Laden has no political agenda, unless your definition of the conventional extends to the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate. In an authoritative new study of al-Qaeda, Rohan Gunaratna of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland makes the point nicely: bin Laden, he says, "never interpreted Islam to assist a given political goal. Islam is his political goal."
One can debate endlessly whether the violence committed by one kind of terrorist is morally less objectionable than that by another (to say nothing of violence committed by men in uniform--the Japanese soldiers who killed for fun on the Bataan death march, the Allied commanders who firebombed Dresden). What is indisputable is that the two types of terrorism lead to very different outcomes. Because the first form exists in a political framework, it is always possible--given time, patience and compromise--to absorb it into a conventional political dialogue. This is precisely what happened in both Ireland and South Africa. With millenarian terrorism, however, a political approach is a waste of time. Groups such as al-Qaeda do not engage in peacemaking.