A day after the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah scrapped Article 370 of the constitution, revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan’s military establishment responded with its usual denial and dismissiveness.
Quoting the Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa in the aftermath of a Corps Commanders meeting in Rawalpindi, military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor downplayed the significance of New Delhi’s maneuver, saying that Pakistan “never recognized Articles 370 or 35-A” anyway.
Khan had, however, echoed the military establishment’s silent belief in April when he maintained that his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi “can solve Kashmir.” In an interview with Kashmiri journalists in 2016, Khan had even said that the solution to Kashmir lies in dividing it into three parts.
Perhaps that’s why the state’s response to the central Indian government’s de facto annexation of Pakistan-claimed territory didn’t quite echo the widespread outrage on media – social and traditional – and streets across the country. This might just reaffirm what has been a reality for a while now: that Islamabad no longer has any cards left to play on Kashmir.
Hollow rhetoric notwithstanding, Pakistan has effectively surrendered what it long touted as its “jugular vein,” acquiescing to its slice of the territorial pie.
Multiple diplomatic sources have confirmed that Imran Khan and the Army leadership were told of New Delhi’s plan to revoke Articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian Constitution during their visit to Washington last month. However, no one knew when the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would make the move.
Analysts across the border have argued that the move was accelerated following President Donald Trump’s comments alleging that Modi had asked him to “mediate” on Kashmir – a statement that the Pakistani leadership peddled as emblematic of its triumphant U.S. visit.
Even so, Pakistan’s fate in the Kashmir dispute wasn’t sealed in Washington or New Delhi. It was scribed, and regularly rewritten, on the drawing board at Rawalpindi, over the past seven decades.
Pakistan has made multiple failed bids to militarily seize Indian-administered Kashmir, in 1947-48, 1965 and 1999. The author of those failures, the military establishment, has rewarded itself for its continued failure to conquer Kashmir by maintaining its occupation of the Pakistan that remained in the aftermath of the 1971 secession of East Pakistan – another army-led catastrophe that even the current military leadership takes jibes at.
The loss of the eastern wing came in the aftermath of the Army “managing” the general elections of 1971. Indian usurpation of Jammu and Kashmir has come immediately after the military establishment, at the very least, influenced the no-confidence motion against the Senate chairman last week.
Kashmir and civilian supremacy are the two fronts where the Pakistan Army has waged all its wars, simultaneously, albeit with contrasting successes. These wars, however, have had mutual causality, with the military establishment blatantly misusing the Kashmiri struggle to nourish its jihadist assets, which served its misplaced domestic and regional ambitions, and maintained its hegemony over the national exchequer.
Jihad as a tool to gain strategic depth was born in the aftermath of Bangladesh’s creation, from the ashes of Pakistan Army’s longstanding pre-1971 obsession with militarily flanking India from its then two wings.
Fearing Indian influence in Kabul could result in Pakistan being at the receiving end of its own military strategy, a policy to pump mujahideen into Afghanistan, in addition to Kashmir, was devised in the 1970s – later bolstered by the United States to ward off Soviet invasion – eventually resulting in an Islamabad-backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Islamization of the Kashmiri separatist movement in the 1990s.
By establishing a radical Islamist umbrella linking Kashmir and Afghanistan, the military establishment kept the two regions geostrategically interconnected, with Rawalpindi exercising decisive influence over this multipronged jihadist corridor.
Post 9/11, the United States coerced General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime to outwardly shun jihad as an ally in the War on Terror. This accelerated the now notorious “Good Taliban, Bad Taliban” approach, where officially banned groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen continued to be backed by Pakistan to wage jihad on India. That eventually culminated in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which signaled the death knell for Pakistan’s Kashmir position on the international arena.
The Pulwama attack in February, carried out by JeM, which resulted in the Indo-Pak dogfight, was the latest manifestation of Kashmir jihad.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir – or Azad [free] Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) – which could have been Pakistan’s Colosseum to showcase autonomy for Kashmiris, Islamabad has maintained its autocracy. The territory’s constitution bars “any opinion or action in any manner prejudicial to… the ideology of state’s [sic] accession to Pakistan.”
A crackdown on dissent is among the scores of human rights violations in AJK, where literature has been banned and journalists abducted, as the security forces use the territory for jihad camps. A globally designated terrorist like Syed Salahuddin can openly issue threats while addressing press conferences in Muzaffarabad.
Similarly in Gilgit-Baltistan, a perpetual geopolitical loophole has been maintained, resulting in a growing nationalist movement in the region. And where Islamabad is protesting the scrapping of Article 370, allowing Indians from other states to purchase land in Jammu and Kashmir, the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) opens into the country through the disputed GB region. It was Beijing’s pressure to undo the disputed tag over CPEC that pushed Islamabad toward working on mainstreaming Gilgit-Baltistan as its “fifth province” just as the economic corridor was unveiled.
Yet China formalized its complete disregard for Pakistan’s Kashmir position by lifting its veto against JeM chief Masood Azhar being designated as a global terrorist at the United Nations in May. A similar disregard has been exhibited by the Muslim world despite Pakistan’s flaunting of the Kashmiri struggle through the Islamic lens, which recently saw a desperate bid to hyphenate Palestine and Kashmir.
While Islamabad was engaged in aerial warfare with New Delhi earlier this year, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was hosting New Delhi as the “guest of honor” at its Abu Dhabi meeting, despite continued persecution of Muslims in India and the state’s violent suppression in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is Pakistan’s Islamist claim over Kashmir, rooted in the country’s own creation, that undoes Islamabad’s condemnation of what could be the advent of a Hindutva surge in Kashmir. It is Pakistan’s own totalitarian rule over its administered side of Kashmir, and the de facto military hegemony over the country, which hollows its denunciation of an undemocratic, unilateral move by India.
Pakistan’s lack of diplomatic homework on Kashmir can be seen every time it hankers after international support over the dispute — in complete defiance of the Simla Agreement of 1972, which maintains that the conflict will only be resolved bilaterally — or every time it refers to the UN Security Council’s resolution from 1948 without realizing its yet-to-be-fulfilled obligation of military withdrawal from the territory stipulated in the same resolution.
The harsh reality for the military establishment is that with the Arab world no longer enjoying the oil clout of the 1970s, nor being as invested in South Asian jihad, coupled with the economic crises engulfing Pakistan, it simply does not have the resources to engage India in a prolonged warfare – over Kashmir or otherwise.
Hence, Islamabad has little choice but to take regional dictation from the United States and the International Monetary Fund, which has meant that Pakistan’s decades-old policy of linking Afghanistan and Kashmir has now come full circle.