After India’s bold and controversial move to abrogate Article 370 on Kashmir, Pakistan has embarked on a desperate and vigorous diplomatic offensive against New Delhi. Given that its military spokesman General Asif Ghafoor, quoting Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, stated that Pakistan doesn’t recognize Article 370 anyway, the level of agitation and anguish its revocation has elicited in Pakistan is surprising. However, any observer of Pakistan is used to discrepancies between what the country says and what it does.
Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic ties with India through the expulsion and recalling of envoys and commissioners, termination of bilateral trade (which wasn’t much to begin with), banning of Indian films and content that are hugely popular in Pakistan, and the cancellation of the Samjhauta Express bus linking Lahore to New Delhi. (Ironically, Pakistani PM Imran Khan had stated before the Indian elections that if the Bharatiya Janata Party were to win again, a settlement on Kashmir could be reached. One can safely assume that Khan would be rather red-faced when he recalls these statements now).
As part of its diplomatic offensive, Pakistan has desperately attempted to rally international support against India. However, despite Imran Khan’s impassioned pleas to the world regarding India’s actions in Kashmir, no world capital has thus far issued any substantial condemnation against India.
Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s first international line of action was for its Foreign Minister Qureshi to visit its all-weather ally China—the only country that has overtly supported Pakistan. At Pakistan’s behest, China with its own territorial stake in Kashmir and an interest in curbing India’s geopolitical influence called for a closed door session—the first time the Kashmir issue was raised at the United Nations Security Council since 1965. However, the session yielded little with countries mostly adhering to their international friendships and interests. Let us not forget that China can ill afford to focus much on Kashmir when millions of Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang province are languishing in detention camps. A United Nations diplomat called the UNSC session the “lowest level of council action” and stated that members had even failed to come with up with a press statement.
Russia, a P5 member of the UNSC and an old ally of India, was the first to support India’s stance based on the Simla Agreement of 1972 that the dispute must be resolved bilaterally. The European Union’s foreign policy arm, the European External Action Service, delivered a very neutral statement, stressing the importance of avoiding an escalation of tensions in the region. France clearly supported India’s stand in the UNSC with many Indian commentators espousing the view that France was replacing Russia as India’s premier ally. On the contrary, the United Kingdom hasn’t been as receptive to India’s geopolitical concerns, where links between the two countries are sometimes at odds due to its colonialist legacy, despite a strong Indian diaspora and commercial ties. In the UNSC, Britain supported China’s demand to issue a public statement on India. Walking a tightrope, Britain is often caught between the fear of tensions spilling over into its substantial Indian and Pakistani communities, although India’s position finds strong support among large sections of the British elite.
After Trump’s initial gaffe of proposing mediation on Kashmir, which some have suggested influenced India’s timing for the move, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he met on the sidelines of the G7 summit in France. Trump is reported to have said that Modi “really feels like he has it all under control.” “I am sure they can do it themselves,” he added, confirming that the issue was bilateral in nature.
The largest blow to Pakistan came from the Muslim world itself, where Modi’s and energetic diplomacy with Arab leaders has paid off. None of these countries have spoken up in favor of Pakistan. The responses of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) have been weak and un-substantive. (These appear to be a continuation of when during the India-Pakistan aerial dogfight in February this year, the OIC invited late Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj as its “guest of honor”).
The United Arab Emirates was the most explicit in acknowledging its support to India. Its ambassador to India stated, “We expect that the changes would improve social justice and security and confidence of the people in the local governance and will encourage further stability and peace.” This blatant favoring of India is indicative of India’s massive business prowess in the region, which even Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi was forced to acknowledge after the UAE, amid the current showdown, conferred upon Modi its highest civilian award, the “Order of Zayed.” (In response to the Award, Pakistani Senate Chairman Sanjrani cancelled his pre-scheduled trip to the UAE). Soon after, Bahrain too conferred its King Hamad Order of the Renaissance Award on Modi in recognition of India’s strong ties to Bahrain. Pakistan’s friends, the Taliban, have also stated that developments in Kashmir have no bearing on the situation in Afghanistan.
In the backdrop of the Kashmir showdown, Saudi Arabia signed one of its largest commercial deals—a $15 billion investment in one of India’s largest companies, Reliance Industries. Apparently, Khan driving Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman around and being his personal chauffeur wasn’t as heart-winning a geopolitical strategy as Khan had hoped. As the dean of the school of International Affairs at OP Jindal Global University Sreeram Chaulia states, “From the Saudi perspective, India doesn’t need aid. India is a great place where they can make money.” This currently stands in contrast to Pakistan: a nation riddled with debts with an economy nine times smaller than India’s. Making matters worse for Pakistan, a recent glitch saw Imran Khan’s images pop up in Google when the Hindi/Urdu word for beggar “bhikhari” was entered as a search term.
All of this, much to Pakistan’s deep chagrin, have bestowed a massive reality check for a country that has always strategically positioned itself as the protector of the world’s Muslims and played the Islamic card. (Of course, Pakistan too has hypocritically and conveniently overlooked the appalling plight of the Uighur Muslims in China and Saudi Arabia’s slaughtering of the Yemen population because of its own selfish interests.)
Following the row surrounding acclaimed Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra’s tweet supporting the Indian Armed Forces during the February tensions that ensued after the Pulwama attack, Pakistan’s human rights Minister Shireen Mazari urged the UNICEF in a letter to remove Chopra from her role as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. But in yet another blow to Pakistan, a UN spokesman said that goodwill ambassadors retain the right to speak about issues that concern them in their personal capacity and must only be impartial when speaking on behalf of the UNICEF.
Notwithstanding the typically expected calls for dialogue and restraint on both sides, Pakistan’s relentless screeching and howling seems to have fallen on deaf ears. But this raises another worrisome prospect for India. If Pakistan fails diplomatically in garnering support for its position on Kashmir against India, will it resort to being itself, i.e., continue its policy of cultivating jihadist groups against India to attract the world’s attention?
A country long obsessed with the idea of gaining strategic depth with India, the Pakistani prime minister has to answer domestic opinion within the country after its repeated touting of Kashmir as Pakistan’s jugular vein. Nevertheless, the Financial Action Task Force is keeping a close watch on Pakistan, and the country wants to appear responsible and avoid getting blacklisted again after the approval of its $6 billion bailout by the IMF. Through Khan’s statement “we have decided, for the future of our country – we will not allow armed militias to operate anymore,” it appears that Khan (and the generals that control him) seem to recognize their precarious situation—and in turn explicitly acknowledge Pakistani policy of using terror groups against India.
No matter how much it attempts to delude its own citizenry, the fact of the matter is that Pakistan stands in a very tight spot on Kashmir with very limited options. Given that the Pakistani state is resorting to all potential means of saving face with its domestic populace, it remains to be seen whether Pakistan will continue its notorious ‘Good Taliban, Bad Taliban’ approach where it effectively cracks down against groups targeting the Pakistani state whilst actively encouraging groups that target India. As its cries become shriller and louder, they only point to a recognition within that Pakistan is losing the battle on a dispute that has remained at the core of its foreign and security policy since the country’s inception.
Shairee Malhotra is Associate Researcher at the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels. She has worked as a Blue Book Trainee at the European External Action Service (EEAS) – the foreign policy arm of the European Union, and holds an MA International Relations from Queen Mary University of London. She tweets @ MalhotraShairee.