The Debate

Pakistan’s Kashmir Narrative Is Falling Flat. How Might That Change?

How can Pakistan come out of the cul-de-sac on Kashmir?

By Murtaza Solangi for
Pakistan’s Kashmir Narrative Is Falling Flat. How Might That Change?
Credit: AP Photo/ Dar Yasin

As things stand, Pakistan is stuck in a cul de sac as it tries to resolve the Kashmir dispute with India, which dates back more than 70 years. The country has fought three wars for Kashmir, is a signatory to UN Security Council resolutions on holding a plebiscite in the region, and has signed multiple agreements with India. It has tried supporting militant outfits in the valley, sent proxies from its territory and weaponized religion and nationalism to kill the Indian presence there by a thousand cuts but to no avail.

Still, advocates of old policies keep suggesting the same old tested and failed recipes wrapped in new packaging. Insanity in perpetuity seems to be the order of the day. Einstein’s saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” doesn’t seem to impress these advocates.

After the August 5 de-operationalization of Article 370 and revocation of Article 35A from the Indian constitution, an extraordinary situation has emerged in the region. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shocked and awed Imran Khan’s regime and has nearly debilitated the Pakistani state in its response. Indeed, the BJP’s move has rocked the valley, putting all leaders in one anti-Delhi basket.

What is most shocking for Pakistan is the response of the international community. No country in the world has protested against Delhi’s move and no one has sided with Pakistan, except those who put out sympathetic statements on behalf of Turkey, Iran, and China.

The Chinese response, soon after Delhi’s move, advised both India and Pakistan to refrain from further escalation and protested only on the declaration of Ladakh as a union territory as it affected “Chinese national sovereignty.”

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Over the last seven decades, the Pakistani state has transformed itself into a national security state because of its hostility with India and the mission it has entrusted upon itself is the accession of Kashmir. Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir has weakened its economy and polity and has led to the abnormal domination of its military in all spheres of life and governance. India, on the other hand, has not only achieved sustained economic growth, but has also developed important economic leverage in its neighborhood, the Middle East, and with the major economies of the world.

Over the years—and especially after 9/11—India has successfully persuaded the international community that Pakistan is involved in violent incidents in India and the Kashmir valley. The movement for fundamental human rights of Kashmiris has been overshadowed by the violence in the valley. The hijacking of Indian airline in December 1999, the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2000, the terror attack in Mumbai in November 2008, the Pathankot attacks in January 2016, the Uri attack in September 2016, and the latest suicide attack in February 2019 in Pulwama have not helped Pakistan’s case.

When after Pulwama, Indian warplanes crossed the Line of Control and dropped their payloads in Balakot, the very heartland of Pakistan on February 26, there was no international condemnation.

Now, when Pakistan was diplomatically isolated, economically weakened, and politically polarized at home, Modi’s government did what no Indian government has done so far in Kashmir. On August 5, it formally ended the hollow and symbolic autonomy granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir under Articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution. As if that was not enough, government in Delhi turned the entire valley and its eight million souls into a big prison by imposing a curfew and chopping all communication links with the outside world.

With the help of China, Pakistan has tried to highlight the issue by getting it discussed in the UN Security Council in a closed-door informal discussion. But there was no statement from the world body. Not even the Islamic bloc came out with any statement condemning Indian actions in the valley, with the exception of a few sympathetic vibes from Iran and Turkey. China is the only superpower supporting Pakistan, but it too has raised and confined its criticism of India with reference to Ladakh.

Frustrated by the rejection of all requests for dialogue with India and facing isolation in the international arena, Imran Khan’s administration has pledged to internationalize the Kashmir issue. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to have happened. All moves by the government seem to have internalized the issue as the national media is forced to focus on Kashmir and state resources are being used to host events and stage protests.

Given the stubbornness of the Indian state, there is furious debate on Pakistan’s options. Some hawks have suggested sabre rattling and upping the ante. Some retired generals and defense analysts have even suggested to prepare for war with India and publicly told the government to start deploying troops on the eastern border. Some irresponsible politicos seated in Imran Khan’s cabinet keep hurling nuclear threats without realizing the international ramifications of their bravado. To them, this will ease some of the pressure on the inhabitants of the valley and may even force Modi’s government to reverse its August 5 decision and use the Supreme Court as an exit strategy when the Indian Apex court hears the petitions next month.

Can Pakistan go on this path at a time of a serious economic meltdown under a stringent IMF program and end up annoying the United States, which wants Pakistan to deliver in Kabul? So far there are no clear answers to these questions. Imran Khan’s government keeps huffing and puffing about the Kashmir issue but the set of actions it has taken so far suggest the administration is employing symbolic optics only aimed at Pakistani audiences and providing moral support to the people of Kashmir valley. By internalizing the Kashmir narrative, it is trying to scare the international community about regional tensions which may lead to a nuclear exchange. Will the world respond to this threat? Will hurling the threat of nuclear Armageddon generate sympathy for Pakistan?

Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Pakistan’s former high commissioner to India, chimed on the possibility in his recent op-ed in prominent English daily, Dawn. “Experts estimate a nuclear war between India and Pakistan could eventually lead to the death of nearly a quarter of the world’s population. The major powers will never permit such a possibility. Neither India nor Pakistan has a first-strike nuclear capability against each other. Whoever strikes first will not escape an equally deadly retaliatory nuclear response,” he wrote.

One thing is clear: Pakistan has come to the very last page of her Kashmir playbook. It has tried all tricks it had and none of them is working.

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The “Kashmir Banega Pakistan” (Kashmir will be part of Pakistan) slogan is not finding any traction outside Pakistan and the Kashmir valley. Insistence on Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan has overshadowed the humanitarian aspect of the tragedy.

Kashmiris, too, have tried many options from Sheikh Abdullah to Mehbooba Mufti and from violent jihadis to the pro-Delhi players. The best thing for the people of the valley now would be to pursue only peaceful means for their fundamental rights, renounce violence and integrate with the wider democratic and pro-devolution movements of the people of India. The success of the struggle of the Kashmiri people rests on their peaceful humanitarian struggle supported by the people of India primarily with moral support from around the world, not just Pakistan.

Since none of its actions are helping, the only option left for Pakistan is to radically revise its policy on Kashmir. Pakistan must employ a new strategy if it is sincere in ending the miseries of the people of the Kashmir valley who have lost more than 100,000 people since the insurgency began in early 1990s.

Pakistan must focus on the humanitarian aspect of the Kashmiri people. The tragedies of the people of the valley of Kashmir are not the problem of the people of Pakistan, but the people of India as they are ruled by Delhi. If the Indian state denies fundamental rights to the people of the valley and treats them as subjects and not as citizens with equal rights, this is a blot on the conscience of the people of India and their democracy and a moral burden on the global community.

Yes, the people of Pakistan are connected with the people of the valley by cultural, religious and humanitarian links, but Pakistan needs a new moral high ground.

It needs to work on a verifiable mechanism to prove to the world that it has buried its old playbook on Kashmir and has abandoned the jihad project. It also needs to give full citizenship rights to the people of AJK and Gilgit Baltistan by amending the constitution with a proviso that at any given time India is willing to hold a plebiscite, Pakistan will let the people under its control decide their fate.

Pakistan cannot plead the case for human rights of the people of Kashmir if it is not respecting them in Balochistan and former FATA or other parts of Pakistan. Pakistan cannot speak for the freedom of press in the Kashmir valley if it is not respecting it in its territory.

Pakistan’s military establishment will have to loosen its grip on the state and agree to a process of truth and reconciliation to chart out a process of conversion of Pakistan from a national security to a welfare state. Let civilians take responsibility of the state, give breathing space to civilian institutions, allow the economy to grow and develop regional connectivity to influence global powers and mark a new beginning. Without taking these steps, Pakistan will remain in the cul de sac, where it finds itself now.

Murtaza Solangi is a prominent Pakistani journalist and former head of the national radio of Pakistan.