WE commemorate the Kashmir Black Day every Oct 27. In ceremonies at home and abroad, we speak with pain and sorrow about the unspeakable human tragedy in the held area. In between, we live an illusion that equates the depth of our anguish and moral outrage with our support for the Kashmir cause. The sad reality is this is not getting the Kashmiris anywhere.
The Kashmiri leadership is disappointed. Here is what Mirwaiz Umar Farooq tweeted on Oct 21 in response to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s condemnation of the latest round of Indian atrocities. He said “people of Kashmir appreciate Pakistan’s concern, but to put an end to the appalling grind of repression and human rights abuse that Kashmiris are suffering at the hands of Indian state urgently requires Pakistan as a party to the dispute to do much more”. Meanwhile, on Oct 27 at a function in observance of the Black Day in Muzaffarabad, Syed Salahuddin, head of the United Jihad Council (UJC), called upon Pakistan to announce full military support for Kashmiris.
The Mirwaiz has a point. Indeed, Pakistan needs to do much more. But what many may not appreciate is that there is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan’s internal security challenges of recent decades are a testimony to the ill effects of such strategies in the past.
Our present approach is not getting the Kashmiris anywhere.
But Pakistan’s dilemma is that a peaceful solution is not on the horizon either. Its voice for the Kashmiri struggle has been enfeebled by the diminution of its own international stature and is getting drowned in the unconscionable silence of the international community. Not just big powers, almost every country has come to see the Kashmir dispute in terms of relations with India. Pakistan is further squeezed between India and the US that are using each other to put pressure on it for their own vested interests.
So what can Pakistan do? The plain truth is that the Pakistan of today cannot really do much more than it is doing already. The only way it can help the Kashmiris peacefully is through a dialogue. But India does not want to talk. Instead, it is tempted to put a vulnerable Pakistan on the defensive and off balance. The answer to Pakistan’s dilemma is a stronger, stable and more prosperous Pakistan that is beyond harm.
India has to be compelled to change its position on Kashmir. But that will not be enough. It has to be offered an incentive as well to do so. Pakistan may not be in a position to compel India but can offer an incentive. Kashmiris cannot offer incentives but can compel. That will make India talk and change its attitude on Kashmir. And it will take time.
Only a stronger Pakistan can offer an incentive to India. And here is what Pakistan could do to become stronger. It is difficult to handle serious domestic and external problems simultaneously. In this situation, countries usually end up prioritising domestic challenges and focus on such foreign policy issues that are aggravating internal difficulties. Let us put relations with India on the back burner. Pakistan can hold itself up against India. We should instead focus on internal challenges and on Afghanistan which is as much of an internal as an external challenge.
Pakistan holds the key to Afghanistan’s stabilisation. An unstable Afghanistan means an unstable Pakistan and hostile Pakistan-US relations that are likely to get worse. In such a situation, even CPEC will remain a pipe dream.
A stable Afghanistan on the other hand will enhance Pakistan’s own stability and can contribute to its becoming a hub for pipelines and trade with Central Asia. It will ease US pressure on Pakistan, leaving India to deal with Pakistan on its own. With prospects of MFN status, transit rights to Central Asia, access to pipelines, and the potential of Central and South Asia as an integrated market, Pakistan’s value as an economic partner for India that is seeking to rise as an economic power would be obvious. That will be the incentive.
What about compulsion? That will come from the Kashmiris. They need to consider their limitations, learn from other movements, and even raise the level of their resistance. They should energise and organise the Kashmiri diaspora abroad. Their elevated and sustained struggle will force India to change its approach.
Ultimately, the solution of Kashmir will have to be in the context of friendly relations between India and Pakistan. India has to be given confidence that its loss in Kashmir will be its gain somewhere else. No one should feel defeated. This has to be a win-win situation for India, Pakistan and Kashmir.
Both Pakistan and the Kashmiris have to travel some distance before they reach their destination. The Kashmiris have already embarked on their journey. Let Pakistan begin its own.
The writer, a former Pakistan ambassador, is adjunct faculty Georgetown University and Syracuse University.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2018