Promises broken and kept

Updated August 17, 2019

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The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.
The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

NO Indian prime minister could have stated his promise to Kashmiris more clearly, eloquently and unequivocally: “We do not want to win people against their will and with the help of armed force; and, if the people of Jammu and Kashmir State wish to part company with us, they can go their way and we shall go ours. We want no forced marriages, no forced unions” (Jawaharlal Nehru, Aug 7, 1952).

This solemn commitment was soon broken but not all was lost. Articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution granted India-held Kashmir an autonomous status within the Indian union. Howsoever unsatisfactory and diluted by subsequent governments, in principle, they provided some measure of self-rule. But last week, almost exactly 67 years later, the remaining bits were blasted away when the Modi government revoked these articles.

In a world increasingly tolerant of majoritarian diktat, no global outcry followed. Awed by India’s economic might and growing political clout, the OIC limited itself to the “curtailment of religious freedoms of Kashmiri Muslims”. China took the opportunity to emphasise its own dispute over Aksai-Chin, stopping well short of condemning India. Most disappointingly, for all the red carpets, rose showers, and personal chauffeuring by Prime Minister Khan, MBS of Saudi Arabia kept his royal mouth tightly shut. The UAE went with India.

Pakistan has kept its commitments to Kashmiris; now it must fulfil promises made to its own citizens.

Friendless, and with the euphoric spurt from Trump’s off-the-cuff mediation offer gone in a puff of smoke, Pakistan says it will still continue to fight back. Our leaders say that to do nothing would violate our 70-year-old commitment to the people of Kashmir to whom we promised political, moral, and diplomatic (PMD) support. Indeed, for 70 years Pakistan has copiously supplied PMD support — followed by support that went well beyond PMD. The latter has come back to haunt; the sword of FATF hangs in full view. To let it fall invites economic catastrophe; to work around it risks perils and pitfalls.

Let’s examine the options available to Pakistan.

Building upon BBC reports and the harrowing news leaking out of Kashmir, Pakistan could focus upon the tribulations of an occupied population. More PMD stuff is easily doable — fly Pakistani and Kashmiri flags together on national days in Pakistan and its overseas embassies; instead of the annual Kashmir Day (Feb 5) make total national shutdowns biannual or perhaps even monthly; bring still more energetic speakers like Zaid Hamid on to TV screens; start morning school assemblies with pledges to liberate Kashmir; etc.

What then? Jacking up public fervour takes little. But as expectations rise, so will the clamour to do more. This shall challenge the Pakistani state, and appeal to discordant voices within the establishment. Public rumblings against the no-war line taken by Prime Minister Khan and Foreign Minister Qureshi — who presumably took it after GHQ nodded its approval — are already audible. There is talk of betrayal.

This is an open vulnerability awaiting exploitation by a desperate opposition that is being hounded to the ground by Khan. Unprincipled politicians could make passionate appeals to a charged public that thinks war with India just means downing a few more Bisons and capturing more Abhinandans. The establishment’s inaction will seem inexplicable. Just as Musharraf was pilloried after 9/11 for being an American stooge and then targeted by suicide attacks, Khan and company could be held as sellouts to the IMF for unduly harassing Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar.

This challenge can only increase in severity in the months ahead. Kashmiris, whether aided or unaided by Pakistan, are bound to react against yet more brutalisation. More Pakistani flags will appear in protest demonstrations but Modi has taken the gamble of his life and doesn’t care. He will simply lay the blame for another Pulwama on Pakistan’s doorstep. How clean and limited the subsequent Indian surgical strike will be — and similarly for the expected counterstrike by Pakistan — one cannot predict.

On the diplomatic front, Pakistan could engage pricey PR firms, send swarms of diplomats abroad, and require its foreign minister to hop non-stop from one capital to the next. Prime Minister Khan, in his speech before the Azad Kashmir Assembly, promised to become Kashmir’s ambassador to the world. He is trying his best. One doesn’t know if Trump will pick up the phone, but so far Khan’s calls to Boris Johnson, Mohammad bin Sultan, and Tayyip Erdogan have produced plain vanilla stuff. It’s not his fault — Nawaz Sharif too had tried and then let his failure eventually dribble through ‘Dawn leaks’.

On the nuclear side, there’s not much to be done. Adding a few more warheads, SLBMs, TNWs, cruise missiles, or increasing ranges and accuracies will have zero effect upon Kashmir. Many years ago, Pakistan and India crossed the point where they could mutually obliterate each other. This, for better or worse, means that the LoC has been frozen. Apart from occasional fiery threats from second-tier political leaders, both countries carefully avoided mention of nuclear weapons after Pulwama. This is very different from the shrillness during India-Pakistan crises in 2002 (Parakaram), 1999 (Kargil), May 1990, and possibly 1987 (Brasstacks).

Pakistan has fulfilled its PMD commitments to the people of Kashmir and done every bit it could. Now it must repair the broken commitments made earlier to the people of Pakistan. The country is in bad shape. It is financially desperate; science and technology-wise it stands nowhere; the largely unskilled workforce is unequipped for a modern economy; population rise is out of control; education is of abysmal quality and access to it is small; work ethics are poor and the citizenry prone to violent behaviour. It has been outstripped by Bangladesh which now enjoys a higher GNP per capita, has much greater foreign exchange reserves, a tight lid on population growth, and offers a much wider net of social services.

The solemn commitments made to the people of Pakistan by every subsequent political leader since Mohammad Ali Jinnah must finally be taken seriously. Although the window is narrowing, it can still be done. The condition: prioritise social welfare and economic development. All else must perforce take care of itself — we come first, everyone else comes second.

The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2019