Policy adrift

Published August 28, 2019
The writer is an author and journalist.
The writer is an author and journalist.

IMRAN Khan has urged Pakistanis to come out of their homes, offices and workplaces every week for half an hour to show solidarity with the Kashmiri people fighting Indian occupation. Declaring himself an ambassador for the Kashmiri cause, the prime minister has vowed to raise the issue of Indian atrocities on every international forum. All that may sound very earnest.

Yet there still lacks a clear policy direction on the situation arising from the latest Indian action in the disputed territory. There was nothing new and substantive in his, yet another, rambling address to the nation. As usual it was an unprepared speech by Mr Khan on an extremely sensitive national policy matter.

One expected him to tell the nation about his government’s latest initiatives on the diplomatic and political fronts to mobilise international support for the Kashmiri struggle for the right of self-determination. More importantly, what are the options for Pakistan to deal with the worsening crisis? We cannot move the international community into action by raising the spectre of a possible nuclear conflagration.

One wonders about the relevance of ‘Riyasat-e-Madina’ in the PM’s speech on India-held Kashmir (IHK). Describing a well-calculated and ideologically driven move as a mere “mistake” exposes the confusion in Imran Khan’s understanding of Modi’s muscular nationalism. Of course we must express solidarity with the Kashmiri freedom struggle, but there are many other and better ways to do so than wasting 30 minutes of the nation’s productive time every week.

The world’s silence over India’s actions in IHK also reflects our diplomatic failure.

Undoubtedly there has been unprecedented coverage in the western media of Indian brutalities and human rights violations that exposes Modi’s claim of normality returning to the occupied territory. But that is not sufficient to compel other countries to stand with the Kashmiri people. The international community’s silence over the lockdown of more than eight million people and the suppression of their fundamental democratic rights may be driven by geopolitical and economic considerations, but it also reflects our diplomatic failure.

Even Pakistan’s closest allies in the Muslim world are not willing to express any sympathy for the plight of the Kashmiri people, leave aside condemning Modi’s annexation of a disputed territory. It is not surprising that the UAE has honoured the Indian prime minister with its highest national award. Interestingly, Iran is one of the few Muslim countries to have spoken out for the Kashmiri people.

Surely India’s growing economic power has helped it expand its influence in the Gulf region, but our own diplomatic shortcomings have also been a factor in us losing our clout in what was once considered Pakistan’s staunchest support base. The only solace for us is a statement issued by the OIC contact group expressing concern over the situation in Kashmir.

It was indeed a diplomatic success for Pakistan when the UN Security Council held a meeting on the Kashmir issue for the first time in over 50 years. The statement by the UN Secretary General on Kashmir is also significant. But there is still no sign of international pressure on the Indian government to stop human rights violations in the disputed territory. For that there was a need for a more aggressive diplomatic initiative. Telephonic conversations with foreign leaders are not enough.

It is a right decision by the government to raise the issue at the UN’s Human Rights Committee in Geneva. The committee has previously released two reports on the human rights situation in Kashmir. The censure of the Indian action by the UN committee would certainly be a moral victory for the Kashmiri people, but for that a lot of lobbying and diplomatic work is needed.

However, the option of taking the Kashmir issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as indicated by the prime minister, should be reconsidered. Firstly, there is the question about the court’s jurisdiction over the dispute. Secondly, any such move would need the consent of both parties in the conflict. The public announcement by the Pakistani leadership to go to the ICJ without even examining the ramifications of such a move is typical of the government’s impulsiveness on crucial policy decisions.

Foreign policy is too a serious job to be thus handled. The latest crisis has badly exposed the amateurishness of our leadership in dealing with critical issues. The irresistible fondness of our foreign minister to be in the limelight has made a parody of diplomacy. Long harangues at frequent press talks, TV interviews and twitter messages every minute and on everything, turn serious matters into political gimmickry.

The latest statement by Shah Mahmood Qureshi hailing President Trump’s comments on his offer of mediation on the Kashmir dispute during joint press talks with the Indian prime minister was completely misplaced. There has not been any fresh offer for mediation from the US president. There is no point in raising the issue as India has made it very clear that it would not agree to any third party intervention in the dispute.

We must be very careful not to exaggerate the US role in resolving the Kashmir problem. Barring a few official comments expressing concern over recent developments in Kashmir, there has not been any condemnation of the Indian action. It is a similar situation with the other Western countries.

China is one of the few countries that have come out with a categorical statement criticising the Indian action. With limited options Pakistan needs to up its diplomatic efforts. There is also a need to forge a national consensus on our Kashmir policy. Political instability at home would not help to meet serious diplomatic challenges.

While Pakistan’s diplomatic and political support is crucial, it will be the struggle of the Kashmiri people that could ultimately push the international community to act. It is evident that even the use of massive force by India has failed to put down the Kashmiri resistance.

It has been three weeks since a lockdown was imposed on the disputed territory. There have been few examples in recent times of such a protracted freedom struggle. Modi’s virulent nationalism has widened the political and social fault lines in India. For Pakistan it is important not to see Kashmir as a territorial dispute, but a struggle for the right of self- determination.

The writer is an author and journalist.


Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2019


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