Pakistan’s Kashmir strategy

01 Sep 2019


The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

MODI’S abrupt and illegal move to annexe occupied Jammu & Kashmir was a moment of truth for Pakistan, the Kashmiri people, India’s ‘secularists” and the world community.

In Pakistan, those who believed that a compromise on Jammu & Kashmir would end Indian hostility and promote cooperation have had their eyes opened. It is now evident that for Modi and his BJP-RSS cohort, a ‘final solution’ for Kashmir (through demographic transformation) and hostility towards Pakistan are not merely electoral artifices; they are part of their supremacist vision of a Hindu India that is to be ruthlessly realised.

Pakistan has had to adjust quickly to this ugly reality. Prime Minister Imran Khan believes his earlier offers of a dialogue, and Pakistan’s self-restraint in last February’s military exchanges, were seen by Modi as signs of weakness and appeasement. He is now committed to advocating the Kashmir cause globally as the Kashmiris’ “ambassador”.

Pakistan’s early diplomatic response was standard: recall of ambassadors, termination of trade and approaches to the UN and human rights organisations.

The initiative to raise Kashmir in the UN Security Council was bold.

The UNSC’s “informal consultations” on Jammu & Kashmir, after an interregnum of 50 years, agreed by all 15 members, represent a clear diplomatic victory for Pakistan. This affirmed that Jammu & Kashmir is disputed territory and not India’s internal matter. The council, now actively seized of the issue, will take cognisance of the ongoing developments in India-held Kashmir.

The legitimacy of the Kashmiris’ struggle must be propagated on the basis of international law.

Strong expressions of concern have also emanated from the UN and the global human rights organisations (except, strangely, from Pakistani organisations) regarding India’s round-the-clock curfew, communications and news blackout, arbitrary arrests and violent and lethal suppression of protests.

Islamabad has announced that Pakistan’s foreign minister will raise India’s human rights violations in the Human Rights Council that convenes in Geneva in early September.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has declared that he will strongly propound Kashmir’s cause in his address to the UN General Assembly (reportedly on Sept 27) and in his meetings with other heads of state and government.

Sadly, while India’s so-called free press has rallied around Modi’s illegal move to integrate occupied Kashmir, and covered up the massive repression underway there, sections of the Pakistani media have already begun to carp about the PTI government’s alleged failure to craft a Kashmir policy and secure external support, ignoring what has been achieved and the deleterious impact of their critique on the morale of the oppressed Kashmiris.

There is no doubt that the Arab and Islamic world is weak and divided. The OIC’s voice has been muted, not only on Kashmir, but even on Palestine, the raison d’être for its creation. Its unity and influence cannot be revived instantly by Pakistan.

Read: OIC reaffirms internationally recognised status of Kashmir dispute, its resolution through plebiscite

Yet, Kuwait was supportive in the UNSC; Saudi Arabia has issued a statement of concern; as has the OIC Secretariat and the Islamic Human Rights Council. Hopefully, the OIC will eventually come together to defend the fundamental rights of the Kashmiris.

More important will be the positions of the major powers, especially the five permanent members of the UNSC. Geopolitics will play an important part in determining their positions.

So far, China has declared its support for Pakistan’s position. Pakistan’s strategy will have to build on this critical support. Russia will walk a fine line between its traditional relationship with India and its new strategic partnership with China and, by extension, with Pakistan. The US will use India’s self-created vulnerability on Kashmir to keep it in line, as it flirts with Pakistan to get the Afghan deal done with the Taliban. (Trump’s mediation offer was a non-starter and should not divert Pakistan’s attention.) France is desperate to replace Russia as India’s main arms supplier and will continue to act as India’s surrogate in the UNSC. The UK may be sympathetic on human rights issues but, like many others, will take refuge in the impotent advocacy of ‘bilateral’ Pakistan-India talks on the Kashmir dispute.

While building its strategy with China’s support, Pakistan would also need to secure US acquiescence for its Kashmir objectives. For this purpose, Islamabad can use the leverage provided by its facilitation of the US-Taliban negotiations. France will need to be neutralised by stronger diplomatic and other measures.

The compulsion for the Security Council and the international community to intervene in the dispute and promote a solution will depend on Pakistan’s persistence in propagating the Kashmir cause in the face of Indian threats and coercion and, even more importantly, on the resilience and strength of the Kashmiri people’s freedom struggle. The world will intervene if ethnic cleansing and genocide occurs in Kashmir or if there is a real danger of another Pakistan-India war.

Confronted by Modi’s attempt to eliminate Kashmir’s identity and autonomy, the people of occupied Jammu & Kashmir have no choice but to resist. This will now be a universal sentiment among Kashmiris. There will be few fence sitters or Indian collaborators. There is also likely to be greater support among the Kashmiris for armed resistance. Militant organisations, especially indigenous groups like Hizbul Mujahideen, rather than the Hurriyet’s political leadership, will lead the new struggle.

Pakistan will need to adopt a clear and politically defensible position on the Kashmiri freedom struggle. On the one hand, it must propagate the legitimacy of the struggle on the basis of international law and the numerous UN resolutions. On the other hand, Islamabad will need to distance itself from proscribed terrorist organisations that may enter the anticipated fray in occupied Jammu & Kashmir.

Ultimately, if India confronts a Kashmiri insurgency, a resilient Pakistan, international pressure and an impaired economy, it may agree to negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement with Pakistan and the Kashmiris. But the Hindu fascists may choose not to compromise. Bleeding in occupied Kashmir, they are likely provoke another war with Pakistan, bringing Armageddon to South Asia and much of the world.

The international community must thus act now to stop them.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2019