Madness defined

September 14, 2019


A VIDEO clip of Zaid Hamid, aka Lal Topi Wala, has been doing the rounds on social media. In camouflage, his trademark red beret at a rakish angle, and carrying an assault rifle, he exhorts viewers to prepare to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our armed forces in the coming all-out war with India.

Although the would-be warrior is a figure of fun, he does represent a small but significant strand on the right. There are people, in and out of uniform, who seriously think war with India is the only viable option to finally grab occupied Kashmir.

Einstein once said: “The definition of madness is to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We have tried to take Kashmir by force on three occasions, but failed. So now, when the military gap between the two countries is wider than ever, anybody seriously advocating an armed conflict to resolve the Kashmir issue needs a crash course in history.

Fortunately, the ruling duopoly seems to recognise this. Imran Khan and his foreign minister have publicly stated that war is not an option, and the army chief is a pragmatist who recognises reality.

Don’t get me wrong: I oppose the long and painful occupation Kashmiris have suffered, and wish the Indian government hadn’t stolen the 1987 election that has triggered this long cycle of violence in the Valley. But we need to move on, and somehow try and persuade India and the world that Kashmiris deserve better than to be cut off and cooped up.

Knee-jerk reactions hurt us as much as they do India.

One problem has been the diversity of the groups opposing Indian occupation. There are those wanting merger with Pakistan, while others demand freedom from both quarrelling states. Then there are extreme Islamic groups who oppose more secular organisations. Our establishment would support the pro-Pakistan religious groups, but they aren’t necessarily representative of the entire spectrum of Kashmiri opposition.

So here we are, wanting to do something to make India pay for its recent abrogation of Kashmir’s special status. In one sense, India has made our task easier by calling the world’s attention to its oppressive policies. But international opinion has a limited shelf life, and India wields a lot of soft power, apart from being a major market. To imagine that foreigners would sacrifice self-interest for moral principles is living in cloud cuckoo land.

Forget about distant countries with no links to us: the recent refusal by our Muslim friends to support us on Kashmir should serve as a sobering reality check. Despite this setback, politicians and pundits continue to assert that by lobbying foreign leaders, we will somehow gain the support of powerful players who could influence India.

Maleeha Lodhi, our long-serving representative to the UN, has warned of “a greater crisis” if the Kashmir issue isn’t resolved through international intervention. What exactly does she mean? Was she talking about the threat of war? There have been some crude hints that an armed conflict could quickly escalate to a nuclear conflagration. This is an unsubtle attempt to draw the international community into persuading India to find a political solution.

But India has said it will not accept any mediation from anybody. As it refuses to see Kashmir as disputed territory, its position is that it has the right to change the held territory’s constitutional status. We in Pakistan obviously disagree with this view, but for the rest of the world, the principle of non-interference in what they see as internal affairs of other states is sacrosanct.

The 70-year-old UN Kashmir resolution has lost much of its urgency. Apart from being non-binding, it called for Pakistan to withdraw “tribesmen and Pakistani nationals” who were not residents of Kashmir but had come to fight, while India was asked to ‘thin out’ its troops. These steps would set the stage for the plebiscite to ascertain the will of the Kashmiris. Neither country withdrew from its position. Thus, the plebiscite was never held.

So much for history. And while we can rewrite the past, we can’t escape geography. We share a subcontinent with India. Our rivers pass through India-held Kashmir, and pollution knows no borders. Although we have denied air and land transit to Indian planes and trucks, we need to see that knee-jerk reactions hurt us as much as they do India.

Denying the Indian president’s aircraft permission to fly over our airspace was petty, as was the science minister’s tweet mocking the failure of the Indian moon lander. Both India and Pakistan are badly missing the presence of adults in the room.

It is the duty of leaders on both sides to explain the facts of life to their citizens, and not pander to the lowest common denominator. Here, I must say that the Indian prime minister is leading the race to the gutter with his virulent and inflammatory rhetoric.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2019