Kashmir scenarios

October 29, 2019

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The writer, a former ambassador, is adjunct faculty Georgetown and Syracuse University.
The writer, a former ambassador, is adjunct faculty Georgetown and Syracuse University.

AS the Kashmir dispute has evolved, so have the challenges for Pakistan’s Kashmir strategy. The present challenge is the most complex yet it may offer the most opportunity.

A successful Kashmir strategy has to be part of Pakistan’s national policy as this is a national not just a foreign policy issue. As for the latter part, an effective diplomatic strategy by Pakistan will possibly have four elements: the people of Kashmir and their heroic struggle; the Kashmiri leadership; Pakistan’s diplomacy; and the campaign by the Kashmiri diaspora and overseas Pakistanis. These elements need to put coordinated pressure on India for which there are four instruments: international community, especially big powers; the international media; the UN and international human rights groups; and Pakistan-India ties.

The core element of diplomatic strategy will no doubt be the Kashmiri resistance which in recent years has grown stronger. The youth that was once a follower is now a leader. Educated, attuned to contemporary modes of activism, and adept at social media and provocative videos, the youth have been the driving force of the movement since Burhan Wani’s death in 2016. The movement will rebound once India eases the restrictions.

The key instrument of pressure on India will be the international campaign, especially in the West, by Kashmiris and Pakistan through media, human rights and advocacy groups, and the think tank community. The campaign must aim at domestic politics by mobilising public opinion about humanitarian issues, and project an air of international crisis in the foreign policy establishment. The US congressional hearing on the human rights of Kashmiris on Oct 22 was just one example of the positive result of such an effort.

There is going to be a fierce clash of wills.

If successful, the campaign may taint India’s international standing but, by itself, it will not be enough. It could be consequential only along with any other cost of India’s brutal repression. The cost may include potential domestic instability, harm to Pakistan-India relations, threat to regional peace, risk of war, and loss of economic opportunities for India.

So how does Pakistan raise the cost? Through a comprehensive national strategy. Pakistan has to ensure that the outsiders’ view of Indian repression is not obscured by Indian allegations of terrorism by taking a firm action against jihadists and raising its own international standing. India’s rise has been exaggerated by Pakistan’s decline.

Pakistan will play a critical role in raising a voice for the Kashmiris internationally. But a country’s voice cannot rise above its image. Agreed, Pakistan is not supporting the jihadists but as long as it is perceived that they are present in Pakistan, there will be suspicions of a liaison. Compliance with FATF demands will also be a challenge.

The refrain in Washington is that Pakistan must prevent militant groups from operating on its soil. India is not the only factor here. Militants have relations with the Afghan Taliban and can affect Afghanistan’s peace process. Washington is understandably concerned. And so should be Pakistan. Instability in Afghanistan will affect both, Pakistan’s stability and the Kashmir cause.

One hopes Pakistan realises that external challenges must not be fought at the cost of internal order and stability. Security, economic progress and political stability are all interconnected. As an aggregate of national strength, they should enhance rather than weaken each other. By raising its national strength Pakistan will enhance its value as an economic partner for India. Ignoring Pakistan will add to the cost of India’s repression of Kashmiris.

There is going to be a fierce clash of wills. Modi will continue with repression, attempt to buy Kashmiris’ allegiance with economic incentives and strike political bargains with new collaborators, hoping it will pacify the area. If he succeeds Pakistan must step back and rethink its strategy. It should not get ahead of Kashmiris.

But if Modi is unable to stem the tide of Kashmiri aspirations for azadi, something has to give. Either there will be a colossal humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands becoming refugees, a development that will destabilise the region putting at risk India’s rise, or India will have to come to terms with Kashmiris’ wishes. Getting something in return like friendly relations with an ascending Pakistan will be a good incentive to make a policy shift.

If Pakistan does not rise, Pakistan-India relations may not factor in the resolution of the dispute with India continuing to feel it does not gain anything from good ties; and Pakistan believing it does not lose anything from bad relations. It would be a negative status quo, for us and the Kashmiris.

The bottom line is, the onus for a Kashmir solution lies as much with Pakistan as with India. The struggle for Kashmir is indeed the struggle for Pakistan.

The writer, a former ambassador, is adjunct faculty Georgetown and Syracuse University.

Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2019