The Kartarpur factor

Updated November 15, 2019

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The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Opinions should only be based on facts
Love is wise. Hatred is foolish — Bertrand Russell

WHAT is the significance of Kartarpur? Can it be scaled up to impact India-Pakistan relations? Can it be extended to a Kashmir settlement? Many Indians see it as a ploy by Pakistan to cultivate Sikh goodwill to counter India’s policies towards Pakistan. Nevertheless, Narendra Modi expressed his appreciation for Imran Khan’s initiative.

In Pakistan the initiative is very welcome but it is not expected to break any ice with India especially after the Aug developments in India-held Kashmir (IHK). However, some do hope one good gesture might lead to another including the possibility of Modi taking a more farsighted and statesmanlike approach to Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations.

Coinciding with the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor the Indian supreme court decided the Babri Masjid or Ram Janmabhoomi case in favour of the Hindu community. This elicited condemnation from the Pakistan’s foreign office and a response from the Indian foreign office. The goodwill and possibilities generated by the Kartarpur Corridor opening may have been diluted by the decision of the Indian apex court.

Kashmir has been in lockdown for more than a quarter of a year. The situation is likely to get worse. The Line of Control cannot remain quiet in such circumstances. India is not likely to reverse its decision on Kashmir in the absence of real international pressure, nor is it likely to eliminate the Kashmiri resistance short of an exponential escalation in its already massive human rights violations in the Valley. The international community is well aware of a potential human rights catastrophe in IHK. But, like with climate change, it is currently not politically motivated enough to avoid the worst outcomes.

What is to be done? Pakistan needs to keep its nerve. It has to clean up its act on all fronts.

In a worst-outcome situation, neither Imran Khan nor the Pakistan Army will be able to restrain the people of Azad Kashmir and Pakistan from responding. That will raise the risks of an Indian assault on Pakistan with all its possibly existential consequences for both countries. The very first and least of these consequences would be the closing of the Kartarpur Corridor.

To avoid worst possible outcomes, the UN Security Council will need to get off its butt. While most of the major powers may be inclined to concentrate their pressure on Pakistan, this is not likely to succeed because of the even greater domestic pressure in Pakistan to stop a perceived genocide in IHK. In such a situation, only the veto-wielding powers in the UN Security Country would be in a position to persuade India to relent in order to avert a war, including the real risk of nuclear exchanges.

An alternative scenario is for Pakistan to abandon the Kashmiris in IHK to their fate while maintaining a furious and largely futile diplomatic campaign against Indian atrocities. There are many in Pakistan who quietly or openly advocate such an approach to ensure the survival of the country. Many suspect the government is itself wedded to this approach despite its public denials.

This approach hopefully assumes the Kartarpur initiative might have the potential to set in train a series of developments that could eventually convince India to review its Kashmir policy, restore the status quo before Aug 5, and resume dialogue with a Pakistan that manages to get off the FATF grey list.

But why would Modi respond to such an approach? He certainly resents criticisms of his policies but is under no pressure to revise them. Moreover, his Hindutva base would instantly reject him if he revised the Aug 5 decision. He sees Pakistan not India up the creek. He sees Pakistan not India doing U-turns. He sees himself as having finally settled Kashmir. He sees himself as the embodiment of a triumphant ideology that has given India great power status while putting an end to Pakistan’s dreams of Kashmir.

Modi may even see himself as joining an Asian trio of superpowers (China, Russia and India) that leaves Pakistan out in the cold. He might see this as providing India even greater leverage with the US. He believes Indira Gandhi had an historic opportunity to finally settle Kashmir during the Shimla negotiations in 1972 but was outsmarted by Bhutto. He intends to do no such thing with Imran Khan. In this scenario, Kartarpur will have been a one-off happening.

What is to be done? Pakistan needs to keep its nerve. It has to clean up its act on all fronts. It has to structurally transform itself politically, economically and socially in order to achieve stability and increasing prosperity and, just as importantly, project a positive image to the world which will allow its point of view to register. None of this is happening. When it does the people will acknowledge it loud and clear without the government having to shower praise on itself.

What ‘out-of-the-box’ initiatives are available to the prime minister? He could consider a statement reiterating his commitment to take risks for peace even at this hour of minimal hope. He could stun the world by indicating a willingness to travel to Delhi to make a joint statement with Modi in which both leaders acknowledge the urgent need to address the following:

(i) common threats especially climate catastrophe;

(ii) the need to work towards eliminating conflict which could escalate dangerously for the two countries, the region and the world;

(iii) the core concerns of each other ie eliminating terrorism in all its forms including state terrorism, and moving towards a principled settlement of the Kashmir dispute acceptable to the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan;

(iv) curbing, minimising and eliminating mutually hateful narratives, negative media coverage, etc;

(v) the revival of Kashmir- and LoC-related understandings and CBMs to reduce tensions and provocations;

(vi) a comprehensive plan of bilateral exchanges, trade and investment, conferences and seminars on a range of relevant issues; and

(vii) developing a national consensus in support of these initiatives.

The ball would be in India’s court.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

ashrafjqazi@gmail.com

www.ashrafjqazi.com

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2019