Kashmir in the cold

31 Mar 2012


IN a TV interview, Pakistan’s foreign minister “categorically” denied that Pakistan was going to “freeze” the Kashmir dispute, asserting “we have changed the road that leads to resolution of [the] Kashmir issue and other issues that exist with India”.

Foreign Minister Khar has done much to counter the portrayal of Pakistan by the western and Indian media as the ‘epicentre’ of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. She has also done well to uphold Pakistan’s positions in difficult engagements with the US and India. Her remarks during the interview were thus highly unfortunate, reflecting diplomatic naivety and historical inexactitude.

First, there is no point in denying that Kashmir has been put on the ‘back burner’ as far as Pakistan’s diplomacy is concerned. But what was even more disturbing was Ms Khar’s misreading of history and her assertion that we [Pakistan] “are equally responsible” as India for “building animosity and hostility”.

This is not true. It was not Pakistan but India which unilaterally took over Kashmir through an engineered accession, and the peremptory dispatch of troops to Srinagar despite a ‘standstill agreement’ with Pakistan; reneged on its pledge to allow the Kashmiris to determine their own future through a UN-supervised plebiscite; politically compromised or jailed Kashmiri leaders; repeatedly and brutally suppressed the serial uprisings of the Kashmiri peoples, killing over 80,000 since 1989, ‘disappearing’ 10,000, incarcerating thousands more; imposed a military occupation by 700,000 troops in Kashmir.

It is true that Pakistan did support the Kashmiris at various stages in varying degrees to wrest their freedom from India. Unfortunately, our efforts to support Kashmiri freedom were even more ham-handed than the Indian campaigns to suppress the Kashmiris. But while our support may have been inefficient, it should not be perceived as illegal.

In the post-colonial period, international law had evolved in several UN declarations on decolonisation which made it legal to support, even militarily, the struggle of peoples under colonial or foreign occupation for self-determination. How then is Pakistan equally to blame for ‘animosity and hostility’?

What we should accept blame for is losing several strategic opportunities for securing Kashmiri rights and freedoms. The last such opportunity presented itself during the decade of the 1990s. Pakistan’s decision to inject the ‘jihadi’ groups, rather than support the indigenous Kashmiri liberation movement, and the subsequent transgressions and cruelty of religious fanatics, led inevitably to charges of ‘terrorism’ and the progressive delegitimisation of the just Kashmiri freedom struggle.

Post 9/11 and with Pakistani leaders dependent on US largesse to survive, it was not difficult for India to outlaw the Kashmiri jihadist organisations and terminate all support for the Kashmiri freedom struggle. The subsequent effort by Pakistan to evolve a bilateral solution through ‘back-channel’ diplomacy was equally ill-considered. The ‘solution’ would have legitimised the status quo and forever forsaken the rights of the Kashmiris. Blissfully, it was spurned by India as Pakistan descended into political chaos after 2007.

Today, Pakistan is even weaker than during this quixotic endeavour to achieve a ‘final solution’. It is preoccupied with addressing the challenges posed by the US-Nato war in Afghanistan and the frontier regions of Pakistan. It would find it difficult to muster the political, military and diplomatic resources to seriously address the Kashmir dispute. As the Chinese proverb says: ‘When you have the wolf at the front door, you can’t worry about the fox at the back door’.

Thus, putting a settlement of Kashmir on the back burner is tactically sensible and justifiable. Our foreign minister should feel no shame in admitting this openly and explain the logic behind the policy. This would help to retain the public’s trust in our foreign policy.

However, this does not mean that Pakistan should refrain from publicly expressing and upholding its longstanding and legitimate position on Kashmir that a final settlement must be based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council, agreed by and thus binding upon Pakistan and India, calling for a UN-supervised plebiscite to enable the Kashmiri people to determine their own future. Some lawyers have argued that a legal position can lapse with time; Pakistan must ensure against this by regularly and publicly reaffirming its position on Jammu and Kashmir.

For their part, the Kashmiris have not relented in their determination to win their freedom from Indian rule. For the past three years, a large and peaceful movement, led mainly by Kashmiri youth, has been demanding an end to Indian repression. This movement enjoys the support of virtually all Kashmiri political parties. This movement has been systematically suppressed, with frequent resort to massive violence by the Indian and local security forces.

Some of the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteurs have demanded investigations to trace the thousands of missing persons in held Kashmiri as well into the mass graves of 2,700 people discovered recently. Pakistan should be in the forefront of such legitimate endeavours to save the Kashmiris from the violence of India’s occupation.

If the moral, legal and political yardsticks applied to recent crises, such as Libya and Syria, were to be followed also in Kashmir, India would face calls from the Security Council and the OIC to halt its repression, provide a humanitarian corridor for access to the Kashmiri people, withdraw its forces from Kashmiri towns and engage in a political dialogue, mediated by a UN special envoy, to reach a political solution to the crisis.

Publicly reaffirming its position on Kashmir and protesting against violations of the human rights of the Kashmiris is not in contradiction to Pakistan’s desire for dialogue with India. A dialogue is desirable even if it does not yield solutions; so long as it does not compromise fundamental or strategic positions or interests.

A diplomatic dialogue does not require unilateral or peremptory concessions by either side. Nor will appeasement of an adversary, for example, by accepting equal blame for ‘animosity and hostility’, help to achieve breakthroughs even on so-called solvable issues.

Indeed, it is simplistic to conclude that some issues on the Pakistan-India agenda, such as Sir Creek and Siachen, are solvable, while Kashmir and the other main issue not mentioned by the foreign minister, peace and security, are not ‘solvable’ and thus need not be addressed, at least at this time.

We need to think more deeply before accepting this logic. Any dispute becomes ‘solvable’, either when the involved parties accept mutually accommodative concessions or compromises, or when one side in the dispute accepts military or political defeat. Hopefully, Pakistan has not accepted defeat; and compromises are possible on every issue of the Pakistan-India dialogue agenda.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.