- Islamabad’s limited options
Predictably, India annexing the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir has evoked a very strong reaction from Pakistan. Diplomatic ties have been downgraded; trade suspended and cultural relations, already interrupted since Pulwama, severed.
The usual homilies that New Delhi will get a befitting response if it embarked on any military adventure against Pakistan have been thrown in. However, unfortunately ground realities are not in Pakistan ‘s favour.
In the backdrop of a rather muted international response– even from our traditional friends– Islamabad has few options. Barring any military adventure by India, a military response is off the table.
Pakistan has after the event embarked on a diplomatic offensive. But it is a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Narendra Modi has presented us with a fait accompli while the prime minister and his inner sanctum were in self-congratulatory mode after an ostensibly successful US visit. President Donald Trump’s offer of the USA playing a mediatory role on Kashmir was touted as a big diplomatic coup and a setback for New Delhi.
It’s another matter that the US President was only responding to a question by a Pakistani journalist in the presence of Prime Minister Khan.
Admittedly a thaw with Washington after a hiatus of five years was good news. But the euphoria was short-lived and misplaced.
It merely engendered a false sense of security. While we were gloating at India’ s obvious discomfort over Trump’s sudden volte-face, Modi had other plans.
The USA is wooing Pakistan, according to some reports, viewing Imran as ‘incredibly crucial’ to the Afghan peace process. Alice G Wells, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, has just concluded a five-day visit to Pakistan.
Ostensibly the main purpose of her visit was discussing the progress made by Islamabad on complying with FATF (Financial Action Task Force) tough conditionalities before it makes any decision on removing Pakistan from its gray list in October.
However according to diplomatic sources, the Wells visit was also to reassure Islamabad that Washington is seeking a strategic, rather than merely a tactical or transactional, relationship with Islamabad. Hence it is no coincidence that the US State Department spokesperson has clarified that Washington continues to regard Kashmir as a disputed territory between India and Pakistan.
China on the other hand, as the outcome of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi ‘s dash to Beijing, has categorically supported Islamabad’s position on Kashmir in unequivocal terms. It has urged a Kashmir settlement based on relevant UNSC (United Nation Security Council) resolutions.
This is good news for Pakistan. Islamabad can expect at least two permanent members of UNSC to support its stance. However, Russia still remains the wild card in the pack. And so, do Britain and France.
So far as Russia is concerned, in the past Moscow has supported New Delhi by exercising its veto in the SC on Kashmir. Relations with Russia have somewhat improved since then. But in the backdrop of Vladimir Putin ‘s annexation of Crimea in 2014, it is an uphill task.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20. But it was clear for weeks before the actual event that New Delhi was planning something big in occupied Kashmir.
There was a security clampdown in the valley. Already heavily deployed, Indian forces were exponentially beefed up.
There were general musings that the Hindutva-fuelled BJP government was on the verge of scraping Article 370, thus revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Nonetheless it still remains a mystery why Islamabad failed to smell the coffee beans?
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi claims that Islamabad was aware of New Delhi intentions to annex occupied Kashmir. If that was so, why did he embark upon Haj just a day before Modi’s sinister announcement?
Undoubtedly Haj is mandatory for every Muslim but the worthy Makhdoom could have performed it the subsequent year. If the Foreign Minister was in the know, he should have embarked to Beijing and other friendly capitals before the event, not post facto.
Nonetheless it will be grossly unfair to blame the present government for the current happenings in Kashmir. It is a collective historical failure of past governments and security establishments.
The biggest blow to the Kashmir cause was dealt by Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf during their respective eras. Zia transformed the Kashmir conundrum to merely a jihadi cause rather than a self-determination issue through his policy of making Pakistan a base for jihadists of all hues and colours.
One can argue that had it not been for the ‘Kashmiri jihad’ the issue would have been long dead. But thanks to the collective failure of successive governments, New Delhi succeeded in painting an indigenous struggle against the Indian yoke as a function of cross border terrorism.
Perhaps the bus diplomacy launched by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in February 1999 could have been a defining moment for a long-lasting improvement in India-Pakistan relations. But Musharraf effectively sabotaged Vajpayee’s Lahore yatra.
An erstwhile hardliner, Vajpayee visiting the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore symbolically had far reaching implications for a possible thaw. But this was lost on general Musharraf who had other plans.
The naive commando general was convinced that, by occupying the Kargil heights, Pakistan could cut communications lines between Srinagar and New Delhi. The hare-brained scheme launched in May 1999 failed, at a tremendous loss to Pakistan’s image and to the military itself.
India successfully exploited the misadventure to its advantage by painting Pakistan as an abettor of India-specific terrorism. Ironically, later at the Agra summit in July 2001, the same Musharraf, who as Army Chief shunned Vajpayee in Lahore, was keen to strike a deal with him.
Ironically Khan and his nemesis Nawaz Sharif have something in common. Both failed to decipher Modi’s unique characteristics. Sharif as prime minister mistakenly thought that Narendra Modi assuming power was his Vajpayee moment.
He visited New Delhi on Modi’s oath taking in May 2014 only to be read the riot act by the latter. Out of the blue, Sharif later in December 2015 invited the Indian Prime Minister to Lahore for an unscheduled visit on his grand-daughter’s wedding.
To be fair, Modi played along, but soon after the attack on Pathankot air base, if any progress was to be made, it was nipped in the bud.
In case of Khan he went public in endorsing Modi in the recent Indian general elections that he won with a thumping majority. He naively assumed that Modi, despite being a hardliner, would facilitate a solution to the Kashmir problem. Thankfully, no overt gestures were made towards the newly elected prime minister that Islamabad would have later regretted.
In the developing scenario Islamabad has to tread very cautiously. In the present economic dire straits, it can literally not afford another war with India. Already on the Gray List of the FATF and the sword of the Black List hanging over it, Islamabad cannot risk being seen as aiding and abetting crossborder insurgencies through its proxies along the erstwhile LoC (Line of Control).
Aggressive diplomacy remains the only viable option. But it is still unclear what kind of resolution that will also carry Islamabad wants to bring in the UNSC.
The chairman of the Senate standing committee on foreign affairs, Senator Mushahid Hussain, has rightly asked the government to prepare an action plan to internationalise Kashmir. But it is a pity that, apart from the Foreign Minister himself, there is no parliamentarian in the so-called implementation committee formed by the government for the purpose.