Palestine and Kashmir together again | Pakistan Today

Palestine and Kashmir together again

  • Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley pledge echoes Modi’s on Kashmir


The consequences of the past are now unfolding, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, engaged like Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in an electoral battle, has pledged to annex the Jordan Valley to Israel. That land is about 60 percent of the West Bank conquered by Israel in the 1967 War, and is subject to UN resolutions. Kashmir too is a disputed territory, and the BJP, during the recent election campaign, had also committed to ending its special status.

If Netanyahu retains office, which is not certain, he will fulfil this promise, just as he fulfilled an earlier promise to annex the Golan Heights, also conquered in 1967, but from Syria, as opposed to Jordan, from which the present territory is being taken. His supporters see within the same context the USA’s recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the shifting of its embassy there. That move had long been proposed, and long opposed on the ground that it would outrage sentiment in the Muslim world, and cause widespread rioting. When it did take place, no rioting happened, though it did result in an OIC summit which produced a routine resolution of condemnation. The Golan Heights annexation produced even less of a reaction, and it can be seen that the present proposed annexation has hardly received any notice.

Those Pakistanis offended by the recent lionising of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Gulf potentates, including civil awards by Bahrain and the UAE, should find some comfort in the latest development, for it represents a comeuppance for the Arabs, almost as if a divine force was showing them the consequences of ignoring the Kashmir issue.

The possibility of unification is remote to the extent that it is not on any politicians’ agenda. However, while Muslim unity was once an ideal, pressures on the Muslim world might now make it a compulsion

Within the Arab world, the Palestinians are a little like the Kashmiris are in Pakistani. In Pakistan, there are two sets of Kashmiris: state subjects or citizens of AJK, and ethnic Kashmiris, who had been settled in the Punjab from the 19th century onwards. Mian Nawaz Sharif is an ethnic Kashmiri, and his ancestors migrated to Lahore from Kashmir via Amritsar, a route which swelled greatly at Partition, when the large Kashmiri community of Amritsar moved to Pakistan. While a lot of Kashmiris have a Partition experience in their personal or familial memory, all Palestinians have some refugee experience. It must be noted that Kashmiris have two types of migration, both at Partition: either from India (mostly East Punjab) or from the princely state.

Very often, better educated, Palestinians were employed to run the states of nouveau riche Bedouins. However, a very common Arab experience is to have found out about An-Nakba (the Catastrophe, when Jewish armed gangs engaged in ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 on their way to creating Israel) from someone one knows as a neighbour, a classmate, a colleague. The relation can even be closer: the Queen of Jordan, the wife of King Abdullah II, is a Palestinian.

Thus an interesting correspondence emerges. Both Palestine and Kashmir are Muslim causes which have received a fresh impetus in 2019 after originating in 1948, but while the former is an Arab cause, the latter is Ajami. The Ajamis have not abandoned the Palestinians in the way the Arabs have abandoned the Kashmiris. Indeed, the Arabs have apparently abandoned the Palestinians too, just as much as Pakistan is seen as hanging back for the Kashmiris. The firmest backers of the Palestinians are the Iranians, Ajamis, who are backing a number of Shia militias in the Arab world, thus replacing the Arab-Ajami divide with a sectarian one.

Pakistanis are told to place their reliance on the international community as manifested in the UN, and further that the reason why that international community is not paying much attention to the suffering of the Kashmiris is because Pakistan is economically weak, while India is a market of a billion people.

If so, Pakistan will probably never be able to compete with India, because it can never be more than a fifth of India’s size as a market, and India will probably always get more foreign investment. The Arab countries joined other OPEC members in exerting the economic weapon, when they quadrupled the price of oil in 1973. However, it did not help the Palestinians.

One of Israel’s advantages has been US backing. India now has that same backing. Pakistan had long relied on its US alliance, which saw it getting involved in Afghanistan twice, but even that has now dissolved. Pakistan’s fallback position is China. However, it should not be forgotten that China has large enough a trade with India to make the economic argument in the favour of India, not Pakistan.

The Palestinian issue is seen as one for the whole Arab world, but actually it does not cover North Africa. Similarly, the Kashmir issue is not an Ajami issue, but merely a Pakistani one. Both are essentially national issues, and for them to blame other nations is not fair. Several peninsular Arab regimes think the USA guarantees their survival, and have grown colder to Palestine because they believe that will bring them closer to Israel, and thus to the USA.

However, if these issues are seen as Islamic issues, the dimension changes, and both become much larger. At present, the OIC has held a special session for Palestine, but took no action. Together, the OIC represents a market about the same size as India’s, added to which it not only has immense hydrocarbon wealth but also huge solar power potential. However, at present it represents nothing but a failure of the multilateral approach.

It is also possible to discern other crises which would be helped by Muslim unity: The Rohingya are being driven of their homes by Myanmar, there is an increasing Uighur problem in China, and then there is the issue of Iraqis and Syrians.

The possibility of unification is remote to the extent that it is not on any politicians’ agenda. However, while Muslim unity was once an ideal, pressures on the Muslim world might now make it a compulsion. The politics is surprisingly simple. One of the strongest foreign policy goals of Pakistanis is to liberate Kashmir. That is unachievable within the context of current Pakistani statehood. One of the strongest goals of Arabs is to ensure Palestinian liberation. That too is proving impossible to achieve. If the need to achieve these goals leads to an alliance, or even a merger, who will be to blame? It might seem odd to speak of such a possibility while Arabs and Iranians are accusing each other of fomenting war in the Persian Gulf, but the crises demanding it were not made by the regimes doing the fomenting.