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August 21, 2019

What next in Kashmir?

Opinion

August 21, 2019

Indian PM Narendra Modi has done what he promised in his election campaign. The repeal of Article 370 has been on the BJP agenda for a while. We in Pakistan just never took it seriously. We probably underestimated Modi and, looking back, it shows how poor we were in our assessment.

Going into the election campaign and looking at the election surveys, it was clear that the BJP under Modi would get a landslide victory – which he eventually achieved. So, no surprises there.

What was surprising was the assessment here that led to the diplomatic inappropriateness of publicly saying that a victory for that the BJP and Modi would help resolve the Kashmir dispute in Pakistan’s favour. PM Modi’s first tenure reconfirmed our worst fears. Modi was well known around the world for his role in the carnage of Muslims in Gujarat. Riding on a wave of Hindu extremism, he led the BJP to win the 2014 elections in India.

We thought Modi as PM would tone down his rhetoric against the Muslim minority in India and work towards a peaceful coexistence with Pakistan. After all, the BJP despite its right-wing Hindu credentials had worked closely with Pakistan in its earlier stint in power. Under PM Vajpayee, we had generally better relations with India. In 1999, Vajpayee took the risk and came to Lahore in the famous bus yatra. Not only did he sign the Lahore resolution, he also pleased most Pakistanis by his expressed commitment to work closely with Pakistan for the betterment of the region.

Many across the globe hoped that it was finally the beginning of a new era between the two countries. Its significance was even more when we consider that the two neighbours had become nuclear powers only a few months earlier in 1998. This was indeed a great diplomatic breakthrough after the world expressed serious apprehension when both India and Pakistan successfully went nuclear.

The Kargil episode in 1999 brought things to a standstill yet again. The relationship got worse after the coup in October 1999, which led to a great setback to the peace efforts that were initiated before the then government was overthrown. Pakistan and India were again locked in a tense relationship and this phase continued for several years.

Relations improved again around 2005 when PM Vajpayee visited Islamabad and signed yet another peace agreement. Many believe that Pakistan and India were seriously working towards a Kashmir settlement but Musharraf’s exit again derailed the entire process.

Since independence in 1947, Kashmir has remained the bone of contention and both countries had fought wars over the disputed territory. Efforts to resolve the issue militarily led to further complications, especially hurting Pakistan’s economic growth. Pakistan was on a take-off stage from an economic standpoint before the 1965 war. Notwithstanding the courage and valor of our armed forces, we got nothing except an economic disaster of a serious magnitude.

There were serious political implications of the war as well. People in former East Pakistan felt isolated giving rise to the feeling that West Pakistan was not interested in safeguarding East Pakistan. The political movement for separation gained momentum after the war.

Some experts may disagree but there appears to be no military solution to resolve the Kashmir dispute. The other options to liberate Kashmir have been tried and found wanting. The involvement of non-state actors too has had disastrous consequences and our Kashmir cause suffered because the world including our friends started blaming us for cross-border terrorism when Pakistan had a perfect case to present to the outside world.

What are the options for Pakistan now with the latest developments? Since 1947, India’s case was as blatant as it could get. Now it has become even worse after the unilateral decision to annex Kashmir within the Indian union. Since 1972, India always referred to the Simla agreement, which recognized Kashmir as disputed territory and one that will be resolved bilaterally. That has been India’s stance and that is why it never agreed to third-party involvement towards resolution.

Now India has unilaterally scrapped the Simla agreement itself – something that it was committed to and which was subsequently reinforced several times. So, Pakistan needs to go on a diplomatic offensive.

The most important thing that we need to do is to tell the world that it’s not about Pakistan and it’s not about India – this is about the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir. India has denied that right to the people of Kashmir since 1947.

Whether we succeed or not – and we earnestly hope we do – we must make the best effort. We should not fail for lack of effort on our part. We must also understand that our domestic audience is convinced on our principled stand. It is the international community which needs to be convinced. More often we have tried to play politics in order to please our own audience.

All this will require sustained efforts; as such we must also show patience. Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of Partition and we owe it to our Kashmiri brethren to resolve it according to their expectations.

The writer is former governor Sindh and former minister for privatisation.

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