Thursday May 23, 2024

Kashmir: one year on

By Mohammad Zubair
August 05, 2020

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was clear in his plans to make Indian Occupied Kashmir part of the Indian Union. In the election campaign for the 2019 elections, he repeatedly announced that he would do away with Article 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution.

No Indian leader before him had ever attempted to change this special status for Occupied Kashmir. The special status was a recognition that this is a disputed territory and unless a final resolution is agreed, the status will remain unchanged.

The present Pakistani leadership including the Foreign Office has no faith in PM Modi because of his radical Hindu nationalist policies during the first term of his premiership. PM Modi literally changed India from a secular to a fundamentalist Hindu country during his first term – a process that continues to this day. Indian Muslims in particular continue to feel the wrath of PM Modi’s fundamentalist policies.

Despite Modi’s past record, his repeated announcements regarding Kashmir, his warmongering rhetoric (war was only averted in Feb 2019 due to Pakistan’s restraint and international pressure), for some reason PM Imran Khan thought a BJP victory in 2019 would be better and would pave the way for a resolution to the Kashmir conflict. He expressed this desire publicly which in the diplomatic sense was inappropriate. Perhaps this led the Pakistani leadership, including the Foreign Office, not to anticipate what was coming.

When the Modi government passed the resolution on August 5, 2019, our government was caught off guard. PM Imran Khan had been making repeated efforts to build a working relationship with India and so he thought that India would not respond in the manner that it did. This was a mistake. More worrying was the response. The immediate response should have been to contact world leaders and brief them on the gravity of the situation but for several days no such contact was established.

Soon after the Indian action, the OIC’s Foreign Ministers Conference was taking place in Abu Dhabi. Pakistan had a great opportunity to hit back and expose India and highlight not just the latest Indian act of repealing Articles 370 and 35-A but also to inform the world’s foreign ministers of Indian brutalities in Occupied Kashmir. Fearing reaction from the Kashmiris, India had virtually installed a 24-hour curfew in the entire valley, with basic services such as the internet disconnected. In addition, there were serious human rights violations.

To cover up its brutalities, the Indian government also imposed strict censorship on its media and stopped all international media from travelling to Kashmir. But this repression by the Indian authorities was getting wide coverage in the international media and it was not so difficult to put pressure on India to reverse its decision. At least India could have been forced to lift the curfew and allow free access to the media.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, it was more of an embarrassment for Pakistan. For the first time in the OIC’s history, India was invited to attend the conference – again showing that Pakistan had done no preparatory work and had again been caught off guard.

Pakistan has faced a similar situation at the first OIC Conference in Rabat, Morocco in 1969. The then Indian foreign minister was invited to attend the conference, the rationale being that Indian Muslims must be represented at such a major forum. Pakistan’s then president Yahya Khan refused to budge even after extreme pressure was exerted by major Muslim leaders. The Indian foreign minister who was already in Rabat had to leave the conference. This was a great diplomatic victory for Pakistan. Had we not taken a principled stand then, India could have become a regular member of the OIC.

Not this time though. Even after what India did on August 5, 2019 and subsequent state repression against poor Kashmiris, it was India that was dictating the terms.

In September, Pakistan again had a great opportunity to present its case at the annual session of the UN General Assembly in New York. But despite the presence of the PM with his entire team including the foreign minister, Pakistan could not get a resolution passed to condemn the August 5, 2019 action. We could not even get enough votes to condemn the serious human rights violations in Kashmir. In short, we got nothing from the important forum.

It’s been one year since India took the unprecedented decision that formally changed the status of Kashmir. In this one year, we have not been able to do much to force India to back off from its unprincipled stance.

Symbolism is important but Pakistan needs to go beyond processions, statements or standing silent for half an hour. We need to do much more if we have to achieve any breakthrough towards a permanent settlement in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir.

The Kashmir dispute remains Pakistan’s most important foreign policy objective. The first few months after August 5, 2019 provided us the momentum – but that was lost. And to be fair to the government, no diplomatic initiatives were possible in the last 4-5 months due to the Covid-19 situation. Kashmir for now seems to be out of the radar of the international community, including our best friends.

When this government came in power in August 2018, our main objective was to force India to agree on a plebiscite in accordance with UN Resolutions. With Article 370 undone, we now have an additional challenge. This unfortunately has happened under our watch and makes the whole issue even more challenging. Will the government be able to overcome this challenge. Only time will tell – but hope is something we must hold on to.

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