Friday June 21, 2024

The Kashmir challenge

By Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
September 11, 2020

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Pakistan, along with the rest of the world, faces several real and likely to become real existential challenges. They include: climate change, including the numerous extreme effects of global warming; nuclear capability as war option instead of war deterrence; genocide; governance as extreme class warfare.

More challenges are: overpopulation and resource wars; grotesque inequalities and the emergence of economic and political ideologies in support of selective mass human cullings; rampant pandemics; protest and revolution suppressing surveillance and targeting technologies; progressive disintegration of value structures and human rights protections; and (x) progressive decrease in individual and collective human intelligence levels, the global spread of depression and dementia, and their impact on existential decision-making.

Without addressing these challenges in concert with neighbours, regional countries and the international community no country, including Pakistan, can begin to address its national and foreign policy issues. The challenge of Kashmir must be seen in this context for any conceivable progress towards a viable solution to emerge.

Accordingly, since August 5, 2019 Jammu and Kashmir has become another existential challenge for Pakistan. Does this imply an inevitable zero-sum solution in which either India or Pakistan absolutely and comprehensively wins or absolutely and comprehensively loses? It does not because of the common context of existential challenges noted. It cannot, for the simple reason that both India and Pakistan have a nuclear deterrent capacity and neither of them has a first strike capability against the other. Neither can achieve absolute military victory against the other. As the prime minister reiterated shortly after August 5, 2019, there can be no winners in a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan. Yet the world remains largely indifferent.

Why? Essentially, because the history of Pakistan and its present state indicate to strategic analysts and political observers around the world that it does not have the courage of its convictions. Instead, it follows multiple, contradictory, short-term, and foolish policies in place of coherent longer-term strategies. Its ruling exploiters – whatever party is in office - regard the status quo as sacrosanct no matter what the cost to Pakistan. Public and self-deception become essential ingredients of such governance and policy.

After the departure of the Quaid there has never been a leader or leadership that was anywhere near being able to cope with the many challenges confronting the new country. Since 1958, even a governance and political learning process was aborted. Those who exhibited any potential to rise to the challenge were brutally cut off by a US-backed power elite, backed in turn by a whole range of conniving domestic elites, whose contribution to the Pakistan Movement was zero.

Pakistan’s Kashmir policy became an early victim of this charade. It became a rhetorical, symbolic, and “misadventure” prone imperative. It served domestic elite purposes. This was at the expense of the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people against genocidal repression perpetrated by India. Needless to add, big power cynicism, indifference, self-interest and “real-politik” were also factors. But Pakistan’s foreign policy, largely conceived, articulated and advocated by world-class diplomats, fell short because of the country’s abysmal domestic and externally governed governance.

Once progressive national transformation was ruled out by the national power and political structures, the force of Pakistan’s legal, political, diplomatic and moral arguments on behalf of the Kashmiri right of self-determination diminished, and no longer constrained the economic, political and strategic inclinations of the big powers in support of India – with the exception of China.

Reportedly, Prime Minister Imran Khan will address the United Nations General Assembly on September 22. Last year, he made an impassioned speech to the UNGA less than two months after Modi’s elimination of IOK as a political entity. He reiterated his commitment to good relations with India. But Modi’s response was hostile.

The Pakistan PM warned the world that Kashmiris would not accept the new status quo imposed by India after they had sacrificed so much for so long for their internationally recognized right of self-determination. He feared India would perpetrate a bloodbath in IOK and stage another false-flag operation to blame Pakistan. The PM concluded by saying that if Pakistan, a country seven times smaller than India, is faced with the choice of surrender or fighting for its existence, “we will FIGHT.” He added “the UN has a responsibility” to uphold the peace which is “why it came into existence” after WWII.

The PM’s address was applauded by Kashmiris, Pakistanis and many around the world despite the ambiguity about Pakistan “fighting for its existence.” Did that include protecting IOK against genocide? A year later, the picture is clearer. Pakistan no longer speaks of going to any extent to stop genocide in IOK. It does not even mention genocide in IOK in formal statements. This has generated Kashmiri cynicism about Pakistan’s commitment to Kashmir in its darkest hour. Kashmiris are not taken in by verbal pyrotechnics or symbolic gestures on special occasions.

Many of India’s favourite Kashmiris in the Valley who, after August 5, 2019, publicly repented their foolish trust in India, are now crawling back to the Indian tent. A younger generation of Kashmiris, however, has made clear they would rather die than become a hated and targeted minority in India. They embrace Azaadi as independence from every entity and state. Once again Pakistan has lost an opportunity because of its unprincipled opportunism and loss of Kashmiri trust.

The PM needs to remedy this. An address, however eloquent, is measured by the policy context in which it is made. It is meaningless outside this context. Right now there is no clarity as to what Pakistan is committed to accomplishing in IOK. Is it relying on the international community to reverse India’s policy in IOK? Is there any prospect of this happening? Even if the status quo ante were restored in the Valley how would that advance the Kashmir freedom struggle or benefit Pakistan? How would that avert genocide, given that Kashmiri resistance would continue with the support of the people of the Valley? What would Pakistan do? No clarity.

Human rights violations in IOK are directly tied to the denial of Kashmiri political rights. Modi is launched upon his irreversible “final solution” in the Valley which only Pakistan can reverse if it sees the challenge as “fighting for its existence” and does not surrender to an Indian genocidal fait accompli. So far, Pakistan has no coherent Kashmir policy because it is cost and risk averse. The Kashmiris, accordingly, smell betrayal.

The PM needs to articulate a parallel and simultaneous two-track Kashmir strategy to avoid both genocide in IOK and war with India, without further compromising the credibility of its support for the Kashmir freedom struggle. The first track involves leaving no stone unturned in the search for dialogue with India, mutual confidence building, and movement towards a principled compromise on Kashmir that is acceptable to the Kashmiris, especially in the Valley. Modi will be unresponsive. If so, the world will witness Pakistan’s efforts.

The second track will simultaneously convey to the world that if India is irreversibly launched on a path towards genocide in IOK Pakistan will, whatever the risks and costs, stop India. High risk? Maybe. Any alternative? None. Likely outcome? The big powers intervene to prevent a nuclear calamity and demand India and Pakistan negotiate a compromise in consultation with the Kashmiris. Nothing is guaranteed. But nothing tried is nothing gained. That is infidelity.