Home Digital Magazine Rewriting the narrative of Pakistan’s Kashmir lawfare

Rewriting the narrative of Pakistan’s Kashmir lawfare

Practicing lawyer at a leading Middle Eastern law firm, argues that Pakistan needs to develop a new narrative on Kashmir focusing on 'people' and a potential Nuclear Armageddon in the region from India’s actions.

Kashmir

5th August 2019 will be remembered as the darkest day in Kashmir’s history. It will also be remembered as the day when Pakistan’s policy circles had a rude awakening from their slumber. India’s annexation of Kashmir was an act in brazen violation of its international commitments.

On that day, Pakistan’s policy circles were reminded that they had been hedging their bets on the wrong crowd in India. As a result, there has been a forced rethink in Pakistan on the Kashmir policy. The build-up to the event and its immediate aftermath is telling of the political currents underpinning the present-day discourse in India.

All this was until Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his endless wisdom, made the unthinkable strategic blunder: abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Thereafter, gates of hell have been slowly but surely opening for India.

The entire country has been whipped up in a mass frenzy of ultra-nationalistic jingoism. The brutal suppression of Kashmiris is justified by the media that has been shamelessly conjuring fictional stories in support of the State narrative. The noise emanating in Indian circles is telling of what is being cooked: Pakistan is planning a terrorist attack through proxies, the new India must be ‘one nation, one flag’ and the list goes on and on.

Amidst all this, the chorus of ‘all is well’ in Kashmir is ringing out loud. Horrid tales of torture, killings, and attacks on Kashmiri civilians are hidden behind the façade of stories of potential ‘grand economic development’ of Kashmir. In other words, the road to Kashmir’s hell has been paved with good intentions.

Read more: Kashmir has seen over 700 protests since Article 370 move

To effectively respond to this new Indian assault, Pakistan had no choice but to discard its stale narrative and rethink its Kashmir policy. Luckily for Pakistan, it’s Prime Minister, by taking a leaf from the international playbook, took the initiative of battling out the war of narratives; using new vernacular instead of cliched terminology that was no longer creating any ripples in global corridors. How far Pakistan can develop on the Prime Minister’s initiative will determine whether or not Pakistan can effectively re-draw the Kashmir narrative lines.

Parallels Between RSS/BJP and Nazism

So what has Prime Minister Imran Khan managed to do that has given a new pair of legs to Pakistan’s Kashmir policy? It all began the day he coined the term ‘fascism’ to describe RSS/BJP. The Prime Minister kept it simple: RSS and BJP share eerie similarities with Nazis.

Both are totalitarian; both divide society in an attempt to incite hatred along ethnic and religious lines, and both tap into an ‘engineered’ version of the past to catapult the masses towards a preordained future course of action. The SOS call of the Prime Minister has been: forces of fascism have reared their ugly head, and the world must act fast.

The Prime Minister thus pulled out the word ‘fascism’– a term relegated to history – and thrust it in the international limelight to showcase the threat faced from RSS/BJP. He used vocabulary that the world understood and which it could relate to. In doing so, the Prime Minister has been refreshing the global memory, which is prone to fatigue.

On 30th August, i.e., Kashmir solidarity day, a forceful and eloquent op-ed penned by the Prime Minister appeared in the world’s leading New York Times. Amongst other things, this op-ed highlighted the threat faced by Kashmiris, Pakistan, and the world from this fascism.

The world has been pre-programmed to think about India and Pakistan in a certain way.

Let’s be clear: Pakistan’s struggle for nomenclature was never easy. India has been harping on the “Pakistan-is-a-state-sponsor-of-terror” narrative since time immemorial. This narrative is etched in global conscience. The world has been pre-programmed to think about India and Pakistan in a certain way.

Breaking away from the shackles of a negative stereotype is never easy. India was helped by 9/11 – a watershed event which enabled it to cement its anti-Pakistan narrative further. All this arguably left Pakistan with little to no global clout to argue its case.

Pakistan’s narrative was also severely damaged by the apathy and negligence of previous governments. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that over the years, Pakistan’s Kashmir policy had been on ‘autopilot.’ There was no out of the box thinking, no reinventing of narratives, no new storylines.

Read more: India’s Constitutional Deception turns Kashmir into a Volcano

All Pakistan could rely on were 70 years old UNSC resolutions that had lost their teeth. The ‘K’ word had stopped echoing in global corridors, and the ‘freedom fighter’ had been re-labeled a ‘terrorist.’  India was pinching Pakistan where it hurt most and, ironically, Pakistan was a ‘sitting duck’ talking about peace with India.

Leveraging on the Modi/RSS Mania

All this was until Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his endless wisdom, made the unthinkable strategic blunder: abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Thereafter, gates of hell have been slowly but surely opening for India. Pakistan will need to make sure that these doors remain open.

Kashmir finds itself at the cusp of unprecedented change. While this change may have shaken up the status quo in Pakistan, it contains seeds of new opportunities for Pakistan. Whether Pakistan leverages those opportunities or squanders them will be entirely Pakistan’s choice.

Horrid tales of torture, killings, and attacks on Kashmiri civilians are hidden behind the façade of stories of potential ‘grand economic development’ of Kashmir. In other words, the road to Kashmir’s hell has been paved with good intentions.

Historically, two themes underpin Pakistan’s Kashmir policy: ‘territory’ and ‘people.’ For Pakistan’s new Kashmir narrative to be meaningful and effective, Pakistan’s policymakers will need to dispassionately consider whether conferring preconceived meanings from the past on present-day policies has enabled Pakistan to ‘sell’ its narrative to the world-at-large.

If the success of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy is gauged purely, based on how far the world is willing to go to stand with Kashmiris, then Pakistan will have to move away from recycled metaphors and instead weaponize the narrative through new vocabulary, nuances, and themes. Language is a powerful tool. If used correctly, it can change hearts and minds.

Read more: Scrapping of Article 370: A step forward to India’s Disintegration?

The ‘Territory’

Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) is a complicated dispute. The fact that it is differently categorized by the parties (India calling it, variously, ”internal” and ”bilateral”; and Pakistan calling it ”international”) means that there is also a dispute over nomenclature.

Irrespective of these differences of categorization, the de facto control enjoyed by India over Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) has, over the years, conferred a certain presumption of legitimacy (as opposed to legality) to Indian claims in the eyes of the world. This is not to suggest that ‘Pakistan’s claims in respect of territory are unfounded in law.

The ”people” (Kashmiris) debate has been gaining significant traction in international circles. The focus of ‘Pakistan’s narrative– at least for now – should, therefore, be on the ”people.”

Rather, this is to emphasize that true to its nature, the global community jealously safeguards the concept of the sovereignty of states and favors the party with more considerable political and economic clout over the weaker one. In other words, the world prefers to preserve the status quo when there is a leverage disparity between two sovereign states.

Therefore, while abrogation of Article 370 severed ‘India’s legal relationship with IOK, ‘India’ colored” the act of abrogation as a dejure ”internal matter.” It would be naïve of Pakistan to expect that a world that did not provide the necessary support to resolve the J&K dispute for 72 odd years will immediately side with Pakistan at a time of increased rhetoric emanating from India.

Read more: Kashmir: A moment of Truth for the Idealists and Naysayers

Importantly, over the year, ‘Pakistan’s ”territorial” claim over IOK has been misused by India to discredit and delegitimize Pakistan by linking it with terrorism. In other words, India has managed to poison the well. Unless the situation on the ground in IOK drastically changes, ‘Pakistan’s territorial claim over Kashmir is thought of as no more than ”noise;’ and the chances of a meaningful outcome favorable to Pakistan are bleak.

This is not to suggest that ‘Pakistan’s legal claim over IOK has been extinguished.  Far from that. But at the moment, it will be an uphill battle for Pakistan to argue its case solely along territorial lines. It would be more sensible for Pakistan to park this issue – at least for now.

Pakistan should instead look at other unprecedented opportunities that have recently surfaced in this imbroglio. The ”people” (Kashmiris) debate has been gaining significant traction in international circles. The focus of ‘Pakistan’s narrative– at least for now – should, therefore, be on the ”people.”

The ‘People’

The world-at-large appears to be concerned about two issues at the moment: an all-out war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and the fast deteriorating human rights situation in Kashmir.

The first concern is nuclear Armageddon. Pakistan has been trying to convince the world to see the writing on the wall: the threat to international peace and security posed by a reckless Indian regime that has been throwing lit matches at a pool of high octane petrol. While Pakistan must stress on the threat to peace and security (something that Pakistan has done and continues to do), on its own, this is not sufficient.

Kashmir

If Pakistan focuses solely on the ‘security and escalation’ aspect, it can overshadow the more significant issue i.e., the people (Kashmiris). For the issue to stay relevant, Pakistan will need to leverage recent developments that have positioned the people debate at the center of global discourse. Let me explain.

First is the UN Secretary General’s recent remark that J&K is an ‘international dispute’ that ought to be resolved in accordance with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. This confirms that Kashmir is still visible on the international radar.

The Prime Minister Imran Khan kept it simple: RSS and BJP share eerie similarities with Nazis. Both are totalitarian; both divide society in an attempt to incite hatred along ethnic and religious lines, and both tap into an ‘engineered’ version of the past to catapult the masses towards a preordained future course of action.

Second is the UNSC taking up the Kashmir dispute after a hiatus of 50 odd years through ‘informal consultations.’ That this happened despite India’s relentless diplomatic pushback is nothing short of a victory for Pakistan. UNSC consultations injected life in an otherwise dead issue and established that it is not India’s internal matter.

At present, the Kashmir dispute is stuck somewhere between, ‘bilateralism’ and ‘multilateralism.’ However, slowly but surely, it is once again beginning to snowball into a multilateral issue. The required global impetus to firmly reposition Kashmir in the multilateral paradigm can be provided through a refocus on the ‘people.’

Read more: Mockery of Democracy: Indians Criticize Revocation of Article 370

UNSC Resolution 47, which requires the J&K dispute to be settled through a ‘free and fair plebiscite’ offers J&K the choice between accession to India or Pakistan. Notably, no UNSC resolution on J&K contemplates independence of J&K. Pakistan should expend all its diplomatic and legal efforts on coalescing global support for the self-determination of Kashmiris.

This should be pursued as a stand-alone policy that is separate and distinct from Pakistan’s territorial claims over IOK. Right of self-determination has been recognized in international law as a principle of ‘jus cogens,’ i.e., a fundamental principle of international law from which no derogation is possible. No patent illegality (occupation, suppression, colonialism, etc.) can extinguish this right through lapse of time.

Kashmir

This right of self-determination exists today as much as it did at the time of partition. The International Commission of Jurists confirmed it in their 1995 report on J&K. What does this mean for Pakistan’s existing Kashmir policy?

Firstly, that the slogan ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ won’t sell anymore and therefore Pakistan should re-think the policy that is tethered to ‘territory.’ Second, that any future plebiscite on J&K will also include territory under Pakistan’s control. This is the bitter pill that Pakistan will have to swallow if it wants a resolution of the Kashmir dispute within the international framework.

The Building Blocks of Pakistan’s New Narrative

Pakistan’s new narrative should, therefore, build on the right of self-determination of Kashmiris. Pakistan should continue to highlight the grave atrocities being committed against Kashmiris at different forums by using various means and methods.

This will ensure that Pakistan’s narrative is both meaningful and en vogue – the real litmus test of its success. Pakistan has had a good start in re-writing the narrative lines. The word ‘fascism’ chosen by the Prime Minister can change the world’s ‘belief system’ about India by making the world ‘de-link’ with existing perceptions about India.

All Pakistan will need to do is to make sure that the line does not go slack and the discourse remains fresh and relevant in global conscience.

In other words, it is a re-programming of global conscience. However, it is imperative that Pakistan develops its narrative into a compelling storyline and institutionalizes it to avoid the vocabulary becoming cliché or redundant.

The ultimate challenge for Pakistan will be to make the world ‘re-think’ and ‘re-imagine’ India. This is a step further after making the world ‘de-link’ from India as the paragon of democracy and virtue. This will require bringing out the ‘alternative truth’ about Kashmir – something that India been deliberately hiding from public view.

It is equally essential for Pakistan’s narrative to remain de-linked from territory because it gives rise to the default presumption about Pakistan’s role in fomenting terrorism in IOK. This is the fictionalized truth created by India, which Pakistan will need to battle all along. To script a meaningful and compelling narrative, broadly speaking, Pakistan should focus on the following three areas.

Read more: India’s ‘Final solution’ for Kashmir: President AJ&K

Identification

First is identifying the target audience. The entire world is a playground for Pakistan’s new message.

Amongst others, Pakistan’s focus should include: UN Human Rights Council; UN Human Rights Committee; European Union; Amnesty International; International Commission of Jurists; International Committee of the Red Cross; international, regional and local NGOs; global and regional bodies with a focus on international human rights and international humanitarian law; world capitals (Washington D.C., London, Brussels, Moscow, Beijing etc.); renowned media houses and think-tanks; influential media personalities; public sector officials (US Congressmen, parliamentarians); Kashmiri diaspora; Pakistan’s own diaspora residing abroad; and (importantly) Indian NGOs, intellectuals, media persons and dissenters.

India over Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) has, over the years, conferred a certain presumption of legitimacy (as opposed to legality) to Indian claims in the eyes of the world.

Luckily for Pakistan, this identification exercise is already coming together on its own (without any effort on Pakistan’s part). World-renowned media outlets such as NY Times, Washington Post and BCC have given unprecedented coverage to Indian atrocities in IOK.

Not a day goes by without leading Western newspapers, providing a snapshot into ‘on the ground’ realities in Kashmir. This is beginning to hurt India really bad. All Pakistan will need to do is to make sure that the line does not go slack and the discourse remains fresh and relevant in global conscience.

Read more: In plain words: What are Articles 370 and 35-A?

Projection

Second is dissemination. Disseminating the message is an area where Pakistan has lagged in the past. Pakistan’s message must move from being descriptive (something done to a great extent by the Prime Minister) to being prescriptive. Projection is required for deeper integration and resonance of the message. Over time, Pakistan’s narrative should have its own explanatory power.

All this requires tools and capacity building. Pakistan’s diplomats (retired and serving) who have an established track record of serving abroad in world capitals, must be scrambled to world capitals to convey Pakistan’s message in a “lucid, temperate, rational way” (Javed Jabbar, DAWN, 28 August 2019).

It is merely a matter of reversal of roles. India has provided Pakistan with an unprecedented opportunity unlike any in the past. If ever there was a time for Pakistan to turn the tables, it is now.

This will require robust state machinery that functions as the back office. Pakistan should set up a lawfare directorate positioned at a ministerial-level that creatively, consistently and promptly harnesses international law to achieve Pakistan’s strategic and policy objectives on Kashmir.

Projection of the narrative also requires a “bold, vigorous communications strategy.” This can be achieved through a “comprehensive, multi-dimensional, sustained multi-media campaign” that deploys a range of methods. This should include purchasing and utilizing print and electronic media in major countries, opening up centers across the world to project the rich cultural history of Pakistan, etc. (Javed Jabbar, DAWN, 28 August 2019).

Read more: Article 35-A: Court’s move could be problematic for Indo-Pak relations

In the past, Pakistan has not invested in soft diplomacy. This is an area where India has achieved resounding success. It is high time that Pakistan actively promotes its own culture and that of Kashmiris across the world.

Common threads between cultures that can gravitate the world towards Pakistan (tourism, cultural exchanges, festivals, etc.) can go a long way in undoing Pakistan’s hard image, an unfortunate consequence of apathy and circumstances. Social media is the most effective tool of communication in today’s time and age.

Electronic media such as Twitter is being used consistently and effectively by the Government and the Armed Forces to send out messages on Kashmir. Pakistan will need to further weaponize that space to ensure that its narrative and storylines reach the four corners of the world.

Kashmir

Pakistan should invest in a credible media house similar to RT Russia that can give the ‘alternative viewpoint’ on events. Besides English, Pakistan should also get its message across in other global languages such as Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian.

Reception

Once Pakistan’s message is out, Pakistan must double down on efforts to make sure that the message ‘gets in.’ This is very important because persuasion, alliance-building, and order shaping is a protracted process. It requires persistence, perseverance, and above all, smartness.

Chipping away at India’s vulnerabilities and follies at the right time and in the proper manner will sharpen Pakistan’s narrative lines. Pakistan will need to strategically marshal its tools and resources regularly to make sure that all boxes are ticked time and again.

A fascist regime, in its hubris and recklessness, managed to do what Pakistan couldn’t achieve in 72 years: bring Kashmir at the forefront of international discourse.

Reception of the message will enable Pakistan to build an “irrefutable belief system” about Kashmir. Pakistan needs a narrative that is self-sustaining and reinforcing. This is the hardest part. The idea is to repeatedly and consistently harp on India’s aggression and breaches in Kashmir and presents the ‘alternative truth.’

Pakistan’s end game should be to craft a self-executing belief system, that reflects the desire of the global community to see the process of self-determination of Kashmiris through to its logical conclusion.

Read more: Indian occupied Kashmir: Internal, bilateral or international?

It is easy to become pessimistic by looking at the fate of recent self-determination movements. However, when the world gets programmed to think in a predetermined way, a cyclical process of ‘reinforcement’ sets in that makes certain conclusions and outcomes inevitable.

Pakistan can testify that this was done, rather effectively, by India deploying and repeatedly using the term ‘terrorism’ to condemn Pakistan. Through some luck and some tact, Pakistan too can beat India at this game. It is merely a matter of reversal of roles. India has provided Pakistan with an unprecedented opportunity unlike any in the past. If ever there was a time for Pakistan to turn the tables, it is now.

Pakistan will need to strategically marshal its tools and resources regularly to make sure that all boxes are ticked time and again.

Till the evening of the 4th of August, Pakistan’s Kashmir policy was in shambles. It had stopped creating a stir in global circles. However, everything changed on the 5th of August. A fascist regime, in its hubris and recklessness, managed to do what Pakistan couldn’t achieve in 72 years: bring Kashmir at the forefront of international discourse.

While confusion reigned supreme in Pakistan’s policy circles during early days, Prime Minister Imran Khan knew what needed to be done. He coined the term ‘fascism’ – a term that arguably filled the narrative vacuum in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. Parallelly, global media has taken India to task for suppressing Kashmiris.

Read more: After Massacre at Gujarat, Modi’s has Programmed Pogrom for Kashmir

All this has built unprecedented global pressure on India and stoked anxieties in Indian circles. India has managed to keep things under the wraps for now. However, India continues to be the focus of the global lens. Pakistan’s struggle for nomenclature has been helped by these developments.

Pakistan must now move on and leverage further on this opportunity. It should develop a new narrative based on identification, projection, and reception. The new narrative, if tactfully crafted by Pakistan, will enable it to build consensus on Kashmir in the court of public opinion.

This can propel the Kashmir question forward in a meaningful manner. It can also rain down international opprobrium on India and force it to lose further face in the world and possibly reach out to Pakistan in a desperate bid to save face and avoid further harm to its international reputation.

Hassan Aslam Shad is the head of corporate and international practice of a leading Middle Eastern law firm. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, USA with a focus in international law. Over the years, Hassan has written extensively on topics of law including public and private international law and international relations. Hassan’s LLM Thesis at Harvard Law School was a detailed study of the parallels between Sharia and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Hassan has the distinctive honor of being the first person from Pakistan to intern at the Office of the President of the International Criminal Court, The Hague. He can be reached at:veritas@post.harvard.edu. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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