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Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Pendulum swings on Pakistan relations with India

Long-time diplomat argues that reaching out to India while the Indian state continues to inflict bloody blows to Kashmiris diminishes Pakistan’s national and international stature. He enquires what has materially changed on the ground in the past 19 months to precipitate a ‘rethink’? Does the change relate to an operational strategy, or Islamabad finds its goals having been shrunk?

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Recent pronouncements in Islamabad intertwined with moves and half moves suggest a  pendulum swing on relations with  India that might carry serious implications for our Kashmir policy. The officialdom here likes to be seen steadfast in linking normalization with India’s return to pre-5 August 2019 position.

Concurrently, however, the softening of the political vocabulary and related initiatives,  whether intended or actualized, transmit varying images of what might be in store: a  ‘rethink’, a ‘reversal’ of approaches in the making, and pressure from a ‘distant neighbor’ for an unfreeze towards normalization in keeping with their regional interests.

In essence, the dichotomous approaches generate greater anxiety than relief, enforce the  ‘muk-muka’ syndrome, and enhance Kashmiri’s fears of yet another imposition.  Notwithstanding the pronouncements, renewal of ceasefire is a forerunner of more tangible steps and of (bilateral) talks in a not-too-distant future.

Read More: India-Pakistan peace overtures greeted with suspicion

Perceptibly, the pause and relief that comes with it aim at the right ambiance for unfolding other steps that allow incremental moves to de-tag trade and talks with India’s reversion from the  2019  move.

It  is  premature  to  suggest  the format, level, and focus of resumption of talks through, in all anticipation, the official contacts as these attain visibility, will relate to a ‘handshake’ and ‘talk on how to talk.’ Our newer emphasis on geo-economics now comes with a quest for “burying the past” and a positive appreciation of Prime Minister Modi’s recent letter (side-stepping his cryptic, dissuading message on ‘terror’).

Pendulum swings on Indo-Pak relations

No less significant is the quest and abortive attempt to break the trade barrier with India by way of importing cotton and sugar from there.  The idea was conceived in the inner chambers and piloted at the country’s highest economic forum though later ‘deferred’ by the cabinet and not actualized.

From the grammar books of international relations, one learns that adversaries cannot conceivably remain locked in their water-tight compartments and continue to deny ‘reaching out’ to each other indefinitely.

Read More: India-Pakistan secret cease-fire brokered by UAE

However, a possible resumption of bilateral talks and trade while Indians continue to inflict a bloody blow to Kashmiri identity, the legal personality of the state, and by that token, to Kashmir’s case as such does not stand logic of the situation and our core interest.

It would only speak of our inability to mobilize a  counterpoise to the  2019  action and of a  widening gap between our intention and capacity to deliver. Surely, seeing Kashmir on the ‘backburner’ once again will be disastrous for Pakistan’s national interest and irreparable loss at this stage.

Article 370 and 35A, a detriment to negotiations

The disintegration of J&K State and its fragmentation by India runs counter to Pakistan’s national security. This move, as it stabilizes further,  could lead to a  fundamental change in the South Asian scenario, no less 3 than wars that were fought in this arena.

The nature of the Indian action of 2019 ought to be re-read if one was to go through a policy reappraisal exercise. First, it is an assault on the ‘legal personality’ of the state as registered in the international arena (this indeed is the core issue, with or without a spotlight on Article 370 or 35A).

It aims a bloody blow to the Kashmir case as against definitions set at the United Nations. Second, Delhi created new realities viz-a-viz Kashmir. In doing so, they are driven by unilateralism (attribute of a major power), bypassing their own notions of bilateralism.

Third, we have been witnessing newer manifestations of Hindustan:  Fascism interwoven with the best practices of Zionism. This leads to fragmentation of the land, demographic reengineering, and the ‘West Bankization’ of Kashmir.

Read More: Will India-Pakistan LOC peace lead to Kashmir solution?

Not a critique of our own report card of the past 19 months or so, one cannot be unmindful of a central point in this scenario: August 2019 was not just one more hiccup in the history of Indo-Pakistan rivalry on Kashmir. This aimed at dismantling the construct of  J&K  as a  state and its disputed legacy and,  by that token, shake the very foundation of Kashmir case in the international arena.

The BJP agenda was not news for us; therefore, no explanation for unpreparedness would be credible. Similarly, it goes without saying that finding an antidote to  India’s fragmentation of  J&K  does not ipso facto call for any similar action on Pakistan’s side and, thus, gives a de facto legitimacy to the status quo.

Focusing on optics

The projection of the Kashmir dispute in terms of  India-Pakistan dynamics,  instead of  Kashmiri’s self-determination, has been erroneous and counterproductive over the years. One cannot forget that the strength of our narrative viz-a-viz international community rested upon ‘people’s right to self-determination and not on any territorial aggrandizement.

Understandably, any further dilution in the principled position will be seen as legitimizing the fragmentation and thus bringing an end to the Kashmir saga. Kashmir’s situation on the ground and Kashmiri’s perspective from across the divide ought to be factored in any policy evaluation.

Here, the identity crisis persists, and so does the gloom and passive resistance. The state stands fragmented and its people disempowered. The valley and its periphery are experiencing a demographic reengineering. Indians are likely to take advantage of the situation to restore J&K as a state¬–a toothless state–with some cultural protection measures as done for Nagaland and Mizoram under Article 371.

Read More: 100 million deaths and more: The cost of an India-Pakistan nuclear war

Against this backdrop, any reversal on Kashmir Policy is likely to enlarge despair and add to a sense of betrayal. In the most likely scenario, it would be seen as preparatory to elites in the two capitals converging to unfold a new imposition.  Here we cannot be unmindful of the post-1971 images of Pakistan’s inability to deliver had fuelled the  1974  Indira-Abdullah accord.

The desperation, if so enlarged with a sense of betrayal, can unfold a rethink among the ‘Azad’ constituency as well. Questions are already being raised in multiple directions. What has materially changed on the ground in the past  19  months to precipitate a ‘rethink’? Does the change relate to an operational strategy, or Islamabad finds its goals having been shrunk? How does the policy suddenly attain a distinct color in the absence of a public debate and/or use of an identifiable policy-relevant platform?

A good many arguments are pointing towards the intercession of a “distant neighbor” with Delhi and Islamabad for a rapid move towards normalization without any spotlight on resolving the Kashmir issue. The object, it would appear, is to strengthen Indian hands in China’s containment policy. The questions, in major part, are likely to remain unanswered until the backstage actors decide to take a center stage.

Author of “Reminiscences of My Wanderings,” Ambassador (R) Arif Kamal has served as a diplomat for 34 years.  He has also served as Chair Global Studies at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Research & Analysis (ISSRA), within the National Defense University of Pakistan for 10 years.