What is next for Pakistan’s Kashmir policy?

By Syeda Mamoona Rubab

A robust Kashmir policy has to drive the diplomatic offensive, argues Syeda Mamoona Rubab

Pakistan reacted strongly to the Indian action of revoking the autonomous status of Indian-administered Kashmir and delivered a stern message to Delhi that there cannot be any compromise on this issue. Pakistan also made it clear that any misadventure would be responded in equal measure.

The National Security Committee, which is the highest decision making forum for security related matters, decided to downgrade diplomatic relationship with India, suspend bilateral trade, review all bilateral agreements, raise the issue at the UN Security Council, and observe a Solidarity Day with the Kashmiris on August 14 (Pakistan’s Independence Day) and Black Day on August 15 (India’s Independence Day).

These decisions were made because policymakers wanted to ensure that India did not mistake Pakistan’s response as a tacit endorsement of its moves. More importantly, these actions were taken to maintain the credibility of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisari has been sent back, trade has been stopped, a review of bilateral agreements would commence after Eid, and plans for observing Solidarity Day and Black Day are in place. Necessary clarifications have also been made by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that nothing would be done to impede people to people contact, although the move to stop Samjhota Express service does not match with the decision and it looks more of Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed’s personal contribution to the official response to Indian action. Pakistani initiative for opening Kartarpur Corridor, meanwhile, also remains intact.

Full marks for that but there was hardly any other option. Pakistan’s anger has been conveyed to India. The bigger question is what next? The fight for Kashmir’s independence is a long one, and more importantly it has to be fought with great care, vision and foresight because of the highly volatile and dangerous situation. One cannot miss that it is a conflict between two nuclear armed neighbours. A slight mishandling could spell disaster not only for the two countries, but for the entire South Asian region.

The situation has been made further precarious by the absence of conflict management systems between the two sides, what to talk about conflict resolution arrangements. The two sides had already ended their formal bilateral dialogue for addressing outstanding issues and now they don’t have each other’s envoys in their capitals. Things are unlikely to stop here. The downgrading of diplomatic relations will not remain limited to taking the ties down from high commissioner to chargé d’affaires level, rather as Foreign Minister Qureshi hinted, the size of diplomatic missions could be cut and travel curbs could be placed on each other’s diplomats.

At the military level, exchanges at the Line of Control have continued and now senior commanders are exchanging threats on Twitter. “Lately Pakistan has been openly threatening about certain incidents in Kashmir. Notwithstanding we’ll take care of all of them; let anyone come and try and disrupt the peace in valley, we will have him eliminated!” Indian Army’s Kashmir-based Chinar Corps tweeted, attributing these words to their corps commander. Another tweet from Chinar Corps read: “If Pakistan violates ceasefire again, we will respond again, we’ll respond with full strength and we’ll respond hard.”

ISPR Director General Major General Asif Ghafoor also responded over Twitter saying, “Should there be an attempt by Indian Army to undertake any misadventure, Pakistan’s response shall be even stronger than that of 27 February, 2019. Thousands of Indian troops have failed to suppress the just struggle of brave Kashmiris for decades. Current surge won’t succeed either.” He said India was trying to create an excuse for a misadventure to divert world’s attention from situation in Occupied Kashmir and the atrocities committed there by its troops.

Although it is never a good sight to see military officers exchange threats over Twitter, it gives an indication about how tense the situation actually is.

We must be mindful of the fact that Indians would seek to ratchet up tensions with Pakistan in an attempt to ensnare it in an escalation trap. Similarly within the valley, Indian occupation forces could go to any extent although their brutal tactics, which have become increasingly ruthless over the past few years, have failed to subdue the desire of the people of the valley to gain independence. In worst case scenarios, with Indian troops stepping up their gruesome abuses against Kashmiris, people on this side of LoC will not remain bystanders. And here things can get out of hand.

The purpose of explaining the context was to underscore that while Pakistan has played its cards well so far, it is time to work out a strategy for alleviating the sufferings of Kashmiris in the valley, and at the same time contribute to the Kashmiri struggle for attainment of their right of self-determination. That can be done through an aggressive diplomatic campaign and one that is carried out in a credible way focusing on human rights situation in the valley. A robust Kashmir policy has to drive the diplomatic offensive.

Pakistan’s Kashmir policy, despite being uniform in the demand for right of self-determination for Kashmiris and resolution of the dispute according to the wishes of people of Kashmir and UN resolutions, has been inconsistent in its support and advocacy for Kashmir cause. The variations could be linked to international developments especially the post 9/11 environment, the transforming geopolitical landscape of South Asia, the situation in Occupied Kashmir, political situation in the country particularly the state of civil-military relations, state of internal security, and Pakistan’s economic conditions.

Speaking at round table discussion hosted by Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) on Abrogation of Article 370: Implications and Policy Options for Pakistan, Policy Analyst Syed Muhammad Ali said Pakistan’s Kashmir policy must in the future holistically address the concerns of the Kashmiris and Pakistan’s own security interests, besides commanding credibility in New Delhi and enjoying acceptability in the international community. Former High Commissioner to India Ambassador Abdul Basit, meanwhile, emphasised on achieving political consensus on the Kashmir policy,

Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi said that without an effective Kashmir Policy, there is no Pakistan policy.

Therefore, it is time that the national leadership review the Kashmir policy to make it more efficient and effective for promoting the Kashmiri struggle instead of Pakistan always being seen as reacting to developments and the government spending time to convince the people that it was not caught unawares as was the case in the latest development over Article 370’s annulment by India. If it is true that the government properly read Indian intentions and plans, then what was done to thwart the Indian scheme for annexing Kashmir and what was its outcome?

The writer is a senior researcher at Islamabad Policy Institute. She can be reached atmamoona.rubab@ipi.org.pk


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