Kashmir situation

View from Pakistan

Print edition : May 26, 2017

Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff. Photo: Muhammad Yousuf

Gen. Raheel Sharif, former Pakistan Chief of Army. Photo: Reuters

Sajjan Jindal, Chairman of JSW Steel. Photo: ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY

Stability in Kashmir cannot be ensured unless relations between Islamabad and New Delhi improve.

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa reiterated support for Kashmiris’ “rightful political struggle for the right to self-determination” during a recent visit to the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. It was his fourth visit to the LoC since he assumed charge of the Pakistan Army just five months ago.

This statement came in the midst of the controversial visit of the Indian business tycoon Sajjan Jindal to Islamabad where he had a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is widely believed that Jindal’s visit was part of a diplomatic move to rescue Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been awarded the death sentence by a military court on charges of abetting and sponsoring subversive activities inside Pakistan.

The visit triggered enormous criticism, and Sharif was accused of being soft on India. All prominent leaders belonging to various political parties of Pakistan—from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari—castigated Sharif for hobnobbing with India and not taking a strong stance on Kashmir. Additionally, some insiders claimed that the security establishment in Pakistan had not been kept in the loop regarding Jindal’s visit and meeting with Sharif.

Pakistan has entered election mode, and major political parties such as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N), the PPP and the PTI are organising rallies across the country as part of their campaigns. Unlike the PML(N), the PPP and the PTI have placed Kashmir high on their agendas. In previous national elections, the Kashmir issue or India were not an election plank in Pakistan. However, Kashmir is in mainstream political discourse in Pakistan these days mainly because of the uprising in the Kashmir Valley last summer and particularly because of the indiscriminate use of pellet guns, which left a number of young people blinded. Consequently, it seems that Kashmir will be a major issue in this year’s election. The PML(N) carries the risk of diminishing its electoral prospects if it does not take a strong posture on Kashmir, particularly in Punjab, which has traditionally supported Kashmiris.

The flow of information through social media networks, from Kashmir to Islamabad, has connected the inhabitants of Kashmir with the people of Pakistan to a great extent. The videos, pictures and news emanating from Kashmir show the forces’ high-handedness and unfair treatment being given to the citizens, particularly young people. The television channels, predominantly the state-run Pakistan Television Channel, broadcasts news and views about Kashmir quite regularly. By echoing some of their Indian counterparts, a few TV anchors have become prominent by practising India-bashing regularly in their shows.

There are a few major factors that have contributed to shaping Pakistan’s current Kashmir policy. For instance, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on the eve of Independence Day, from the pulpit of Red Fort, is mentioned everywhere as a reference point, wherein he pledged to support the secessionists in Balochistan and Gilgit, besides vowing to run a global diplomatic campaign to isolate Pakistan.

Additionally, India left no stone unturned in opposing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is considered a game changer and a landmark in the history of Pakistan. India’s persistent resistance to the CPEC has been interpreted at multiple levels as an attempt to deprive the people of Pakistan of the opportunities of progress and development. Besides, the postponement of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, chiefly owing to the Indian refusal to participate, has been described by Pakistan as an attempt at derailing the process of regional cooperation and depriving Pakistan the chance to host a summit in its capital, Islamabad.

The arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav, allegedly a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) spy, was a big blow to India-Pakistan relations. In a video recording, Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, made startling revelations about foreign secret agencies’ involvement in the domestic affairs of Pakistan. It reinforced the establishment’s perception that the current Indian government was involved in supporting anti-Pakistan outfits operating from Afghanistan.

Despite making serious efforts, India has not been able to isolate Pakistan internationally by any means. Pakistan has successfully widened its foreign policy realm by pulling into its fold Russia, which is a long-time ally of India, besides further deepening its ties with China through economic and employment opportunities. On the other hand, the former Pakistan Army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, has become the head of the 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance, mainly on the request of Saudi Arabia. Pakistan’s ties with the United States are also gradually growing stronger as Washington does not want to lessen its influence in the country at a time when China and Russia are exercising far-reaching influence.

CPEC project

The CPEC project emboldened Pakistan and gave it a renewed confidence to strengthen its foreign policy. The CPEC has roped in several other countries, such as the United Kingdom, while some European countries have expressed keen interest in it. The U.K. will be hosting a larger CPEC conference in Islamabad in end-May to explore economic opportunities. Recently, a high-level delegation led by the U.K. Minister of State for International Trade, Greg Hands, held a trade meeting in Islamabad with government officials, representatives of British firms and Chinese officials.

Pakistan is no longer keen on seeking a transit route to Central Asia through Afghanistan as it has an alternative road—the Gwadar-Urumqi-Almaty-Astana-Moscow route, which reduces its dependence on Afghanistan to reach Central Asian markets.

The political deadlock over Kashmir is also quite complete. New Delhi is not willing to talk to Pakistan or Kashmiri dissidents to find a way out in order to resolve this decades-old vexatious issue. There is a complete standoff over Kashmir at every level.

The People’s Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir has not been able to emerge as a success story. It is fast losing the political game in Kashmir. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has lost her credibility and her power base is shrinking, especially in south Kashmir. During her tenure so far, 90 people have been killed, 15,000 injured and 1,100 entirely or partially blinded by pellet guns used by the forces.

The younger generation is mostly frustrated and furious and always willing to pick a fight. The protesters manifested their resilience during last year’s summer agitation. India’s military presence in the region, armed with legal protection, is only aggravating the situation instead of resolving anything. In Islamabad, it is widely feared that the upcoming summer will be even worse and more chaotic than the previous one.

In fact, neither New Delhi nor the State government has used the winter’s lull to take any tangible steps to address the grievances of the people, leave alone initiating a political process leading to a permanent solution.

Slowly but steadily, the international community and media are taking notice of the Kashmir situation. U.S. President Donald Trump, before and after the presidential election, showed interest in helping India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir conflict.

Recently, Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, reiterated the U.S. position to help India and Pakistan find a solution to the Kashmir issue. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his state visit to New Delhi, suggested a multilateral dialogue to resolve the issue. These statements may not be translated into action but they still carry an immense diplomatic value, which cannot be overlooked, at least in the perspective of Pakistan.

Pakistan is keen to resume dialogue with India but from a point of strength. If the people of Kashmir are alienated and seek a political settlement of their state, it makes Pakistan strong at the negotiating table.

Above all, time and again it has been proven that stability in Kashmir cannot be ensured unless relations between Islamabad and New Delhi improve. For instance, during the 2003-08 period, Kashmir returned to normalcy because a dialogue process had generated hope that the issue would be resolved politically and the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be taken into account one way or the other.

The only way forward is the resumption of dialogue and initiation of a comprehensive peace process wherein Kashmiri stakeholders’ inclusion is a must. However, there is no hope that dialogue will be resumed in the near future. Pakistan is already in election mode and India will enter it next year. Also, the political leadership and media of both countries have cultivated a huge amount of hatred across the borders.

Ershad Mahmud is an Islamabad - based analyst.

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