Let there be no mistake. Pakistan is now confronted with the clear and present danger of India’s settler colonialism in the Kashmiri homeland. From Pakistan, a viable policy response is still awaited.
Pakistan needs to explore competently, consistently and boldly more imaginative ways on using international diplomacy and international law to address the Kashmir issue more effectively. After all, what did the visiting president of the United Nations General Assembly Volkan Bozkir mean when at the May 25 presser in Islamabad he told his host , the Pakistani foreign minister, that: “I think it is the duty, especially of Pakistan, to bring this [issue] to the United Nations platform more strongly”. Although he, like the Pakistani FM, also declared that India’s illegal moves on Jammu and Kashmir do not change its status, the fact is that India’s settler colonization, if left almost unchallenged, may become irreversible.
Significantly, in recent weeks, vacillation in Pakistan’s India policy has surfaced. The statements regarding India by different stakeholders have varied. From talking about regional trade, the significance of geo-economics and the need to resolve problems with India to stating that Article 370 of the Indian constitution does not concern Pakistan since Pakistan does not acknowledge the special status of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s latest statement categorically declaring that trade with India at this point will be like abandoning the Kashmiris, Pakistan’s position seems fluid.
For example, on May 30, Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a nationally telecast telephone Q&A that only if India goes back to Kashmir’s August 5 state and gives back to the Kashmiris their rightful status would Pakistan speak to India. Pakistan cannot begin trade at the cost of Kashmiri blood since that will be a betrayal of the Kashmir cause. However, a few days later in a Reuters interview on June 4 the PM said if given a roadmap by India regarding reversal of the August 5 steps, talks with India could begin.
What is unclear is Pakistan’s next step on the India policy. The February LOC ceasefire was followed by comments right from the top on the significance of engaging India, on the centrality of geo-economics and on not being impatient about resolving the Kashmir dispute. Following are the confirmed aspects of the current Pakistan-India backchannel process:
One, the peace talks between Pakistan India which began during former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2017 led by the Pakistani and Indian national security advisors continued between the intelligence chiefs of both, and subsequently with NSA Ajit Doval.
Two, Pakistan-India talks first led to the February 25 ceasefire along the LOC and subsequently to the revelation in Pakistan of the December 2020 Indian offer of talks on all outstanding issues including Kashmir, initiating a multiple groups of dialogues on issues ranging from trade, water, Kashmir, terrorism, Sir Creek etc.
Three, Pakistan responded with its four conditions: stop demographic changes in Occupied Kashmir, release prisoners, return some form of statehood to Occupied Kashmir which was taken away under the August 5, 2019 act of the Indian parliament, and end human rights violations. Without these conditions, engaging with India was not possible. The cabinet’s April 1 decision to veto the Economic Coordination Committee’s (ECC) recommendation to import sugar and cotton from India. No trade was possible unless India reversed it’s Kashmir -related illegal actions of August 5.
Four, “as a gesture of solidarity with the people of India in the wake of the current wave of COVID-19”, Pakistan offered Covid-related support to India. India neither accepted nor even acknowledged this offer. Earlier, Pakistan did not get a response from India to its four point conditions for talks. However, the February 4 ceasefire has held up.
However, in the post-ceasefire phase Pakistan’s decision to roll back on its post August 5, 2019 proactive and effective public diplomacy – exposing with specific proof India’s terrorism in Pakistan and in Occupied Kashmir – has been perplexing. Pakistan decided to roll back with no concrete quid pro quo from India. In fact, as is clear, when Pakistan raised concrete questions through its four conditions for talks India basically chose to not respond.
India is moving ahead relentlessly to fully implement its colonial-settler blueprint. Since August 5, 2019, Delhi is taking all constitutional, administrative and demographic steps to annihilate Kashmiri resistance. Delhi’s architecture of permanent occupation of Kashmir rests primarily on reducing Kashmiris to a minority by bringing in non-Kashmiri settlers. India is refusing to revisit this policy. Hence, talks with India can only begin once it takes some practical steps to demonstrate a rethink to reverse and revisit its August 5 policy. And so moving into the future what could be a viable India policy, given Pakistan’s experience with its own post-August 5, 2019 India policy and the current geopolitical situation in the region.
Most importantly, Pakistan must reverse its decision of following a one-track policy: of expecting the backchannel to work. That is clearly not on the cards immediately. Instead, Indians are pursuing their colonial-settler policy in Indian occupied Kashmir while Pakistan has put a stop to it’s very active and to some extent effective public policy exposing India internationally. This Pakistan must decide to reverse. Islamabad must return to its proactive public diplomacy revealing India’s state terrorism that has targeted Pakistan and the Occupied Kashmiris. The policy helped tell the Kashmiri resistance story, no less inspiring and less heart-breaking than that of the Palestinians. The impact of the policy was such that the Indians reportedly sent a message through a third party that Prime Minister Imran Khan be asked to not refer to the Delhi government as a fascist government following Hitler’s ways.
Meanwhile, even if international response and support to the Kashmiri struggle is disappointing, there is recognition of the legal validity of the struggle. As Bozkir advised Pakistan, it must be more active on Kashmir. The UNGA president called on all parties to refrain from changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir and said a solution was to be found through peaceful means in accordance with the UN charter and UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions as agreed in the Simla Agreement between Pakistan and India.
Pursuing multiple tracks and remaining engaged in Pak-India backchannel diplomacy, Pakistan must use all possible avenues of international diplomacy to keep international pressure on India, as it was doing until six months ago. Statement diplomacy alone, as of the June 4 kind, when upon learning from sections of the Indian press that Delhi was planning more steps to further consolidate its colonial settler plans in Occupied Kashmir, is an ineffective response. India has clearly entered the space that an agitated Jawaharlal Nehru had promised in the 1950s to an American ambassador in India. In his book ‘India’s World’, Rajiv Dogra writes that Nehru had warned the US ambassador that: ” I will not back down even if Kashmir, India and the whole world went to pieces.”
Pakistan needs a hard think on its India policy. Like it has managed wisely with its US policy, Pakistan must think of India via realism and the lessons learnt, not by a ‘pie in the sky’ starry-eyed approach.