Bekhudi besabab nahin Ghalib
Kuch to hai jiski purdah dari hai
(Distraction is not without reason, Ghalib
Something’s afoot that is being veiled)
FOR Pakistan, the prospect of reduced tension with a larger adversary should be welcome. Extended backchannel contacts, a revival of the LoC ceasefire, an exchange of messages between the prime ministers, Pakistan’s offer of Covid-19 relief assistance to India, and possible negotiations on “all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir”, should be cause for cautious optimism. However, important questions remain which will be answered one way or another soon enough.
Reportedly, Modi took the initiative. Why? Is it because he is politically weakened by the gross and tragic mishandling of the pandemic which has now been reflected in significant defeats in three out of five state elections? Have military setbacks in confrontations with China led to fears of a China-Pakistan alliance against India’s regional aspirations? Has Biden’s reliance on Pakistan to coax the Taliban to limit US humiliation in Afghanistan increased its leverage in Washington at India’s expense? Have India’s failure to eradicate the Kashmiri resistance despite massive repression, and international criticisms of India’s human rights violations been factors?
Conversely, is India driven by its perception of the political, economic, military and diplomatic mess in which Pakistan finds itself today? Has Modi calculated that Pakistan has no Kashmir options left other than to accept Aug 5, 2019 as a fait accompliand cover its own humiliation with empty bluster and information management? After losing its majority 50 years ago is Pakistan now poised to forego its ‘jugular vein’?
On July 24, 2004, Dawn carried a report ‘Musharraf for giving up maximalist positions’. Musharraf told India’s external affairs minister, Natwar Singh, that he was ready to set aside Pakistan’s “maximalist” position on Kashmir as “enshrined in the UNSC Resolution 91”. This and other UNSC resolutions embodied the UN’s legal and principled decision not Pakistan’s “maximalist” position. According to Musharraf “India’s initial maximalist position” was that all of the pre-Partition State of Jammu and Kashmir belonged to it. Later, India’s “maximalist position” was reduced to “the conversion of the LoC into an international border”.
Pakistan abandoned its UN-based position before even entering into negotiations while India only reduced its illegal territorial claims to what it had already forcibly absorbed. Musharraf presented his four-point proposal: demilitarisation or phased withdrawal of troops; no change in the borders of Kashmir while “softening” the LoC to allow Kashmiris to travel and trade across it; self-governance for Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and India-held Kashmir (IHK) without independence; and a joint supervision mechanism involving India, Pakistan and Kashmiris.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the veteran Kashmiri political leader, opposed the four points as a sell-out. However, other Hurriyat leaders seemed ready to settle for them. Ultimately, developments in India and Pakistan aborted the process.
Fifteen years later, Pakistan is resurrecting Musharraf’s ‘backchannel’. A backchannel is essentially a ‘trouble-shooting’- or an initiative-launching modality to overcome deadlocked or restore suspended negotiations. It is not a proper modality for extended negotiations to resolve complex core issues, especially if professional and experienced diplomats are excluded and replaced by largely ‘miltel’ personnel.
Pakistan seems ready to dump its UN-based stance on Kashmir again in the alleged expectation India will reciprocate by changing its implacable stance. Modi is not considering political suicide, and nobody is fooled.
The difference 15 years later is India has eliminated the State of Jammu and Kashmir and replaced it with two Union Territories. This essentially abrogates the Shimla Agreement which states “neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation”. India has thereby also rendered the LoC moot as it derives from the Shimla Agreement.
Shimla needs to be restored for the ceasefire to endure and Aug 5, 2019, needs to be reversed. Otherwise, backchannel negotiations will be cover for surrender, especially if Kashmir is relegated to the back-burner as reports suggest. Democracy dies in darkness. So does national security and foreign policy, including Kashmir policy. Only betrayals thrive in the dark.
India will not ‘reciprocate’ Pakistan’s bending of the knee. The Kashmiri resistance will not surrender whatever Pakistan does or does not do. Has Pakistan consulted the Hurriyat leadership in IHK or the government in AJK? On what basis does Pakistan distinguish between Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution? India’s respected legal scholar A.G. Noorani states 35A directly flows from 370. Why should Pakistan refer to the Indian constitution when its position is defined by its own constitution? Article 257 integrates the Kashmir independence option with the Pakistan option.
Are we asking for the Indian constitution, instead of the UN resolutions, to provide the basis for a Kashmir settlement? The Indian constitution claims the whole of Jammu and Kashmir for India. Moreover, why did the prime minister on Feb 5 suggest two plebiscites for the Kashmiri people: one to choose Pakistan and the other to leave Pakistan? Much like Ahmad Faraz’s “aa phir se mujhe chorh ke jaane ke liye aa.” This once again needlessly undermines Pakistan’s UN-based stance.
Is Pakistan really left with no options to support the Kashmiri people in the face of genocidal repression — including killings and maiming, communal targeting, systematic disruption of families through disappearances, communications blackouts, cultural suppression, demographic change, etc — except unavailing diplomacy and lawfare? If so, why not publicly tell the Kashmiri and Pakistani people the honest if bitter truth?
There is no justification for war, especially between neighbouring nuclear weapons states. Nor is there any need for a Kashmir settlement which insults the heroic sacrifices of the Kashmiri people, not to mention the massive costs extracted from the people of Pakistan for the ‘Kashmir jihad’.
By all means Pakistan should develop a working relationship with India and seek a principled compromise Kashmir settlement acceptable to the majority of Kashmiris. It must also effectively dissuade India from perpetrating mass slaughter, possibly genocide, against the Kashmiri freedom struggle. If even this is now considered beyond Pakistan, what is left of the credibility of the country, and how come?