Kashmir — finding the way forward

Published: June 5, 2018
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The writer is a geopolitical analyst. She also writes at globaltab.net and tweets @AneelaShahzad

The writer is a geopolitical analyst. She also writes at globaltab.net and tweets @AneelaShahzad

Seven decades after the Partition and the unlawful accession of Kashmir to India, a lot has come to pass in both Pakistan and the disputed Himalayan territory administered by India. Time has only served to make the Kashmir dispute more complex and the paradigms through which the issue can be accessed have become multifacted.

The first of these paradigms are global, regional and local references. At the global scale, Kashmir is seen as a trouble-spot between two nuclear powers that could potentially initiate disaster. The global scale is also humanitarian scale, wherein in the 21st century, a nation of peoples is being kept from their right of self-determination and being tormented.

In the regional context, Kashmir can be seen as the pivot between China, India and Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan acts as the gateway for China into Pakistan, leading to the warm waters of Gwadar, the lifeline of CPEC, and thus a major interest of China. Moreover, the threat that India exerts upon China’s maritime trade and strategic interest in the Indian Ocean is reciprocated by China, in part, by backing Pakistan on the Kashmir Issue and by sitting right next to Pakistani troops stationed at Siachen, in the adjacent Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin.

Locally, the Pakistani perspective rests on the idea of the oneness of the region in terms of brotherhood based on religion. For most Kashmiris, Pakistan is seen as their only hope. In this context determining the actual ‘will of the Kashmiri people’ is imperative. In the 70 years of control, India has had ample room to implant pro-India lobbying in Kashmir and buy the loyalties of many via lucrative opportunities, scholarships in Indian universities and through induction into the political framework. This and increased awareness with entering the digital age has indeed brought up a generation that argues between joining Pakistan and complete independence.

The UN, with its ‘non-binding’ resolutions that have ‘no mandatory enforceability’ also adds an impotent international paradigm that nevertheless had to be upheld. Against this backdrop, one has to see that Pakistan, since 1947 has engaged in wars with India on several occasions — stopping only after the nuclearisation of both countries. The LoC is another perpetual bone of contention that serves to keep the issue alive — but ‘militancy’ is the most burning form of aggression at present. Though Pakistan never officially supports Kashmiri militants, it has been a natural phenomenon starting from the first Pashtun volunteers that entered Jammu in October 1947 once the news of Hari Singh’s betrayal and the onslaught of the Dogra Army on unarmed locals surfaced. Later, in the 1987 elections, wherein the Muslim United Front (MUF) wrote off Farooq Abdullah victory as a rigged effort, triggering large disaffection in the political framework. This led to the creation of Hizbul Mujahideen and the militant wing of the JKLF. But achieving any end-goal through militant activity against the armed forces of India is a distant proposition.

Apart from militant activities, less talked about is the paradigm of a genuine freedom struggle, increasingly becoming a household phenomenon for every Kashmiri. Today, Indian forces, using AFSPA, ambush and kill young suspects of militancy as a daily routine, generating as much protests and demonstrations — the blood of Kashmiri youth spilled every day is watering the freedom-struggle on and on — yet this too does not seem to be the way towards a solution.

Our contemporary history thus stamps upon an overall failure of methods of aggression, and there is a need to return to diplomacy — a diplomacy that will have to charge equally on the internal and external fronts.

The first step in diplomacy is creating a consensus at home. Against an onslaught of anti-propaganda and defamation from India, a strong national narrative based on the humanitarian truth-value is needed and which needs to be popularised via media.

In its 70 years of control, India has had the luxury of producing an interlocuteur evolue elite that would serve as the new pro-India puppet rulers of Kashmir. As Pakistan does not have direct access to the Kashmiri people, we need to build CBMs with Kashmiris via media and slogans and communicating in third countries.

India attacks Pakistan’s Kashmir narrative from the highest political pedestal and from all global and regional platforms. The public diplomacy of India is such that it wants to make ‘love-India’ rhetoric in our country and a hate-Pakistan via persistent revision of blaming Pakistan for the parliament attack (2001), 2008 Mumbai attacks and 2016 Pathankot assault, etc. Conversely, our foreign ministry reciprocates Indian allegations only in the meekest way. To counter all this, we need a leadership and a Foreign Office that can riposte such allegations at all levels.

International diplomacy via global and regional alliances is another way forward. In this pocket of time when China and Russia are coming close to Pakistan in enmity with the US and India — and projects like CPEC and the TAPI and IP gas-pipelines present a Pakistan-tilted balance of power in the region in the near future, we need to use every international forum and relationship to foster a solution for Kashmir, making it heard around the globe.

So, our way forward for Kashmir is not in isolationism such as adopted by Nawaz Sharif, wherein Kashmir was never taken up as a matter of concern in any front — but in diplomatic activism alone. Instead of looking like victims, we need to show ourselves as the champions of not only the Kashmiris, rather of all humanitarian issues like the Palestinians, the Rohingya and others on humanitarian grounds in order to gain a truly altruistic global image. In place of interventionism, we ought to be more focused on global diplomatic pragmatism and international leadership.

Summing up, progress in the Kashmir dispute would only be possible, firstly, by becoming the international voice for Kashmiri people and by using the international community to pressure India to immediately repeal AFSPA, to demilitarise J&K by substantially decreasing armed forces presence in J&K, to restrain from repealing Article 35A (regarding ownership of property in J&K) until a final settlement, to allow international humanitarian groups to enter Kashmir for independent inquiries and to immediately stop the killing of Kashmiris in the name of counter-terrorism. Secondly, to ensure the pro-Kashmir narrative inside Pakistan, confidence must be built with the Kashmiri people and public diplomacy in India and around the world. And, thirdly, to align with Russia and China, two veto powers, and other friends in the world for the purpose of encircling India diplomatically and economically.

In short, the way forward is in building a strong Kashmir narrative in Pakistan, Kashmir and India and around the globe, and using international diplomacy and global economic ties to pressure Delhi to concede phase wise to the legitimate demands of the Kashmiri people.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2018.

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