Prime Minister Imran Khan has admitted that his repeated peace overtures to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi were taken as Pakistan’s weakness. He has declared that Pakistan will no more seek talks with India after its unilateral move to illegally annex the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. Imran’s interview to The New York Times reflected his dejection and frustration since he genuinely wished to reach out to Modi for settlement of all issues including the longstanding Kashmir dispute. Ironically, the two countries were talking to each other through back channels for creating a conducive environment for resumption of talks before Modi’s August 5 decision on Kashmir. The two countries were close to arranging a meeting between Imran and Modi to take place at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York in September. There was even understanding between the two countries that no dramatic announcement would be made until tangible progress on some of the contentious issues. But even as the discreet diplomacy was under way, Pakistan had little idea that India was planning to strip Kashmir of its special status. The blistering attack Imran has launched against Modi, equating him with Adolf Hitler, reflects his feeling of betrayal since his government was caught by a surprise over Indian abrogation of Article 370.
Now that Pakistan has realised that there is no use talking to India, what should be Pakistan’s strategy?
Since the Modi government decision on Kashmir, Pakistan has taken certain steps. For example, it has downgraded diplomatic ties and suspended bilateral trade with India. It has also launched a diplomatic offensive against India by knocking at the doors of the UN Security Council and other international forums. But whatever Pakistan has done so far is more of a reactionary approach. Pakistan, instead, needs a proactive approach to outshine India on the issue of Kashmir. There are a number of steps Pakistan can take for the purpose. But all those measures have to be taken keeping in view the ground situation.
Pakistan has reached out to major world capitals including the Muslim world for support on Kashmir. Fact of the matter is that apart from a few, majority of the capitals have either given a muted response or at best advised both Pakistan and India to resolve the issue bilaterally. Sad it is indeed, but it is not surprising to see how the Muslim world has so far reacted to the Modi’s Kashmir decision. Except Turkey and Iran, other countries have preferred their own interests to the plight of Kashmiris. The UAE declared India’s revocation of Kashmir’s special status as its internal matter. Saudi Arabia also turned a blind eye to the grave situation in Kashmir. This shows that our future strategy must not be dependent on others, particularly those who gave us the false hope that “Ummah” would come to the rescue of the Kashmiris. In real world, states look after their national interests rather than siding with the truth. The reality is that many Muslim countries have economic stakes in India, therefore, for them Kashmir may not be a priority.
In order to win international support, particularly from the Muslim world, Pakistan will have to address its internal shortcomings. Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir will be taken seriously only when we strengthen our economy in a way that makes us a regional stakeholder if not an international one. But a revival of the economy is not possible without political stability. Unfortunately, those at the helm have so far done little to achieve any of the two objectives.
The battle of Kashmir cannot be won simply by launching diplomatic offensive or issuing stinging statements on Twitter. It requires a much bigger game plan — one which is not possible unless there is serious introspection eventually leading to course correction.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2019.