The current regional and global situation once again presents Pakistan with a formidable challenge at the foreign policy front. Foremost among them is clearly the enduring hostility of PM Modi’s government against Pakistan. Its unilateral abrogation of the special status of Kashmir by revoking Article 370 and Article 35(A) of the Indian Constitution has generated a storm of protest across Kashmir and a wave of strong support for the beleaguered Kashmiris in Pakistan. Adding to the rising tension between the two countries is PM Modi’s refusal to engage with Pakistan despite PM Imran Khan’s repeated gestures of peace. With Modi unrelenting, Kashmiris fully determined and Pakistan unwavering in its support, where would this lead to? The firing on the Line of Control by India has been stepped up with casualties of civilians and military personnel on both sides becoming a common feature.
PM Imran Khan presented the Kashmir issue effectively at the United Nations General Assembly and in subsequent engagements with his counterparts from other countries. His impassioned speech articulating in detail the pathetic conditions in Kashmir and projecting the real face of the BJP won laurels from the Kashmiri and Pakistani people. He tried to unmask the real face of the ruling BJP elite and arouse the conscience of the world. To what extent international and domestic pressure would bear on PM Modi’s government, only time will tell. In all likelihood this is going to be a long-drawn struggle for the Kashmiris and Pakistan.
Assimilating Kashmir into India was a well thought-out decision of the BJP, as it was integral to its designs of changing the country from a secular to a Hindu-dominated state. The blatant and deliberate change in the status of Kashmir reflects the mindset of the Indian power elite. Considering India’s overall hegemonic designs, the rivalry with Pakistan goes beyond Kashmir. Pakistan, while asserting its independence, is challenged by India at every regional and global level. It has converted SAARC into a meaningless organisation and would like to push Pakistan into the blacklist if it were not for the United States and other friendly states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc. While planning terrorist ventures in Pakistan through agents like Kulbhushan Jadhav, India blames Pakistan for promoting terrorism. It is essentially Pakistan’s highly professional and motivated conventional armed forces and the danger of a nuclear conflict that prevents India from adventurism.
There ought to be no unrealistic expectations of support from the world powers and Muslim countries for the Kashmiri’s just struggle, as we have already experienced. For them economic, political and strategic compulsions will trump any considerations of justice and human rights.
Drawing attention on Kashmir by raising the specter of a potential conventional and nuclear conflict would shift the focus away from the struggle of the Kashmiri people. In any case, it neither suits India nor Pakistan to endanger their entire populations and the world at large, to escalate to that hazardous level of confrontation. Moreover, past experience shows that the danger of nuclear conflict leads to major powers stressing on status quo, which suits India ideally. In 2001-0 2 when Indian and Pakistani forces were eyeball to eyeball at the border, president Clinton was promoting the freezing of borders.
Nonetheless, Pakistan is expected to raise the world conscience by exposing Indian brutalities through intensive interaction with human rights organisations and major media channels that have a global reach. Unfortunately, the response of the Muslim countries with the exception of Turkey and Malaysia has been generally disappointing. As has been pointed out by eminent writers, apart from deep economic and commercial interests and regional rivalry, it is the internal power structure that prevents Middle Eastern countries from supporting the freedom struggle in Kashmir. Regrettably, for similar reasons the Arab countries have left the Palestinian people at the mercy of Israel.
Recent efforts by President Trump to mediate or facilitate negotiations between India and Pakistan have been frustrated by India on the pretext that it would engage with Pakistan bilaterally — a false commitment that it has never honoured or is expected to do so in future.
Since the last few months, relations between the United States and Pakistan have improved. Washington expects Pakistan to play a major role in influencing the Taliban to a peace agreement. Acute tension between India and Pakistan becomes a major distraction from the Afghan reconciliation process. Moreover, the United States realises that the increasing hostility of India towards Pakistan would draw it even closer to China.
From a Pakistani perspective, better relations with Washington are crucial. It is the lone superpower and likely to stay unchallenged for a decade or so. Its economic and military power is unmatched. No doubt, India is its strategic partner and meant to counter the rising power of China but this does not prevent the United States and Pakistan from having a mutually-beneficial relationship. Just as Japan, India and several major European and Asian countries have strong economic and commercial relations with China despite serious political differences and strategic rivalry. Given this, why should Pakistan not benefit by developing wider options in trade and commerce? We need to increase the volume and content of our trade with United States — it is far below the potential that exists. This would indeed require major improvement in manufacturing standards regarding textiles and leather goods as well as cereal products, etc. Even with China, who is Pakistan’s closest ally and strategic partner, the volume of trade is miniscule in comparison to what it has with India or other Far Eastern countries.
Internal strength of a country in terms of its economy, political stability and strategic cohesion is central in influencing the quality and content of foreign relations. An educated and healthy population that extends fair treatment to women contributes in improving the economy and raising the profile of the country. Moreover, mobilisation and empowerment of the people through promotion of fair democratic practices will strengthen Pakistan to successfully encounter external and internal challenges.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2019.