On May 6, Indian forces killed Riaz Naikoo, a top Hizbul Mujahideen commander and successor of Burhan Wani, known as the poster boy for the Kashmiri resistance against the illegal occupation of Kashmir. The reaction from Pakistan was surprisingly muted. The Foreign Office did issue a statement but opted not to mention Naikoo by name. Also, the Prime Minister’s Office maintained a silence and there was no tweet by Imran Khan explicitly talking about the encounter in which Naikoo was gunned down along with other fighters.
Why all this was unprecedented was because Pakistan in the past reacted differently when any top Kashmiri fighter was killed in Kashmir. The reason is that Pakistan considers the local armed resistance as legitimate in Occupied Kashmir. Prominent diplomats and ambassadors, including the current permanent representative to the UN, Munir Akram, are of the view that the UN Security Council resolutions and international laws allow Kashmiris to resist Indian occupation force. Hence, such a movement cannot be equated with terrorism.
It was because of this position, Pakistan reacted sharply to the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016. The PML-N was in government at the time. Ironically, prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who often has been accused of being pro-India, himself spoke against the killing of Wani declaring him a “hero” for the Kashmiris. His office not just issued a statement within days of his assassination but later he raised the issue at the UN General Assembly session. Not just that, the FO was quick to summon the Indian High Commissioner to lodge a formal protest over Wani’s killing. The ambassadors of UNSC’s five permanent members were also invited at the FO and given a detailed briefing on the situation. The then de facto foreign minister Sartaj Aziz wrote a letter to the UNSC, condemning in the strongest terms, Wani’s killing. The PML-N government also dispatched special envoys to different capitals as part of a diplomatic offensive to sensitise the powerful countries about the deteriorating situation.
These facts were part of the FO record and can be accessed by anyone. The swift reaction from the PML-N government challenged the myth that it deliberately sidestepped the issue of Kashmir. Remember, Nawaz Sharif faced a lot of criticism in India for declaring Wani a “hero”.
So, the question is: why the PTI government, whose supporters claim that no one has advanced the Kashmir cause as effectively as Prime Minister Imran Khan has, apparently ignored the killing of Naikoo, who had the same status as Wani’s?
Also, Naikoo’s killing happened against the backdrop of Kashmir undergoing major changes. When Wani was killed in July 2016, the Indo-Pak relationship was still relatively good. There were still hopes of resumption of talks. There was no indication that the Modi government was going to change the decades-old status of the disputed Kashmir region nor was there any threat of Balakot strikes. Yet, the then government took a far stronger stand against the killing of Wani. But the current government’s near silence on Naikoo’s killing and absence of any diplomatic offensive indicates either a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s approach or total incompetence by this government.
Whatever may be the reason, it is evident that this government doesn’t have any clear Kashmir strategy. Yes, Prime Minister Imran Khan did make a long speech at the UNGA session but that can’t be substituted with a policy. It is important to underline here that supporting the Kashmir struggle doesn’t necessarily mean sending non-state actors across the LoC, a policy that undermined Pakistan’s Kashmir diplomacy. But extending moral, political and diplomatic support to the local Kashmiri resistance is part of Pakistan’s core policy. But under the PTI government, that policy seems to have changed.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2020.
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