Forging newer pathways

Forging newer pathways

Shahzad Chaudhry May 28, 2021
The writer is a retired air vice marshal and a former ambassador. He tweets @shazchy09 and can be contacted at

A recent possibility of talks with India came against a stumbling block when differences emerged at various levels in the public discourse on this quest for normalisation between two nuclear neighbours. It was part distrust, part grandstanding and part political opportunism. Most of all it was a chance to put the PTI as a political party and the military — alleged partner to PTI — in the dock by those who have congealed against the current political order, disparagingly called hybrid. Not that such talks are in the offing or even close — India is too devious and caught up in its own plight with Covid — but each such opportunity in Pakistan’s intensely polarised political and social environment is not to be lost for scoring brownies. When did we become as polarised in our approach, personal disposition and in our politics is difficult to tell but we are truly reaping the harvest at this moment of our divided journey.

Qualifiers are in order: one, polarisation exists in the upper social and power elites — social liberals joining hands with likeminded in the media and the intelligentsia against the military in particular and the religious segments of the society in general; two, within and between institutions, and between political forces. The largest segment of the society, the common man — ninety-nine percent — whose cause elites invoke to justify a struggle isn’t even a part. The elites essentially defend their interests or indulge what may be popular.

Politics is easy to explain. It is the entire political class against Imran Khan. He is an outsider and has breached through the shackles of political establishment to end their monopoly over power. To a traditional politician of a tribal mindset it remains a dangerous precedent. This segmentation hitches to the elite-mil divide, which remains the most popular course to liberalist credentials even as most have found convenient accommodation with military orders to purchase benefit; and the divisions in the popular media which has chosen sides while thriving in commercial dividends of a 24/7 news cycle. Popular political overtones cement the divide and serve power-elite interests than be the genuine triggers to resolve systemic distortions. More the noise merrier it makes. The judicial system of late is another entrant — witting or unwitting — to this game of thrones providing legal certitude through decisions to the numerous political cases before them.

It doesn’t stop here. The state is maligned unreservedly. The news of background parleys with India to soothe persisting instability and a near-war has these gladiators invoke Kashmir and the articles 370 and 35A as the new tools of their tirade against the government and the military they suggest is bartering Kashmir for nothing. Any attempt to investigate the possibility of a pause in the near-war tenuousness which may then throw open a possibility for peace is rejected outright for being proffered by the ‘other’. The debate is patently tribal. It would stop any government in its tracks for fear of being castigated with associated political cost.

The origin, the context, the singularity and the chronology of each of the articles sets them apart as two separate pieces of legislation in the Indian Constitution addressing separate purpose. Article 35A was based on a J&K statute of 1927 which was formalised in the Constitution in 1952 while 370 came into being in 1954. Article 35A is sacrosanct to the Kashmiris; 370 is not; opinions vary — many in Kashmir refuse to accept 370’s applicability. None of the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir mention, recognise or include any of these articles of the Indian Constitution as a premise or a reference. Pakistan’s stance is around UNSC resolutions not around any of the articles. The debate thus has been poorly framed, is partisan and even lesser understood. It pushes back most to the comfort of a stagnating status quo.

The Kashmiris in the meanwhile keep suffering. They are in the longest lockdown ever; first cordoned off from their daily lives by the outnumbering presence of the Indian military and then by the pandemic without access to medical support. This inhuman incarceration, now of over two years, is the latest in their saga of suffering. Perhaps it is time to differentiate between ‘sacrifice’ and ‘suffering’. Perhaps it is time to differentiate between Kashmir and the Kashmiri. We cannot and should not eulogise loss of Kashmiri life and pin our hopes around their blood. Just in the last couple of weeks a similar act was played out in Gaza. In search of Palestine, Gazans continue to shed blood and sacrifice which is ironically celebrated by those who only sit by the side and cheer. It is time that Palestinian and Kashmiri children earn their right to life. Let geopolitics be cast aside and instead let’s win the two their right to life.

The two people are heavily outgunned and outpowered by their nemeses — India and Israel. No other state will invite a war in their support. On Kashmir, the two principals being nuclear powers literally takes the possibility of a kinetic conflict out of the equation. Palestinians can’t even claim the support of a principal patron. Merely left to themselves the power differential and political heft India or Israel can exercise far outweighs any that either Palestinians or the Kashmiris can bring to effect. What is left is a moral quotient alone which gets easily trumped by geopolitics. The two states relish in this game of geopolitical sweepstakes as lone contestants. A hope for an incremental whittling away of their influence in the world and indeed of their patrons is a long shot which may take decades to materialise, if at all. In the meanwhile, those suffering will continue a life of rejection and deprivation. The promised land remains elusive.

Humanity must take precedence over terrain and geopolitics. Palestine may be a far harder nut to crack because Israel only seeks a zero-sum conclusion. Rather than leave them to the whims of the next cycle of violence it may be opportune to leverage the current global sentiment against Israeli atrocities and carve the Palestinians a human-rights niche in the legislative and moral sense. Israel has emerged as a worse exponent of ethno-religious apartheid. Today’s day and age needs calling that out in no uncertain terms. Ditto Kashmir. That is where our focus must lie. It is prudent to work on the possible than waste effort on the improbable. The goal of statehood in the current global order is a chimera which has evaded realisation in the last seven decades. Instead the blood has flowed freely. Those egging them on in their fight and sacrifice need to relent to give them half a chance to life.

Will a state even survive as a notion in the emerging world driven by technological innovation? A human being, a group or a tribe may become so sovereign with the power of technology that traditional notions of state and its power may simply become irrelevant. Borders may dilute over time as state structures become fluid. Why bleed for something which will soon be antiquate? Rather empower those in strife with emerging tools to life to forge relevant identities. But only if we can shed our vested stakes.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2021.

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