So a young Foreign Minister just got dragged over the coals. He might have gotten away without major damage had he had a little more substance to say. He didn’t. Instead, he held a Pakistani-only presser and there indulged in bad theatrics. Delhi, who had refrained from pointing fingers at Pakistan even after the Poonch attack, could not but have lost its patience. Besides, you don’t get to wantonly insult a sitting Prime Minister of a rising power and get away with it. A tongue-lashing was the bare minimum.
Point One— Pakistan’s Tiresome 370 Views
As tempers run high, here’s the truth on one part of it. India’s move on Article 370 was debated in the Parliament and went through the entire legal process, a little less than 75 years after independence. Not an inch of territory was changed in anyway, and it remained exactly as it was, but with different governance structures. Pakistan didn’t even wait two years.
In gross violation of the relevant clauses of the UNSC Resolution 47 of 21 April 1948, a tripartite agreement was signed between Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani, Minister of Kashmir Affairs, and a hastily cobbled together 'government’ of Azad Kashmir consisting of the (unelected) President Sardar Ibrahim Mohammad Khan, and a representative of the Muslim Conference on 28 April 1949 at Karachi. The total area of 72,941 (not counting areas ceded to China) was handed over to Pakistan when there was no constitutional or legal provision to empower these representatives to do any such thing on behalf of the people of these two regions.
Talk of sheer hypocrisy in not just hiving away territory, but thereafter maintaining the area—till date—in a constitutional limbo where it is neither part of Pakistan nor part of Kashmir. Contrast that to the democratic exercise that was Article 370, and it's laughable.
Point 2— Pakistan’s terrorism and the SCO
In his interview—and on many other occasions—Pakistan’s position has been that both countries have been affected by terrorism. That position was, in fact, validated in the Lahore Declaration 1999 when both countries swore to fight terrorism, to bolster an emerging peace process under Nawaz Sharif. But consider again the reality.
It is entirely true that India has its own insurgent groups—tragically affirmed by the Chattisgarh attack by Maoists— which it deals with as part of its law and order problems. The rest of it— from the 1993 Mumbai blasts to all the violence across India that has left thousands dead, there is really no other origin than Pakistan. The situation is quite different in Pakistan, which is true, and has been seeing a huge rise in terrorism, across the country.
The origin of this is Pakistan itself—from its patronage of the most extreme groups in Afghanistan starting from the 1970s when the then government of Prime Minister Bhutto armed and trained insurgents against the Daoud government. And no, the US was not in the least a part of this, much as Islamabad loves to blame the Americans for everything. So that’s some thirty-three years of instigating terror, even not counting the shift to terrorism in Kashmir since the 1980s.
The end result of all that adventuring is the then policy in its tribal areas, where a Pashtun population has been run down as ‘terrorists’ in profiling that its proud people resent, and a determined Baloch fight for freedom starting in 1948 when the Khan of Kalat was forced to accede to Pakistan.
Each surge of fighting—including 1958, 1963-69’s, 1973-77, and the present ongoing violence which has left thousands dead or ‘disappeared’ has only worsened the situation. Pakistan authorities themselves assert that all these elements are beginning to cooperate against the heavy-handed counter-terrorism operations.
The recent killing of an ISI Brigadier in operations in Angoor Adda and other targeting of security forces is the direct result of Pakistan’s own ‘foreign policy’ methods that it has disastrously followed for years. So no, no amount of declarations that both India and Pakistan need to fight terrorism together makes any sense, until Rawalpindi decides to end, truly end, all support for such elements. And remember, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s original remit was to fight terrorism. Islamabad may be an 'iron brother’ of China, but Beijing has little tolerance for such elements that may at any time slip into its own territory.
Point 3—It's All About the Economy
Bilawal declared pointedly that his presence was a testimony to the importance of the SCO, which has undoubtedly grown into the largest such grouping in the world. On 5 May 2023, SCO dialogue partner status was granted to Kuwait, Maldives, Myanmar, and the United Arab Emirates in addition to the eight member states which includes India and Pakistan, with Iran now a new member, three observers, and existing six dialogue partners. That is an area covering almost all of Asia, and that could benefit hugely from connectivity.
Islamabad has been talking of the potential but does nothing to encourage this. Pakistan which came to the SCO with a plan for regional connectivity would be a welcome member, its formal position on Kashmir notwithstanding. But all it is plugging—together with China is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC)—which is now lagging in all its aspects due to a dire Pakistan economy.
India’s position, that the CPEC violates sovereignty, since it passes through Kashmir, prevents Delhi from participating, even if it is wished to which doesn’t seem likely with India-China relations in flux. But a true opening of trade routes would immensely benefit all concerned if done under the banner of the SCO. Islamabad should think seriously about it. It could be the one solution to its plunging economic slide.
Bilawal in his speech did highlight areas to cooperate, and was spot on in noting that “climate change poses an existential threat to humanity." Pakistan has suffered badly, and India has a lot of entire crops, as a strange summer weighs in. China suffered a record drought last year, all of which is pushing it to rely even more on coal, and disastrous dam building.
A true SCO shift in dealing with climate change could pay huge dividends directly to its people. All of that requires a primary goal. Members have to settle disputes and move on. As Foreign Minister Jaishankar said "Wake up and smell the coffee. Article 370 is history." Pakistan knows this, and also that no government that comes hereafter, however ‘liberal’ or made up of “Lutyens” people by the dozen, is going to reverse that course of events. In turn, China has to do recognise that posturing on the Line of Control is only pushing India further into (waiting) US arms.
Here’s the problem with SCO. It's like a SAARC (South Association for Regional Cooperation) on steroids. Just as that grouping was scuppered by Pakistan’s refusal to sign on to anything, and in all fairness, the problems associated with India being the largest in the grouping , so will China find that its actions will be viewed this time, quite justifiably, with suspicion.
For SCO to move ahead, Pakistan has to be brought to heel for its own good on terrorism, and President Xi, now on a diplomatic fence-mending binge all over the globe, has to push it hard. Not mediation at all, but a firm persuasion for the good of the grouping, and Beijing’s billions invested there. That’s what one would call a real 'win-win’ situation, with potentially huge benefits for this gargantuan organisation as a whole. Bring on the coffee.
(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)