Has Pakistan Lost the Kashmir Plot?

Pakistan has been scrambling for a response but it appears that Islamabad has nothing more to offer.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
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In the aftermath of the abrogation of the Article 370 by the Indian government, that gave Kashmir a special status, Pakistan has been scrambling for a response but it appears that Islamabad has nothing more to offer but political rhetoric and symbolic gestures.

The Pakistani Parliament called for a joint session to specifically discuss this issue but came up with a resolution to condemn atrocities in Indian-administered Kashmir while forgetting to mention the effective revocation of Article 370 in the text of the resolution.

After protests from the Opposition for such a grave oversight, a new resolution was drafted with Article 370's revocation mentioned.

Later, the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was mostly absent from such an important session, delivered a small policy speech on the issue. But, it focused largely on the historical aspects of the Kashmir dispute rather than offering any solutions going forward.

Imran Mirrors Pakistan’s Helplessness

He emphasised how Pakistan was raising this issue with international stakeholders but until now, none of the international allies of Pakistan except China have issued any statement condemning India's move, reflecting Pakistan's failed diplomacy.

Even in China's case, it has not come to Pakistan's aid over the issue, but has called out India for its own territorial dispute in the Ladakh region.

When Pakistan’s parliamentary Opposition leader, Shahbaz Sharif made a speech criticising the government’s response, the PM, visibly upset, responded by asking a rhetorical question: “Should we attack India?” which many say reflects Islamabad’s helplessness over the issue.

Simultaneously, while the Parliament session was ongoing in Islamabad, the top military brass met in Rawalpindi and held a Corps Commanders Conference, that brings together the top generals of the Pakistan Army together.

Following their meeting, a statement was issued on Kashmir too, which was once again reflective of empty talk and nothing more. The statement released by the military media wing quoted the Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa saying that the country's military will "go to any extent" to support people in the contested Kashmir region. What will this extent be?

No one knows and we may never find out.

Subsequent to these two developments at the Parliament and in the military headquarters, Pakistan's PM also formed a committee comprising of the country's foreign minister, attorney general, foreign secretary, director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), director general military operations, directer general Inter-Services Public Relations and Ahmer Bilal Soofi, special envoy to prime minister to make recommendations to formulate Islamabad's legal, political and diplomatic response.

But such committees, in the past, have never been useful as their only utility has been to pacify domestic public pressure, which Khan's government seems to be facing.

Now, the government has also decided that it will stop bilateral trade with India and call back the Pakistani ambassador while expelling the Indian ambassador, but observers say it is nothing more than symbolic in nature and will not help the Kashmir cause.

So, why has been there nothing more than rhetoric and symbolic gesturing from Pakistan's civilian and military leadership? The truth of the matter is that Pakistan can no longer stand up for the Kashmir cause due to its own doings.

Its hands are tied, given the international pressure it faces in terms of taking action against militancy especially with regards to dismantling the Kashmir-focused militancy that has been operating from the Pakistan soil for years.

Pakistan Already Isolated

In recent months, Pakistan's financial turmoil and near-economic collapse has forced it to go and seek aid from foreign powers, including its once-upon-a-time close ally, the United States, with which it has had a fall out because Washington believed Pakistan was not doing enough to curb terror groups.

The country's ruling elite including PM Khan and the army chief were recently in Washington, trying to convince the Americans that Pakistan no longer supports militancy but the Trump administration did not take its word for it and it seems it will be opting for independently verifiable information to ascertain whether Pakistan is changing or not.

In such a scenario, Pakistan has no choice but to ensure that the Kashmiri militant organisations it has been sponsoring for years continue to stay dormant until there is some let up in the international pressure.

For that, it is necessary that Pakistan does not dial up the rhetoric beyond a certain point as it has a large militancy-inspired population that it cannot afford to rile up.

Following the Indian government's move, Pakistani PM also called up some of the country’s international partners, especially the Muslim countries, apprising them of the situation developing in Kashmir.

But none as yet have come to its support, reflecting Pakistan’s international isolation and diplomatic failure over the disputed territory of Kashmir, that Islamabad for long has called its jugular vein.

In recent years, even the prominent Kashmiri political leadership have tried to distance themselves from Pakistan as they complained how Pakistan was damaging the Kashmir cause, in the guise of supporting it.

They complain of how Pakistan has injected the extremist Islamist sentiment in a movement that was against illegal occupation by a foreign force. Many such Kashmiri leaders who saw Pakistan as a savior now see both India and Pakistan as problems.

Pakistan Has Only Itself to Blame

But Pakistan has no one but itself to blame for losing the Kashmir plot. In the coming days it’s possible that it may actually face further backlash from the international community over the terrorism issue in Kashmir even if it may not be directly responsible for it, something PM Khan himself alluded to, at the recent National Security Committee meeting which he chaired following the revocation of Article 370.

A statement by the committee said that India may launch a "false flag operation" to implicate Pakistan-based armed groups and justify military action against Pakistan.

And the international community may not come to Pakistan’s support then either, given Pakistan’s repeated false promises and cosmetic clampdown when it comes to dismantling militancy on its soil.

But if Pakistan had stopped playing its double game in Kashmir – i.e. on one hand asking for a resolution with India while on the other hand, allowing militancy to fester that created a low intensity conflict in the disputed territory, it would have been in a better position today to stand up for Kashmir and the international community would have paid attention to protests from Islamabad.

(Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist living in exile in Paris since February 2018 and is currently writing a book about Pakistan. He teaches journalism at SciencesPo and runs a digital platform called safenewsrooms.org, which documents censorship in the media. He tweets at @TahaSSiddiqui. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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