Even the worst of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s detractors, both domestic and foreign, have had to reluctantly, perhaps even grudgingly, concede that his speech at the UN was a tour de force. In the roughly 50 minutes for which he was at the podium he first focused laser-like on climate change and its effects on Pakistan, on safe havens provided in the developed world for monies looted by unscrupulous rulers and their minions in the developing countries, and the wave of Islamophobia that has swept the developed world after 9/11 and equated Islam with terrorism.
These were issues of concern to Pakistan but also to all right-thinking people around the world. It was only after this attention-grabbing start that he moved on to his role of being he had promised as the Safeer (Ambassador) of the Kashmiri people who by the day of his speech had endured 53 days of a communication and movement blackout, a blackout preceded by the induction of additional Indian occupation forces and the adoption by the Modi government of a bill abrogating Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution.
The PM’s speech in the UN was, in a sense, a culmination of the campaign that he had carried forward relentlessly in interview after interview and meeting after meeting. Largely, if not entirely, owing to this campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the Kashmiris and to appeal to public opinion in the developed word to uphold the values that they spoke of constantly, I have calculated that The Guardian of UK, and The Washington Post and The New York Times in the U.S., each published more than 50 articles. A touching personal tribute to the PM came from Gary Player, the famous Golf champion, who said, “I’ve been following your leadership now. I wish I had the words of Shakespeare or Winston Churchill to give you the credit that you deserve… I know you’ve got many challenges that you would need at least two years, I would imagine, to get your message across.” This theme was reflected also in an op-ed in the British newspaper the Independent which said, “The message to world leaders is loud and clear: Pakistan is no longer a pawn, a joke, a bystander on the world stage. It is active, engaged, relevant and responsible.”
Governments however appeared reluctant to be openly critical of Modi’s actions or to question their legality. The European Union’s spokesperson in responding to questions directed attention to the fact that EU foreign policy chief had spoken to the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers and in both calls had “underlined the importance of avoiding an escalation of tensions in Kashmir and the region.” The European Commission termed “dialogue between India and Pakistan as crucial” even while conceding that Kashmir was a “long-lasting dispute that causes instability and insecurity in the region.”
As I write this on October 2, the lockdown in Kashmir persists. Indian statements to the contrary, such as the statement at the UNHRC meeting in Geneva by the Indian Secretary for External Affairs that “Despite challenging circumstances, Jammu and Kashmir's Civil Administration is ensuring basic services, essential supplies, normal functioning of institutions, mobility and nearly full connectivity. Democratic processes have been initiated. Restrictions are being eased continuously,” have proved to be untrue and many courageous India-based correspondents have testified to the so-called easing of restrictions as being more of a fabrication than a fact. But there is another side to the UNHRC meeting in Geneva. The Indians claim that Pakistan could not get the support it needed to have a resolution on Kashmir which would like the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, call upon India to end the lockdown in Kashmir.
During his visit to China in the immediate aftermath of India’s drastic move, India’s Foreign Minister Mr. Jaishankar had been clear that “it has no implications for the boundaries with China… neither the external boundaries of India or the LAC with China. India is not raising any additional territorial claims.”
Subsequently, however, he has spoken of having physical jurisdiction over Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian governor of IOK has maintained that “If we are able to take Jammu and Kashmir to the path of development, which is very much possible, the day is not far when the PoK residents, facing worst situation under the occupation of Pakistan, will race towards us on their own to be part of India.”
This is one facet of India’s propaganda war. The other has been statements by the Commander-in-Chief of India’s navy that the Jaish-e-Mohammad is training deep sea divers to launch an underwater attack akin to the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. Other reports have been circulated about 100 Pakistani commandos being stationed along the LOC with the objective of infiltrating into IOK. India’s army chief, General Rawat, said that Balakot had been reactivated and further alleged that 500 terrorists were waiting to infiltrate into India. Ajit Doval visiting the locked down state said that surveillance on the LOC had to be strengthened and claimed that 230 terrorists had been spotted and some of them had been apprehended.
Pakistan has recognised that the world still views its claim that it has ensured that no terrorist activity originates from its soil with skepticism. At a briefing by the Acting Foreign Secretary to the ambassadors of the permanent members of the UN Security Council Pakistan invited the representatives of these countries or any other country to inspect alleged terrorist camps. This was important to counter Indian propaganda and to present Pakistan’s case in the FATF.
The war of words will continue and India’s threats to Pakistan will be part of its arsenal. The faint hope entertained in Pakistan that the Indian Supreme Court would term the abrogation unconstitutional has faded now that the Court has put off hearings till November 13. The court’s attention is focused on yet another case – Babri Masjid – an unfavourable decision which will erode the belief of Indian Muslims that they have equal rights and will be justly treated.
It has been said that Modi Sarkar’s focus on Kashmir was an appeal to nationalism designed to divert attention from the woes that have afflicted the Indian economy. Given the downturn in domestic investment and the drawdown of foreign investment the increasing number of non-performing loans of nationalised banks, there appears to be little chance of Modi’s target of 10 million new jobs a year or making India a $5 trillion economy. Given this circumstance it is almost inevitable that Modi will next attempt to hold his Hindutva constituency by further steps against the 180 million Indian Muslims.
In the U.S. Congress hearings are to be held on the human rights situation in Kashmir where State Department officials will be asked to testify. This is a good development but we must note that the U.S. State Department has said that this abrogation is an internal matter for India but is of concern because of its external ramifications i.e., the impact on the Indo-Pak relationship.
On October 3, 2019 The New York Times in a hard-hitting editorial notes that Modi says revoking the constitutional clause on Kashmir’s autonomy meant “people there have got equal rights” with other Indians now and terms this "an absurd assertion to make about a state in the world’s largest democracy that’s essentially under martial law." It goes on to say "Mr. Modi claims his clampdown would resolve that conflict and bring normality and development to Kashmir. But it seems more likely that it will only heighten tensions and make life more miserable for Kashmiris". The editorial recommends that Modi "could avoid disaster by lifting the siege, relaxing movement across the border between zones of the Kashmiri region that are held by India and Pakistan, releasing political prisoners and allowing independent investigators to look into alleged human rights abuses." These are sensible suggestions but the editorial notes are not likely to be endorsed by the Trump administration. One can however hope that some congressmen will use the arguments that the editorial has put forward in the scheduled hearings.
So, what comes next? In his article on September 1, our new Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Munir Akram said, “The compulsion for the Security Council and the international community to intervene in the dispute and promote a solution will depend on Pakistan’s persistence in propagating the Kashmir cause in the face of Indian threats and coercion and, even more importantly, on the resilience and strength of the Kashmiri people’s freedom struggle. The world will intervene if ethnic cleansing and genocide occurs in Kashmir or if there is a real danger of another Pakistan-India war.” He went on to say, “Ultimately, if India confronts a Kashmiri insurgency, a resilient Pakistan, international pressure and an impaired economy, it may agree to negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement with Pakistan and the Kashmiris.”
His recommendation was that we must propagate the legitimacy of the struggle on the basis of international law and the numerous UN resolutions. On the other hand, Islamabad will need to distance itself from proscribed terrorist organisations that may enter the anticipated fray in Occupied Jammu & Kashmir.
Ambassador Munir Akram is not alone in suggesting that it is the insurgency in Kashmir that will determine what happens next. Speaking to The Guardian, a shopkeeper in Srinagar who preferred to remain anonymous expressed skepticism about the UN Security Council meeting yielding any results and added, “at the end it is our fight, no one else will come to fight it.”
Pakistan, led by Imran Khan, has performed yeoman’s service in presenting the case of the Kashmiris to the world but success will depend on how the Kashmiris will act once the restrictions are lifted. They have made economic sacrifices exemplified by the decision of the apple orchard owners not to sell their crop to the government. Further sacrifices will lie ahead. Nobody in Kashmir believes Amit Shah’s assertion that no land will be taken over from the Kashmiris is the full story. They know the plan is to have this land bought by Indians who will settle in Kashmir, changing the demography of the region. I don’t think the Kashmiris are prepared to see themselves being reduced to a minority in their own land.
The writer is a former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to the USA and Iran. Presently he is Head of the Global and Regional Studies Centre in the Institute of Business Management, a Karachi based University.
E-mail: [email protected]
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