By: Kanwal Sibal
The Pakistan high commissioner seriously transgressed diplomatic norms in meeting the Kashmiri secessionists after being advised against it by the foreign secretary. Accredited envoys do not disregard such top-level “requests” from the host government. Such defiance has a cost, which can be either expulsion or a functional boycott of the envoy.
The high commissioner has doubly offended the dignity of the host government by meeting the secessionists a second time, behaving as if India’s sovereignty over its own territory and citizenry is subservient to Pakistan’s superior sovereign right to meet in India’s capital city even treasonous elements. One can imagine such effrontery in a superpower’s dealings with a banana republic, but not India-Pakistan relations. We should have had the last word by either expelling the high commissioner or placing serious limits on the mission’s activities and accepted Pakistan’s inevitable retaliation, but we have chosen not to escalate matters at this stage, retaining room for calibrated responses in future.
The arguments excusing Pakistan’s conduct are largely specious. Pakistani representatives meet the Kashmiri secessionists to stress that they alone truly represent the Kashmiri people — not the elected government and mainstream parties. Because these elements seek a solution in Kashmir through the defunct United Nations resolutions, Pakistan needs to keep bolstering them to buttress its own core position on Kashmir and showcase that Kashmiris have not accepted Indian rule. Ignoring them would mean relying on terrorists alone to oppose Indian sovereignty over Kashmir, which undercuts Pakistan’s position. We might argue that the Hurriyat is a declining force and thus tolerate Pakistan’s hobnobbing with them, but that overlooks the crucial point that by allowing this, we give Pakistan a political role and extra-territorial rights in Jammu and Kashmir in contradiction of our own position that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Why we allow secessionist Kashmiri elements to meet the Pakistani leaders and officials in our capital city in the first place is, of course, perplexing.
Even if this was permitted in the past, Pakistan has not acquired any prescriptive right to meet them freely in the future. That this practice has existed for years and must therefore continue irrespective of political change in New Delhi is a vacuous argument. Pakistan has long engaged in terrorism against India without the Indian government reacting forcefully. Would this mean that Pakistan has now a political lien on such conduct and any robust Indian reaction would be tantamount to India choosing belligerence over peace? An even more absurd argument by Pakistani “moderates” that mocks our intelligence is that Pakistani leaders meet the secessionists to help us as “honest brokers” with our disaffected Kashmiris. The Pakistan high commissioner has made this preposterous view official by claiming at a press meet that his conclaves with the secessionists — along with the ISI operatives in the mission no doubt — is “helpful” for peace. Can continued…