This bilateral madness

Once the smoke settles down, Pakistan and India must get together and “isolate” the Kashmir issue by creating more bilateral barriers to cross-LoC interference and normalise economic relations.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Published:September 23, 2016 12:01 am
nawaz sharif, kashmir, kashmir pakistan, kashmir india, kashmir dispute, unga, kashmir issue, kashmir india pakistan, india pakistan, indian express It is unfair to judge which country has lost out in the current Indo-Pak crisis. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

On September 21, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the 71st session of the UN General Assembly on the latest uprising in Kashmir, highlighting Indian “atrocities” — already seen by the world in disturbing TV coverage — and asking the house to implement the UN Security Council resolutions on the issue of Kashmir. Pakistan’s UN Permanent Representative Maleeha Lodhi had already told Pakistan earlier that his speech would focus on Kashmir — and not bring up other grievances against India — and that is what happened: Seventy per cent of the text dealt with what is going on in the Valley.

Back home, there was general satisfaction with the speech, which was important because speeches made at the UN General Assembly are meant for home consumption. However, a day earlier, Sharif had told the permanent members of the UN Security Council that “non-resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is a constant source of tension and instability in the region and a threat to international peace and security”. Needless to say, this was of no effect as China and the US were positioned against each other there, China issuing a strong supportive statement in favour of Pakistan and the US indirectly supporting India at the US Congress, where a resolution declaring Pakistan a terrorist state was tabled.

The September 17 attack by four armed men at Uri, killing 18 Indian troops, had fuelled the bilateral outrage. New Delhi accused Pakistan of sending them across the LoC. Both sides bristled. Military officers, retired and in-service, spread around the familiar rhetoric of war, arousing the two nations to a frenzy familiar to a tired world. Analysts said goodbye to objectivity and advised retaliatory aggression, an Indian general actually favouring a “deep strike” inside Pakistan.

Pakistan’s TV featured inarticulate army officers projecting unrealistic scenarios of Pakistan’s victory over India after a showdown for which Pakistan was “fully prepared”. Commentators normally critical of anti-India policies shrank into their shell of nationalism and abominated India as an evil state killing Kashmiri Muslims. On the Indian side, the Uri attack was exaggerated with details of how the four terrorists carried markings on their arms and ammunition proving they had been sent from Pakistan after training. Except that India’s foremost Kashmir-watching reporter, Praveen Swami, bravely came on TV to say this was “not yet” true.

Pakistan thought it could raise the Kashmir issue at the UNGA although a reluctant Nawaz Sharif knew nobody would buy it. When the temperature rises with India, all pacifists, including Nawaz Sharif, have to put on the warpaint for political survival. Before he talked to the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Washington had already conveyed publicly that Pakistan would have to sort Kashmir out with India through talks. Pakistan had to digest a similar message from China. That is understandable if you calculate which foreign power stands to lose most if Pakistan were to tilt into another economically crippling tiff with India. Chinese investments, spread over the region, will stand threatened if another war is unleashed.

Pakistan is internally troubled by terrorism. The world knows more details of a nexus the terrorists enjoy with the Pakistani state than most Pakistanis realise. However, it must be said that under the current army chief, Raheel Sharif, more realistic critique of this internal bleeding of sovereignty is being aired. An example of how outspoken analysis has become in Pakistan was provided in a comment front-paged in the Dawn of September 20 by four highly regarded Pakistanis. A passage penned jointly by Inam ul Haque, Riaz Hussain Khokhar and Riaz Mohammad Khan, all former foreign secretaries, and retired major general Mahmud Durrani, a former ambassador to the US and national security adviser, is worth quoting: “The perception of Pakistan’s erstwhile support to extremist militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s and our association with the Taliban have hurt Pakistan’s international image. Of late, the delay in prosecuting especially those implicated in the Mumbai terrorist incident has been misconstrued as weak Pakistani commitment to fighting terrorism, the nemesis of all modern societies. This undermines Pakistan’s ability to forcefully advocate the Kashmir cause. Nothing will help India more than an evidence of outside militant elements blending with the indigenous Kashmiri uprising to justify its extreme violence in India-held Kashmir and its aggressive posture against Pakistan. We should be open to cooperating with any investigation into the Uri attack.”

Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits. Its sole big investor, China, is its only hope for the future. Any optimistic projections are completely dependent on the Chinese “economic corridor” from Gwadar to Xinjiang. Pakistan should talk to the Chinese seriously and ask them why they want Pakistan to negotiate peace with India through economic cooperation. The truth is India’s Narendra Modi is better placed to understand “enemy” China than the Pakistan army is to understand its “all-weather friend” in the north.

It is unfair to judge which country has lost out in the current Indo-Pak crisis. There is no doubt that Pakistan is internally unstable, its leaders bloodied by their cruel Thai boxing without rules of engagement. It is regionally and globally isolated as never before. But India is the high-flying state with unprecedented economic opportunity that must switch off the state violence destroying its image. The world is looking to it to temper its Hindu intensity. If this intensity declines into an internal brawl with secularism, it will loosen the glue that holds India together.

This round of bilateral madness will result in Pakistan failing to “internationalise” Kashmir. India may heat up the LoC because it hurts Pakistan more than India as Pakistani civilians live close to the border unlike the Indians on the other side. Once the smoke settles down, Pakistan and India must get together and “isolate” the Kashmir issue by creating more bilateral barriers to cross-LoC interference and normalise their economic relations, including consultations on another “economic corridor” that will allow India to trade with SAARC-member Afghanistan and the Central Asian states beyond. That Pakistan is increasingly aware of its internal trouble will help ease this process.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’