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Friday, April 03, 2020

The Pakistan muddle

On Kashmir, Islamabad blows hot and cold. New Delhi must keep watch, its responses are still evolving.

By: Editorial | Updated: September 3, 2019 2:50:04 am
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Ever since the government took the decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the plethora of responses from the Pakistani leadership has shown up the confusion at the top in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Pakistan’s effort has been to “internationalise” the Kashmir issue, and to an extent, it has succeeded. In four short weeks, Kashmir has been the subject of a “closed door” discussion at the UN Security Council and drawn renewed interest from the international press. It has caught the attention of US President Donald Trump and lawmakers in the US, UK and EU. This month, there is every likelihood of a discussion in other UN fora such as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

But the problem for Pakistan and PM Imran Khan is that most foreign governments still seem to take Delhi’s side when they say it is a bilateral issue — there seems to be no pressure on the Modi government from any foreign capital to talk to Pakistan, nor has any government challenged India’s position that the August 5 decisions are “internal”. Except for Turkey, no OIC member has rushed to support Pakistan. Even the Taliban were cut to the quick when Pakistan linked the developments in Kashmir to the Afghan talks. The spectre of a nuclear holocaust, drawn by the Pakistan PM in an oped in a venerable US newspaper, has neither shaken nor stirred world leaders. His exhortation to all Pakistanis to stand still for 30 minutes every Friday in support of Kashmiris has only provided comic relief.

In fact, Pakistan’s responses appear aimed more at the domestic audience, three generations of which have been nurtured on the rhetoric of Kashmir as the country’s “jugular vein”. Imran Khan is desperate to show his voters that he is doing something, that his government has not abandoned the issue. But for all the sabre rattling, both the civilian and military leadership of that country know only too well that confrontation over Kashmir is not an option. Pakistan’s economy is tanking and its only hope is life support from the IMF. It is only too aware of the possible consequences of unleashing the jihadi tanzeem from its side — not just the international retribution it might attract, but also, post-Balakot, the unpredictability of India’s response.

A realistic assessment of its situation may be one reason why Pakistan has blown cold after blowing hot. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi rushed to clarify that war with India was not an option, and declared Pakistan ready for conditional talks with India. Pakistan also overcame its hostility enough to provide, as directed by the International Court of Justice, unconditional consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former Indian Navy officer in its custody. But it would be a mistake to read these as signs of Pakistan’s acceptance of the “new normal” set by India in Kashmir. Pakistan’s responses are still evolving, and much will depend on how the situation develops in Kashmir over the coming weeks.

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