Decoding Pakistan’s Kashmir Policy

Decoding Pakistan’s Kashmir Policy
Undoubtedly, the Indian government’s decision to strip Kashmir of its special status on August 5, 2019, was a watershed moment in the area’s turbulent history. Perhaps an event akin to the Indira-Abdullah accord of 1975, when the so-called Lion of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, surrendered the movement after 22 years of incarceration. Delhi labeled it an end to the Kashmir problem and Pakistan, reeling from 1971’s dismemberment, could only manage a general strike in the Kashmir Valley.

Fast forward to 2019, when New Delhi struck another blow. This time by uprooting the last pillar of the status quo on Kashmir -- the ‘special status’ which reminded everyone that the Kashmir issue remains unsettled and a just resolution is pending. Interestingly, it drew a rather muted response from Pakistan.

Kashmiris across the divide, taken aback by Pakistan’s spineless approach, chose to remain silent, fearing it would cost them their convenient fallback position; the only refuge at their disposal. More confusing was the fact that the then-government in Pakistan discouraged the indigenous mobilisation of Kashmiris in Azad Jammu Kashmir and took controversial steps geared at merging Gilgit-Baltistan and diluting AJK’s autonomy.

Three years down the line, Pakistan’s muted response is still beyond the understanding of common Kashmiris. Most blame it on the unstable political and economic situation in the country, whereas others call it a result of a tacit understanding between India and Pakistan to gulp down the respective parts of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir to consolidate their ‘control’.
Pakistan’s policymakers seem quite oblivious to the changing political dynamics in Kashmir. It seems that maintaining a distance from the ground, verbal assaults on India for media consumption, and strict adherence to the ceasefire on the Line of Control are the only policy responses available to Pakistan.

It is hard to speculate about the thinking of Pakistan’s policymakers vis-à-vis Kashmir but it is almost certain that their understanding of the situation is humble. Pakistan has grown more relevant in the Kashmir Valley post-abrogation because of India’s increasingly communal policies. Revoking J&K’s special status has obliterated the middle ground on Kashmir, decapitated the pro-India political parties, and put an end to solutions like internal autonomy and self-rule. This will invariably redraw the battle lines in Kashmir in the years to come and change the old imagination around the negotiation process, giving more prowess to Kashmiris eventually.

Kashmiris observing a mysterious silence are still grappling with the ominous possibility of a demographic change. It is becoming a reality and the response to it, without much involvement from Pakistan, has been alarming and highly consequential for the minorities and Hindu laborers in J&K. In addition, in the Jammu region, the communal alignment of political forces is a new trend coupled with the militancy spreading its tentacles to places like Poonch and Rajouri.

Pakistan’s policymakers seem quite oblivious to changing political dynamics in Kashmir. It seems that maintaining a distance from the ground, verbal assaults on India for media consumption, and strict adherence to the ceasefire on the Line of Control are the only policy responses available to Pakistan. These may be the easier ones but the need of the hour is to ponder upon new responses to restore the political character of the Kashmir problem.

It is important to understand that Kashmir’s dive into the cesspool of radicalization is a strategy orchestrated by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to fulfill its own communal projects. This is essential to dilute the political nature of the Kashmir problem and Pakistan must refrain from falling into it. Communal infighting in Kashmir will jeopardize the safety and security of J&K Muslims, especially in the Jammu region.

For a change, the deep state in Pakistan seems to have learned that radicalization as a state policy or a proxy weapon is a double edged sword bound to operate both ways. This has become more evident after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, where problems have only increased for Pakistan and security challenges have become more serious.

Thankfully, there are better policy responses available to strengthen the resistance movement in Kashmir, ranging from diplomatic to political ones. For instance, the Azad government of Jammu & Kashmir State has all the ingredients to become a sovereign representative of the J&K people. Post abrogation, almost all the political parties of Azad Jammu Kashmir and the Kashmiri resistance parties have advocated for this option.

There is a significant Kashmiri diaspora equipped to play a constructive role but their efforts do not carry any legitimacy, given their inclination toward Islamabad. In addition, secular voices in Kashmir have always emphasized the political character of the Kashmiri struggle and these voices need more space and representation against an increasingly communal Indian state. There is a natural tendency in Pakistan to indulge in a religious diatribe on Kashmir as it is the default policy, but if avoided this time around, it would immensely help the Kashmir cause.

Pakistan will invariably be involved in Kashmir and it is better if there is a well-thought policy on this matter. It is important to take stock of the situation after the Ukraine war, where nationalist resistance aimed at safeguarding the identity and sovereignty of an indigenous people under assault has once again gained international legitimacy. Western powers have demonstrated an interest in Kashmir along the same lines, and it is high time to let the indigenous movement flag this issue in the appropriate manner.