Firing blanks

Pakistan's prime minister missed an opportunity to really do something for the Kashmir conflict this time

Firing blanks

Nawaz, Nawaz, Nawaz.

It was going so well—I mean, more than 80 people were killed and teenagers were being blinded by pellets. But for you, Nawaz, it was going so well. For once, that evergreen image of peace-loving, Bollywood dancing, yoga-posing, bindi-wearing India was flickering, and an uglier picture of a dissent-squashing, media-banning, kid-killing Indian government was surfacing. Sure, they blamed you throughout the summer, saying you were encouraging the protesters, but this time even they knew it wasn’t going to fly. Accusations towards you were half-hearted at best, and no one was buying them anyway. They were all too upset about that kid Burhan, and for once talk started going around about Kashmir being a legitimate human rights issue rather than a plaything for you and India.

The best part? You were scheduled to speak in New York in front of thousands of people and millions of television screens, making, for once, the right kind of noise about how more needs to be done for those suffering people. Human Rights Watch was paying attention, and even the New York Times, known Indophile and Pakistan hater, got round to documenting the nastiness taking place in Srinagar and beyond.
And it looks like things will go back to normal, back to when the armies behead each other and villagers hold out in bunkers, and Sadaf Video makes a killing again because cinemas won't show Bollywood films and Pakistani artists go back to performing for petulant Pakistani teenagers on Canadian university campuses while waiting for the next season of Coke Studio and Aman's asha remains an asha

I’m not sure whether you had the sophistication to apply a ‘do no harm’ approach to Kashmir this summer, but this method was clearly working even if was inadvertent. You should perhaps be a bit more grateful to Indian peaceniks and civil society, because they didn’t need any assistance from you to ensure their voices were heard, and you would have probably bunged it up anyway. I’m not quite sure how much faith Kashmiris have in you, as the head of a Pakistani state, to fight their fight—it hasn’t done you or them any good in 70 years—but you were definitely tactful enough not to do anything stupid when the worst of the riots were taking place. In fact, you got the Indians scared enough to bring up those Baloch skeletons in your closet. And because India’s pot was calling Pakistan’s kettle black, that didn’t work either.

So what do you do? You make a death-defying move to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. You launch, or fail to prevent, if you prefer, the umpteenth cross-border attack on Indian forces, bringing it all to naught.

Why, oh why, did you do it? What has it ever achieved for you? Did Gibraltar win you Kashmir? Did Kargil prompt the Indians to lay down their arms and negotiate? Or was Pathankot the catalyst to get Modi to finally talk Kashmir? Uri hasn’t won you anything but a diversion from Kashmir, back to your wily, lethal ways.


But I know it wasn’t you. I hear you when you say you had nothing to do with it, and that others, whom you have no control over (in fact, who may be controlling you) are the ones who did it. Yes, I know, the same ones who attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul (yet again) the day you met Modi. They are the same ones who rejected the notion for as long as they could, that Mumbai had nothing to do with the attacks—until the Indians caught a live one and found his family in Okara. You know, them. After all, these were the same guys who went behind your back and launched a bloody invasion while you were entertaining Vajpayee in Lahore. They trussed you up and packed you off for a decade for getting upset about it. So I get it, you’re not entirely to blame, especially when Uri happened while you were on the plane to New York.

But come on, man.

“Pakistan has noted with serious concern the recent spate of vitriolic and unsubstantiated statements emanating from Indian civil and military leadership,” doesn’t sound like the beginnings of a condolence letter.

I’m intrigued. That’s not what you said when Pathankot happened. You talked about derailing talks, you talked about investigations, and I think there was even a condemnation in there somewhere. What’s with the turnaround? Have you given up? Or did they tell you to give up? Have you picked a new leader for them yet? Have the last couple of weeks influenced that decision at all?

I see you’ve put an all-parties conference together. Would it get you the kind of consensus you need? If you are looking for peace and dialogue, are you going to find it among political parties? Almeida’s got a point when he says that a consensus for peace is fraying. Will you try and put it back together?

In any case, the moment’s gone. Sure, Sartaj Aziz talked about deflecting attention from human rights abuses in Kashmir. Sure, you did the same when you showed up in New York eventually, but what good did it do? Nobody anywhere, except perhaps in Kashmir, is talking about Kashmir any more.

It’s not easy to get your pet human rights issue on the radar. Save the Palestinians—bless them—everyone else struggles, whether it’s the Kurds, the Rohingya, the Tibetans, the Yazidis, the Ahmadis, and not least, the Kashmiris. For once, they had a moment. You could have actually done something useful for them for a change and brought their struggles to a truly global audience, without anyone suspecting foul play save the Indians. But, no. They’re talking about spy pigeons and surgeries and befitting responses and banning Indian films and Pakistani celebrities and jamming Indian planes with ‘Dil dil Pakistan’ and Arnab Goswami keeps yelling.

To your credit, you’ve denied the surgery happened, which means they don’t have to respond in kind. And it looks like things will go back to normal, back to when the armies behead each other and villagers hold out in bunkers and Sadaf Video makes a killing again because cinemas won’t show Bollywood films and Pakistani artists go back to performing for petulant Pakistani teenagers on university campuses in Canada while waiting for the next season of Coke Studio and Aman’s asha remains an asha and everyone in Pakistan is continuously accused of being a RAW agent and everyone in India works on Starting Cold again and you get more nukes and India gets more nukes—you know, normal.

There’s that Abba Eban gem, after another round of failed peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, that goes like: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” And here, it is pretty much that the Pakistanis never miss an opportunity to attack an Indian border post.

Saim Saeed is a journalist based in Brussels and an MPP candidate at Oxford University. He writes for Politico Europe, and has worked at The Express Tribune