Kashmir Debacle: Some Reflections

Islamabad clearly misread the warning signs, writes Farhatullah Babar

Kashmir Debacle: Some Reflections
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reckless move to divide and annex Kashmir and laying grounds for changing its demography by lifting the ban on non-Kashmiris to buy property has grave ramifications for the disputed territory, Pakistan and indeed the entire region. It has also raised serious questions about the conduct of Pakistan’s foreign policy and holds some important lessons for the future.

There was little appreciation in Pakistan that Prime Minister Modi indeed was set to subsume Kashmir into the Indian Union, particularly after the last general election that gave the BJP renewed confidence. Although the move has long been on the BJP’s agenda and was included in its political manifesto, it was not taken too seriously by policymakers in Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran even pinned hopes on Modi’s re-election for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Changing the status quo in Kashmir by India has long been on the cards. The Hindu newspaper, citing government sources, put it thus: “Ever since the BJP withdrew support to the Mehbooba Mufti government, and governor rule and the President’s rule were imposed in the held valley, the government took many measures to make a change in the status quo, including setting up an anti-corruption bureau and conducting raids on the Jammu and Kashmir Bank. The biggest move was the conduct of panchayat elections in the State.”
Prime Minister Imran was ecstatic with President Trump’s offer of mediation. His thoughtless response only betrayed lack of understanding of what the US and international community wanted from Pakistan

Policymakers also failed to take note of earlier warnings by Modi that in the event of a terror attack launched from Pakistan, India will strike inside Pakistan choosing its own time and location. In the wake of Pulwama, India indeed carried out this threat. Pakistan gave a prompt and befitting response, no doubt, but this should not detract from the significance of Modi actually carrying out the threat. Islamabad clearly had misread the warnings.

No academic study of how the BJP’s strategy for the 2019 elections, which saw in Kashmir a Muslim threat, was carried out. It was inevitable that Hindu-Muslim polarisation will increase and Modi will exaggerate the source of the Muslim threat as lying in Pakistan. Something far more sinister was likely to happen.

There was hardly any appreciation of the international community’s tepid reaction. Not long ago, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticised the situation in Kashmir as “robbing millions of their basic human rights and continued untold suffering” and called for establishing a UN commission of inquiry to conduct an international investigation into the rights violations in Kashmir. Half-hearted attempts to attract world attention to the UN report failed to gain traction. Why?

Presently, the US and UAE seem to have accepted India’s assertion that stripping Kashmir of its special status is an “internal mater.” China issued a strong statement but it was to do Ladakh, where it has a territorial dispute with India. Other nations have expressed ‘concerns’ using equivocal language.

The traditionally tepid international response has failed to persuade policymakers to do some soul searching. Did Pakistan’s own human rights record fail to generate any credibility in its protestations about human rights in Kashmir? Surely the international community is aware of the issues of enforced disappearances, internment centres, shrinking spaces for freedom of expression and alienation of the people, particularly in the erstwhile tribal districts? Was it because the Parliament was made redundant, the Foreign Office side lined and saner voices rejected to pursue ruinous policies framed in some dark corridors?

Islamabad also failed to realise the harm done to the Kashmir cause by the Kargil debacle which transformed the dispute from an issue of self-determination to that of cross-border terrorism. Not only was there no accountability, there were no indications whether lessons had been learnt from it.

In the run up to undoing Kashmir’s special status, the Indian government had taken some far-reaching coercive measures. Large parts of the region were under lockdown, tens of thousands of additional troops were sent to Kashmir, internet and mobile phone services suspended, educational institutions closed and senior Kashmiri political leaders placed under house arrest. And while this was happening, Foreign Minister Qureshi stated that the National Security Committee (NSC) was not aware that India would take such a step in 24 hours.

Indian media reported that External Affairs Minister Jaishankar had briefed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about abrogating Article 370 and 35-A and rejecting Trump’s mediation offer when they met on the side lines of the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting in Bangkok on August 1. Reports also say that just two days after the Pulwama attack in February, India briefed US officials on ending the special status of Kashmir. The visiting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells has contradicted these reports, but there is no explanation as to why the US has acquiesced to the Indian stand as this is an “internal matter.”

Prime Minister Imran was ecstatic with President Trump’s offer of mediation. His thoughtless response only betrayed lack of understanding of what the US and international community wanted from Pakistan.

Finally, just when the Indian move demanded national political cohesion and harmony in Pakistan, the hounding of political opposition was stepped up by several notches; Maryam Nawaz and Miftah Ismail were arrested. Could anything worse be done to destroy political cohesion at this point of time?

Let us call a spade a spade. For far too long the national security policies have been drawn up in the dark without oversight and accountability. For far too long the parliament has been ignored, the FO side lined and sane voices suppressed. For far too long the non-state actors projecting state power beyond borders have been tolerated. For far too long also the state policies have been driven from the backseat and not by the driver apparently on the driving seat. The Kashmir fiasco is an inevitable consequence of these ruinous policies. Candour, unfortunately, permits no other judgment.

The writer is a former member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate