Impact Of Pakistan’s Institutional Wither On Jammu & Kashmir

Impact Of Pakistan’s Institutional Wither On Jammu & Kashmir
Pakistan, it now seems the idea is at crossroads with the state that it manifested itself through. This tryst with destiny given the nebulousness of the idea was inevitable and it was only a matter of time before the state institutions would start feeling the heat and fight within.

As these lines are penned down, former Prime Minister Imran Khan has started marching on the capital and the vanguard of Pakistan’s establishment unlike past seems incapable of offering him a deal he can’t refuse. It’s moving towards a show-down they say.

It may seem a usual political battle on the face of it as the last decade has rarely missed a year when the capital wasn’t under attack. However, it seems far more serious this time as the institutions both civil and military are losing composure and the semblance of calm necessary to sustain order has already diluted.

For instance, it is quite apparent that the polarization in society has spread to the rank and file of every important institution in the country. It’s not just the institutional clash that we need to be cautious about but the intra-institutional divide that makes the equation more complex. The word on the streets is that there is a grouping in the judiciary, that even the establishment is a divided house, the media is no exception to that, and the parliament where politics was supposed to be fought and sought is rendered insignificant; its proceedings almost inconsequential.

It is important that any discourse on the state of affairs in Pakistan must be wholesome and inclusive. There are regions under Pakistan’s administration where circumstances are peculiar and the questions of sovereignty, security, basic human rights, etc. haven’t been addressed.

Pakistan-administered Jammu & Kashmir (PaJ&K) is one such region where people are very attentive to the developments in the mainland, but they are apprehensive as well. Just the other day, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh while speaking to an audience in Budgam in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir vowed to take back Gilgit Baltistan and spoke at length on how the instability in Pakistan will help their cause.

It is anybody’s guess that the relentless assault on J&K’s autonomy, disputed status, its people, and demography often coincided with Pakistan’s weak Kashmir policy, internal instability, and breakdown of consensus among institutions and political parties on J&K policy. The single common denominator in Gibraltar, Kargil, or August 5, 2019, was Pakistan’s lack of capacity to deal with the problem politically because of its own divided house.
It is high time that serious attention is paid to stop the spillover of polarization to these regions and a minimum distance is kept for the good of Pakistan and Jammu & Kashmir.

Pakistan-administered J&K and Gilgit Baltistan despite being under Pakistan’s administration have always kept a desirable distance from Pakistan’s internal matters. It has helped both Pakistan and these regions maintain a consensual, minimum working mechanism providing no room for spill-over of instability and polarization either way. This arrangement proved pivotal during the War on Terror where 80,000 Pakistanis died but there was no damage in PaJ&K and GB as the terrorist violence didn’t spread to these regions.

This strategic balance weaved by the stalwarts during the formative years of the relationship was achieved partly because of Pakistan’s constitutional position on Pakistan-administered J&K (Article 257) and J&K leadership’s sensibility to keep the focus on the movement of self-determination and governance of the territories under their rule.

However, due to the weakening of democratic forces in Pakistan, an erosion of institutional consensus on J&K has happened especially after August 5, 2019, when Pakistan’s political parties, leadership as senior as former Prime Ministers during PaJ&K’s election campaign openly told Kashmiri people that the government of Pakistan has sold out Kashmir and establishment was held equally responsible for the sell-out along with the then PTI government.

It raised eyebrows in Jammu & Kashmir as such kind of a message never came from across the Kohala Bridge.  As off today, there is a hunt against the Chief Minister of GB for using the region’s police force in the PTI’s May 25 march whereas the previous government had booked PaJ&K’s PM in a treason FIR for participating in a meeting of PML-N where Nawaz Sharif spoke against the institutions.

Such practices will jeopardize the governance of these regions and create unnecessary tensions with Pakistan besides having massive repercussions for the development budgets of these regions.

After an interval of 31 years, PaJ&K is all set for local bodies elections. However, the threat of postponement is looming large over these elections as the election commission does not have enough personnel to conduct these elections and no help is expected from Islamabad for obvious reasons. As these elections are contested at the grassroots level, it would need more security and vigilance for them to be held peacefully.

The problem however is that the region with a police force of 9000 would most likely be engulfed in Pakistan’s internal matters siding with any of the two conflict actors in Islamabad and less likely to be available for home service.

Uncertainty in Islamabad may jeopardize the upcoming local bodies’ elections in PaJ&K where discontent is already on the rise and it may result in the shifting of the Jammu & Kashmir conflict’s theatre to PaJ&K -- which would be unfortunate, at the least. It is high time that serious attention is paid to stop the spillover of polarization to these regions and a minimum distance is kept for the good of Pakistan and Jammu & Kashmir.

The writer holds a doctorate in International Relations from QAU and served as Research Fellow at SOAS London. She specializes in the role of Kashmiri diaspora in conflict transformation. She tweets @LubnaHaroonKhan