Pakistan’s Kashmir dilemma

12 Feb, 2014    ·   4305

Shujaat Bukhari analyses why it is in Pakistan's interest to take pragmatic and sincere approaches to resolve the Kashmir issue

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

When Pakistan officially observed February 5 as ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ Wednesday last, the atmosphere was more euphoric this time. The main reason could be the transition of power from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to Pakistan Muslim League (N) headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PPP government was not averse to Pakistan’s Kashmir cause but since it was heavily burdened with security challenges in the country, it could not devote much time towards this fundamentally important issue for Pakistan.

Except for getting the hard-core constituency involved in the renewed Kashmir ‘strategy’, though only at the public posturing level, Nawaz Sharif has also been treading a cautious path since he took over in May last year. Right from his campaigning to initial statements as Prime Minister, he did not sound belligerent vis-a-vis India. He invoked the 1999 Lahore Declaration, of which he and the former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee were the architects, to pick up the threads on the peace process. He did not come clear on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and continued to go in circles, singing the peace tune for resolving all outstanding problems with India.

However, at the same time he did not oppose any hardliner as well. Since Nawaz Sharif owes his return to power partly to extremists in Pakistan, he continues to keep his Kashmir policy under wraps except a few pronouncements mainly when he is in Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK). When he was quoted as having cautioned about a fourth possible war in case Kashmir was not resolved, during a meeting of Kashmir Council in Muzaffarabad, his office not only denied it but also suspended three officials responsible for the “leak”.

Nawaz Sharif has left the questions on Kashmir mainly to be fielded by his Foreign Policy Adviser Sartaj Aziz and others. He tries to distance himself from making a direct or meaningful reference over Kashmir when it matters a lot. And to re-infuse official confidence on days like February 5 is no more than posturing to keep Pakistan’s Kashmir constituency as well as separatists in Valley in good humour. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan is a principle party to Kashmir dispute and its involvement in final resolution cannot be ignored and is rather inevitable.

But the way Islamabad has been handling Kashmir during past 65 years is full of flaws and backward moments. With reference to KSD, Pakistan’s leading English newspaper Dawn observed in its editorial that the country’s K-policy has all along been dominated by the security establishment. “Even as Kashmir Day was observed on Wednesday, few people realised the enormous damage done to the cause of Kashmir’s freedom by Pakistan’s past cultivation of non-state actors. True, some political governments were mindful of the hazards inherent in such a policy but they were helpless in the face of the military’s stiff opposition to their views. The generals insisted that they alone knew how to run Pakistan’s security policy. Conceding this point meant handing over to the army the gamut of security issues from Afghanistan and Kashmir to N-weapons” the paper wrote in its hard hitting editorial on February 7.

On the face of it, Islamabad has been maintaining that it was only extending diplomatic, moral and political support to Kashmir. But in reality it has been much more than that. When armed rebellion erupted in Kashmir in 1989, this challenge to Indian rule was by and large indigenous in nature even as the material support was given by Pakistan. With the passage of time, Pakistan changed its complexion and opened up the gates for external elements thus hijacking not only the movement but the discourse as well. It continues to hold key to the political discourse in the separatist camp and it has not encouraged independent thinking on Kashmir. While it boasts about being the only benefactor of Kashmiris it has miserably failed in allowing space for a Kashmiri discourse and exerting as a genuine party.

In case Pakistan would have acted with a policy to only help Kashmir “cause”, it would not have come under the “burden” of tribal raid of 1947, accepting Simla agreement “under duress”, starting militancy in Kashmir and now surrendering it under the much talked about “Kashmir fatigue” phrase in Pakistan.

Biggest damage to Kashmir was caused after 9/11 when it was linked to the so-called international terror network and the real political dispute of Kashmir was defamed at the international level. This was also the result of involvement of those actors who in one or the other way owed allegiance to those who were operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan became miserably weak at diplomatic level and could not fend off the Indian offensive.

It is a fact that Nawaz Sharif did not get a positive response from New Delhi but in spite of that Islamabad continued to promote the bilateral relations through trade and commerce and showed keen interest in improving non-political relations. Today, the trade between two countries is an important area of engagement and for the sake of it, they have even sacrificed the cross Line of Control (LoC) trade which had emerged as an important Confidence Building Measure vis-a-vis Kashmir.

Pakistan may observe KSD with much fanfare but the fact is that its Kashmir fatigue is much visible in its real dealings. Policy experts and even some important functionaries in the government have conceded (in private) that Pakistan has been paying a huge price on account of terrorism in last over one decade and Kashmir is one of the reasons for that. One can empathize with Pakistan as far as its terrible internal situation is concerned though it is not mainly due to Kashmir. The flawed policy of giving in to the security establishment, as suggested by Dawn, has lot to do with Pakistan’s present dilemmas over Kashmir.There could be many more questions Pakistan will have to answer over Kashmir. However, the concern must revolve round the stability of Pakistan. Not only for peace in Pakistan, but in entire South Asia, resolving Kashmir is an unavoidable task both India and Pakistan must take up. It is expected that after a new government takes over in Delhi, both move towards a grand goal of resolving not only Kashmir but other outstanding issues as well. Rigidity would not serve any country’s interest.

They should also desist from any showdown in Afghanistan, which could be detrimental for peace in the region. India’s insistence for a greater role in Afghanistan is not in the interest of this peace as Pakistan has much more stakes in that country. Pakistan must also take stock of its Kashmir policy and move towards a pragmatic and sincere approach to show that it is different from New Delhi when it comes to Kashmir.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir