- Victory of sorts?
Recent events taking place around Pakistan have suddenly catapulted the one-year-old PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government to centre stage, thereby putting Prime Minister Khan’s leadership qualities to a litmus test.
After Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the so-called special status of Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK) the valley is under siege of the Indian army. Most observers contend that the region under lockdown since August 5 will implode whenever the siege is lifted.
After a long gap of half a century the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) finally took up the situation in Kashmir on Pakistan and China’ s request. The informal meeting did not decide any future course of action.
But as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi said after the meeting, the very fact that it took place was a testimony to the fact that Kashmir was an internationally recognised dispute.
Predictably India is giving its own spin to the affair. After the UNSC meeting its permanent representative to the international body Syed Akbaruddin while briefing the media faced some hostile questions.
But he obstinately kept on insisting that revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was New Delhi’s internal affair. When asked whether India is ready to talk to Pakistan on the issue, he parroted New Delhi’s preposterous mantra: first end terror and then talk.
Although no formal meeting of the UNSC is in the offing, the very fact the UNSC discussed the matter is a victory of sorts for Pakistan. In a way the issue has been revived thanks to Narendra Modi who Prime Minister Khan has righty likened to Adolf Hitler.
Over the years the relevant UNSC resolutions calling for a plebiscite to determine the fate of Kashmir had been virtually rendered dormant.
So much so, that the military dictator Pervez Musharraf buried the aspirations of the Kashmiris by brokering virtual division of Kashmir on his watch. According to this formula Pakistan would have been content to keep Azad Kashmir (AK) while India would keep the rest, with the LoC (Line of Control) becoming a soft border.
Musharraf’s foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri hailed the formula brokered through back channel diplomacy as a great success. Interestingly it was his principal secretary Tariq Aziz who in secret back channel talks with the veteran Indian diplomat SK Lamba finalised the blueprint of division of Kashmir. The foreign office was deliberately kept out of the loop.
Perhaps Musharraf was somewhat aware that he was doing something surreptitious not only by stabbing the Kashmiri struggle in the back but also by keeping the foreign office in the dark. Considerably weakened by the lawyers’ movement for restoration of the CJP (Chief Justice of Pakistan) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry dismissed by him in 2007, he did not have the gumption to go ahead with his Kashmir plan.
In the past, on the world stage Kashmir was rarely mentioned except as a function of terrorist incidents that were invariably blamed upon Pakistan. In that sense Indian propaganda that the Kashmiri struggle is Pakistani fuelled and abated through cross border terrorism was effective. Hence not only the world but also some of Pakistan’s own liberal elite have suddenly woken up to the stark realities of Kashmir.
Unsurprisingly, the western media is now extensively covering the Indian repression in IoK. The New York Times in its almost daily reports has exposed the atrocities being committed and travails of Kashmiris living under complete lockdown.
It also reported the heroic manner in which Srinagar based journalists are bringing out their newspapers to keep their readers informed despite very heavy odds. Getting out a newspaper in the absence of Internet, land and mobile telephony and Wi-Fi is highly commendable.
Adding insult to injury the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has openly sided with India on Kashmir terming it as its internal affair. Understandably, those who have ditched the Palestinians right in their backyard would not have any empathy for Kashmiris suffering under New Delhi’s yoke
On the other hand, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s recent lament on silence, lack or lukewarm support by majority of our Islamic brethren is quite justified. Perhaps the unkindest cut of all was the powerful Saudi crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman inking a $75 billion mega deal with Mukesh Ambani chairman of India’s largest business house the Reliance group.
The mega deal would link the world’s largest oil exporter with the fastest growing energy consumer. Ironically it was finalised at a time when Kashmir was soaked in blood. But predictably for our Arab mentor with whom we have strategic ties, India’s economic clout is more important than Kashmir.
That is why many Arab countries including KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) have close ties with Israel. They consider Iran a bigger threat. According to a report, the Gulf States have largely remained indifferent to the Kashmiris plight as $100 billion annual trade with India is obviously a higher priority for them.
Adding insult to injury the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has openly sided with India on Kashmir terming it as its internal affair. Understandably, those who have ditched the Palestinians right in their backyard would not have any empathy for Kashmiris suffering under New Delhi’s yoke.
On the Afghan theatre Pakistan has assumed a pivotal role in brokering a trilateral peace deal between the Taliban, the US and the Kabul government. From being a pariah in the eyes of Washington, both Khan and his army chief general Qamar Javed Bajwa were pleasantly surprised to be warmly embraced by the enigmatic US president Donald Trump when they visited Washington last month
Of course, Trump wants the US troops to quit Afghanistan before his re-election bid November next year. Islamabad has played a key role in bringing the Afghan Taliban and the US pointman for reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad to the conference table in the recently concluded talks in Doha, the Qatari capital.
President Trump offered the moon to Khan in Washington provided he delivered on Afghanistan. According to well-placed diplomatic sources post Afghanistan agreement Washington is seeking strategic relations with Islamabad.
In a phone call just before the close-door-consultation on the Kashmir issue at the UNSC, President Trump urged PM Khan to reduce tensions over the with New Delhi bilaterally through dialogue.
The US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells just concluded a five-day visit to Islamabad and Lahore. Ostensibly she wanted to review Pakistan’s compliance to the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) regime.
But Ms Wells discussed other issues as well relating to bilateral ties with Washington as a follow up to Khan’s recent sojourn to the US capital. Perhaps a more permanent relationship based on mutual interests is being sought.
The US in the process has clarified that its relations with Islamabad and New Delhi are not a zero-sum game. Nonetheless Washington wants to woo Islamabad away from Beijing.
The sweetener is US largesse in the form of grants rather than “loans from China” and the stick is FATF and the IMF programme.
In the light of recent its support on Kashmir albeit partly owing to India annexing disputed Ladakh Islamabad can ill afford to alienate Beijing, its long-trusted friend.
Nonetheless leadership qualities will be severely put to test in the coming weeks. The acumen Khan shows in handling the issue of annexation of Kashmir and how he navigates relations with the US and China will determine his future as a leader rather than just another politician.
Perhaps Pakistan should engage other relatively friendlier countries like Russia for example. The country’s Acting Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitriy Polyanskiy tweeted after the UNSC meeting saying Russia had good relations with both India and Pakistan and would engage with them to have good neighbourly relations.
At this crucial juncture in Pakistan’s history hitherto lacking internal cohesion is badly needed. But for that the quixotic witch-hunt of the opposition in the name of accountability will have to be re-calibrated.