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Imran Khan stumbles on Kashmir ambitions

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s rhetoric and actions after the change in the Constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, have verged on being both hysterical and melodramatic. Barely a day after the decision, Imran Khan called a meeting of his National Security Committee, comprising amongst others his Foreign, Interior and Defence Ministers, armed forces chiefs and the Director General of the ISI.

The Committee duly called India’s move to revoke the “Special Status” of Kashmir “unilateral and illegal”, and decided to suspend bilateral trade with India. It forgot that the move would amount to a flea-bite for India and only cause problems for the balance of payment problems Pakistan itself was facing.

In another statement issued on the same day, Pakistan’s Foreign Office proclaimed: “Pursuant to the decision of the National Security Committee today, the Government of India has been told to withdraw its High Commissioner to Pakistan. The Indian Government has also been informed Pakistan will not be sending its High Commissioner (Designate) to India.”

Garnering support

Imran declared that Pakistan’s Independence Day on August 14 will be observed as a “day of solidarity” with Kashmiris, whereas India’s Independence Day on August 15 would be observed as a “Black Day”. The Urdu media was encouraged to go ballistic and even hysterical, forecasting doom for India and demanding the UN acts immediately against India.

Amidst much fanfare and theatrics in both his UN General Assembly speech and his lobbying with world leaders, Imran oozed confidence that Pakistan would corner India in the UN Security Council. The Chinese were more than obliging, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi consistently harping on UN Resolutions. The British were ambiguous, with some alleging that they were duplicitous. But France and Russia, duly backed by the US, were steadfast in support for India. The Pakistani effort to get the UN Security Council involved on the issue of Kashmir failed miserably.

Quite new to diplomacy, Imran tried his luck to get the Islamic World into the picture, meeting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in New York, and agreeing to participate actively in a hare-brained initiative, that included Iran, to form a new Islamic grouping.

Seeing that this initiative as aimed at undermining the Saudi leadership in the Islamic World (OIC), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made it clear that Pakistan would face serious consequences, if it went ahead with this move. Heavily dependent on Saudi Arabia and the UAE for economic survival, Imran Khan beat a hasty retreat. He withdrew Pakistan’s participation from the Islamic Summit, resulting in consternation in three of its enthusiastic participants — Malaysia, Turkey and Iran.

Imran’s ambitions to unite the Islamic world against India on Kashmir lay in tatters, with only a consolation prize of hosting an OIC Ministerial Conference in Islamabad, where there will inevitably be the usual OIC references to Kashmir.

China’s attempts

Pakistan entered the new decade backed by its “all-weather friend” China, again attempting to raise the Kashmir issue in the UN Security Council. The main reason for this appears to have been yet another diplomatic miscalculation. The new year heralded the entry of five new non-permanent members to the UN Security Council, and it was hoped that they would back China. In the meantime, Imran personally appointed the 74-year-old Munir Akram, one of his country’s most anti-Indian diplomats, as Pakistan’s new Ambassador to the UN.

Despite resolute Chinese backing, the effort by Pakistan to again raise the issue of Kashmir in the UN went haywire, with all other permanent members — US, Russia, France and the UK — resolutely rejecting the Chinese proposal for the UN Security Council to take up the Kashmir issue. To add to Munir Akram’s discomfort, he faces a suave and soft-spoken Indian diplomat, Syed Akbaruddin, who has a first-hand experience of Pakistani duplicity, from days when he served in Islamabad during the Vajpayee visit to Lahore to the Kargil conflict, Pervez Musharraf’s coup and the hijacking of IC 814.

Lessons learnt

Imran Khan is learning to understand the realities of the world slowly, after having behaved like a bull in a china shop when it comes to India. He expressed disappointment that even though the “tragedy of Kashmir is much greater,” the protests in Hong Kong receive greater attention in the Western media.

Imran’s conclusion was: “Unfortunately, commercial interests are more important for Western countries. India is a big market and more important for Western countries. That is the reason behind the lukewarm response to what is happening to some eight million people in Kashmir, as well as to minorities in India”.

The parameters of global reactions to developments in Kashmir are now clear. The Donald Trump administration will periodically make statements about ending the curbs on the Internet and restoring normalcy in the Kashmir Valley, while also alluding to Pakistan sponsored terrorism. But, what needs to be taken careful note of will be the reaction of friendly European countries like Germany and France, with India labelled in their media as having discarded or eroded the very commitment to pluralism for which it won international respect.

Chinese hostility on Kashmir will continue. China’s military cooperation — and particularly, its increasing maritime ties — with Pakistan to undermine Indian influence across the Indian Ocean will expand.

The Himalayan mountain routes are presently snow-clad, hindering large-scale infiltration. The past months have been used to clear the Valley of residual terrorists who infiltrated across the Line of Control.

India would now do well to separate the detention of mainstream politicians from the treatment meted out to separatists from the Hurriyat Conference, who actually face serious charges ranging from killing Air Force officers to support for armed insurrection. Insurgencies are ultimately ended by a political process, involving accommodation of those who have a record of respecting the ballot rather than the bullet.

Given their present belligerence and bellicosity, Imran Khan and the Pakistani military are hardly likely to end support for militancy, unless the cash-strapped country continues to face external financial pressures. It remains to be seen if the US and its European partners can pressurise and persuade Pakistan to see reason.

Then, there will be then some real possibility of talking peace seriously with Pakistan, when Imran Khan visits India for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in September.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

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