In the aftermath of the brutal killings in the Occupied Kashmir following Burhan Wani’s extrajudicial execution, anger in Pakistan was partly directed against India and partly against ourselves. In fact, in most cases, TV analysts would spend hours on self-introspection and self-flagellation for not doing enough to save Kashmiris from recurrent carnages and persecution and for not winning over international public opinion for a just cause. These concerns are genuine and need some analysis.
First let’s look at international dynamics. Many amongst us have this naive view, generally speaking, that the ‘international community’ is always inspired to champion and defend the cause of human rights and the rights of oppressed people. They believe that the UN would be only too keen to intervene of its own volition or if we approached it frequently and in the right manner. Some of this may be true; most of it is not. Yes, the international community, through a process of evolution, has evolved a normative framework for the promotion and protection of human rights, and that framework underpins our contemporary world order. But then realpolitik is also a stark reality which is driven by national interest – strategic, military, political and economic – and pragmatism. In the international realm, laws and norms are invoked and applied selectively by powerful nations to advance their foreign policy agenda. For instance, a democratic nation that is not in a dominant power’s camp may draw wrath on human rights violations; whereas an autocratic, monarchical state may go scot free if it is allies with that dominate power. Mostly, politics takes precedence over rights protection.
Millennia ago, Plato diagnosed that ‘Justice is the interest of the stronger’ but he also warned that it should not be so because the quest for justice is a ‘human virtue’.
The second big fact glaring in our face is the economic interests of nations. Bigger nations are ready to bend rules in case of states where they seek profit for their businesses and investments. This is a clear fact that is often clouded by the mist of our own aspirations.
Now some facts relevant to our case on Kashmir. It is just. The UN Security Council did pass resolutions mandating a plebiscite in the 1950s. But remember in the 1950s, some six decades ago, we were the right side of the Western bloc, and India was tied to the Soviet Union. Now India is the West’s ally and we have cut loose from the Western worldview and are more closely aligned to China. Since 1957, there has no substantive activity in the Security Council on the Jammu and Kashmir issue. Normatively, the issue is frozen, whereas the world politics has seen huge transformation. Today, there is no Cold War, no communism to fight, and alignments of the Cold War have been disrupted and re-oriented. There are new wars these days to fight – terrorism and violent extremism; fracturing civil wars and transnational strifes. Federations want to maintain their unity and integrity. Self-determination, which was considered a ground norm and a peremptory norm of international law by the 1970s, is now viewed as a sinister instrument used by centrifugal forces. The distinction between secession and struggles for freedom to realize the right to self-determination has blurred. In the immediate, post-colonial aftermath of the Second War, these were two distinct concepts, as nations were gaining independence from their colonial masters. For us they still are distinct, because we seek a solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, but not for the most of the world.
The US, which helped us get a fair dispensation on Jammu and Kashmir in 1950s, has switched sides. It is now so close to India that it would not risk alienating it by raising the Kashmir issue, although it does make some lukewarm, pro-forma statements from time to time which emphasize the bilateral dimensions of the issue. You would not come across a US statement highlighting the UN Security Council’s responsibilities in regard to Kashmir.
In the present world order, the United States’ writ in the Security Council, supported by the UK and France, is supreme. Yes, Russia would have a say on Ukraine and Syria; or China on North Korea; or France on Mali, but that is about it. Palestine, in the Council, is a single country issue – that of the US. All others defer to its judgement and discretion, minus some statements in Council chambers from time to time which too are first sanctioned by Washington. Russia, for its own reasons, would not support us on Kashmir; and China would think it imprudent to raise this issue.
The US believes that India is its valuable ally and bulwark against China and that Indian markets open up huge opportunities for its investments. Another set of facts. The volume of India’s bilateral trade with the US is nearly $70 billion; our $5.7 billion. India is attracting $45 billion in foreign direct investment; we manage about $2 billion.
We must spur our economic growth; and bind North American and European nations in mutually profitable relationships to offset this imbalance. We can do it.
The Security Council is the only forum that can reactivate the Kashmir issue, but it is moribund. So what do we do? Surrender and accept the fait accompli? Resign to our fate? NO.
First and foremost, we should conduct a dispassionate analysis of the things as they are and not be deluded by how they ought to be. Complaints about injustice or lack of State initiative leads to morbid immobilization and inaction.
Second, generation after generation has been brainwashed to believe that the problem of Jammu and Kashmir is too intractable to yield to any solution. After India and Pakistan went nuclear, a solution through a war would have to be ruled out because any conventional or nuclear war would be self-destructive. A mindset of defeatism took hold after the 1971 war when India brutally cut Pakistan into two parts and threatened to dismember the rest of the country. We did develop our nuclear deterrent but we still have a persona of a weak and vulnerable nation, always keen to seek attention of India, sometimes bordering on fawning. The other extreme – of bragging, bravado and megalomania – is simply ludicrous because that too betrays insecurity and vulnerability. The mindset of failure and defeat needs to be changed. We have a principled stand on Kashmir, which also makes eminent political and strategic sense, and we must therefore pursue it steadfastly.
Third, Kashmir should be part of our long-term, multi-year, multi-debate national security and economic strategy. It should be part of our statehood and ideological make-up. It should be moved from the margin to the centre, but not in a manner that we end up raising expectations for an instantaneous solution.
Fourth, over the years we have yielded too much ground to India. In 1972, after the East Pakistan debacle, under immense psychological pressure, we acquiesced in the bilateral ordination of the dispute. Since then, we go through the motions by making statements in the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council (earlier Human Rights Commission), but these forums are not primary decision making bodies on an issue which essentially falls within the realm of the UN Security Council. So, we have to make up our mind if we really want to fully use the multilateral dimension of the Kashmir issue or whether we should be content with the status quo, as we chase the mirage of bilateral talks.
Fifth, by and large, there is quite a bit of illiteracy about what is going on in the Indian-held Kashmir. India has changed the demography and political configuration of Jammu and Lakakh; it is now doing the same in the Valley through a policy of illegal settlements and seasonal migrations. Efforts need to be made raise awareness about the developments in Jammu an Kashmir and suffering of the people there and develop a responsive strategy. Three decades down the road, Kashmir will not remain an issue if we are mired down in self-induced oblivion about Kashmir and, in the meantime, India succeeds in bludgeoning dissent and integrating Jammu and Kashmir. If this trend continues, Kashmir would be relegated to history. No further effort would be required at the national or international level.
But if we do decide to act, after doing our strategic calculus of profit and loss, we should answer some basic questions. One is whether we really want to internationalise the Kashmir issue all over again but at the moment it is not internationalized in a critical sense. In the meantime, the Kashmiris themselves and activists from Pakistan should send their communications on rights violations to UN Secretary General, European Union and human rights mechanisms. Two, we have to strike a balance between not going to war and still keeping the issue of Kashmir alive, most of it though deft diplomacy. Three, simultaneously, we should not lose focus on uninterrupted economic growth, without which Pakistan would not be able to pursue its strong diplomacy on Kashmir. Four, we need to maintain our moral high ground on bilateral dialogue with India despite its tepid response or its attempts to wriggle out of its commitment to engage. Five, we mustn’t forget the Indian civil society. Indian citizenry has to be convinced that the usurpation of the territory of Kashmir and trampling of the rights of the Kashmir can lead to the weakening of their own very fragile federation. Finally, in this day and age of the Internet and social media, Kashmir is not merely the responsibility of the State. Citizenry, and that includes global citizenry, is equally important. The entire civil society, including all political parties, the media, humanitarian organizations, and even chambers of commerce and industry, should get involved. There is no short cut.
(The writer is Director General Institute of Strategic Studies and former Ambassador to the United Nations.)