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EFSAS Commentary

Pakistan’s growing desperation on the Jammu & Kashmir issue is becoming increasingly evident


The United States Congressional Research Service (CRS) on 13 January released its second report on Kashmir in the last six months. An independent research branch of the US Congress, the CRS churns out periodic reports on issues that are deemed to be of interest to US lawmakers to facilitate them in making informed decisions. The 13 January report did not contain anything new. EFSAS has in several of its preceding commentaries and articles underlined the hollowness and ineffectiveness of the shoddy Pakistani efforts, which have been substantially devoid of merit, to internationalize the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) issue. Nevertheless, the CRS report titled ‘Kashmir: Background, Recent Developments, and US Policy’ did dispassionately analyze the complex history and the repercussions of recent developments in J&K from the perspective of the US. The report summarized the US policy on the region as being aimed at seeking to “prevent conflict between India and Pakistan from escalating” and supporting “a US-India strategic partnership that has been underway since 2005, while also maintaining attention on issues of human rights and religious freedom, … as well as maintaining cooperative relations with Pakistan”.

The CRS report does call out the continuing restrictions that were put in place by India after its 5 August 2019 moves aimed at further integrating J&K. It, however, simultaneously underscored that the international community, by and large, has accepted the changes wrung by India in J&K as its internal matter. It says, “Since 1972, India’s government has generally shunned third-party involvement on Kashmir, while Pakistan’s government has continued efforts to internationalize it, especially through U.N. Security Council (UNSC) actions. China, a close ally of Pakistan, is also a minor party to the dispute… To date, the Trump Administration has limited its public statements to calls for maintaining peace and stability, and respecting human rights. The UNSC likewise calls for restraint by all parties; an 'informal' August 16 UNSC meeting resulted in no ensuing official U.N. statement”.

The report also conveyed an appreciation for India’s rationale behind imposing restrictions in J&K when it stated that “New Delhi justifies ongoing restrictions as necessary in a fraught security environment. The U.S. government has long acknowledged a general threat; as stated by the lead U.S. diplomat for the region, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells, in October, ‘There are terrorist groups who operate in Kashmir and who try to take advantage of political and social disaffection”.

In this backdrop of a broad international understanding of the motives behind India’s J&K moves, the strength of India’s legal standing on J&K, and the near universal acceptance of Pakistan’s role in fomenting terror in J&K and the rest of India, the report assessed that the gaping holes in the arguments that Pakistan advanced in furtherance of its pursuit of internationalizing the J&K issue meant that they were non-starters to begin with. The CRS report asserted that Pakistan’s dismal record in the sphere of human rights rendered its accusations against India on the same count hypocritical and meaningless. It said, “Pakistan and its primary ally, China, enjoy limited international credibility on human rights issues”.

On the utter failure of Pakistan to garner any interest in, or support for, its version of the narrative on J&K, the report averred that “Pakistan appeared diplomatically isolated in August, with Turkey being the only country to offer solid and explicit support for Islamabad’s position. Pakistan called for a UNSC session and, with China’s support, the Council met on August 16 to discuss Kashmir for the first time in more than five decades, albeit in a closed-door session that produced no formal statement. Pakistani officials also suggested that Afghanistan’s peace process could be negatively affected. Many analysts view Islamabad as having little credibility on Kashmir, given its long history of covertly supporting militant groups there. Pakistan’s leadership has limited options to respond to India’s actions, and renewed Pakistani support for Kashmiri militancy likely would be costly internationally. Pakistan’s ability to alter the status quo through military action has been reduced in recent years, meaning that Islamabad likely must rely primarily on diplomacy”.

Pakistan’s diplomacy on the matter has thus far come across as ineffectual, disjointed, and increasingly desperate. Only 3 countries, China, Turkey and Malaysia, have sung Pakistan’s tune. Diplomatic efforts, meanwhile, have repeatedly been consigned to the back-burner in the interest of dealing with an economic crisis of epic proportions, and with protecting the primacy of the Pakistani military establishment in the face of attacks by politico-religious parties on the one hand and the judiciary on the other. After all, in Pakistan, preserving the hegemony of the military establishment is paramount; J&K (and its populace) is only a convenient tool to be used against India. The desperation that recurrent failure and the paucity of options have bred can be gauged from some of the doomsday scenarios that have been painted by the Pakistani leadership. As the CSR report highlighted, Prime Minister Imran Khan not only threatened more terrorist violence when he said “With an approach of this nature, incidents like Pulwama are bound to happen again”, but he also dramatically and sensationally warned in an op-ed that “If the world does nothing to stop the Indian assault on Kashmir and its people, there will be consequences for the whole world as two nuclear-armed States get ever closer to a direct military confrontation”.

Two major stumbling blocks to Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts have been the disdain shown by the Gulf countries, from whom, had it not been for India’s far greater economic attractiveness and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s exceptional Middle East outreach, Pakistan could have received much more support. The second was elaborated in the CRS report: “Over the past decade, however, Washington appears to have grown closer to India while relations with Pakistan appear to continue to be viewed as clouded by mistrust. The Trump Administration ‘suspended’ security assistance to Pakistan in 2018 and has significantly reduced nonmilitary aid while simultaneously deepening ties with New Delhi. The Administration views India as a key ‘anchor’ of its ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ strategy, which some argue is aimed at China”. Unless Pakistan’s tactical utility for the US in the Afghan and Iranian imbroglios is acute enough to warrant trumping the much wider strategic advantages that India offers, Pakistan is unlikely to make major gains diplomatically.   

Pakistan’s frustration at constantly coming up against brick walls in its efforts on J&K was decried by Imran Khan in a 16 January interview with the Germany DW TV. Asked if he thought that the international community was paying little attention to Pakistan’s views on the Kashmir issue, he responded, “Sadly, yes”. In the same interview he made the meaningless claim of Pakistan being open to holding a plebiscite in J&K. He said, “Let the people of Kashmir decide what they want. Pakistan is ready for a referendum or a plebiscite. Let them decide whether they want to remain with Pakistan or to be independent”. This statement was highly misleading. Firstly, if a “referendum or a plebiscite” were actually to be held, the option of remaining with India would undoubtedly need to figure along with “remain with Pakistan or to be independent”. What Khan was saying, in essence, was that the Kashmir issue was between Pakistan and the people of J&K, and that India, which holds a clear legal title to J&K as well as a majority of the erstwhile princely State’s territory, had no place in the equation at all.

It is also moot that it actually took India’s 5 August decisions to convince Pakistan of the merits of holding a referendum in J&K. For over 70 long years before that Pakistan had demurred and scoffed at any suggestion of a referendum. It steadfastly refused to take the first step of a UN-mandated process that called upon Pakistan to withdraw all troops from J&K as it was hell bent on illegally and forcibly holding on to a large chunk of the erstwhile State’s territory. The welfare and the rights of the people of J&K have never been defining components of Pakistan’s policy on the region. Any talk of a referendum after 70 years can only be described as devious and desperate, in equal parts.

It is not difficult to understand why the international community has not responded warmly to Pakistan’s overtures on J&K. The astounding opinions and explanations proffered by Imran Khan on 21 January in Davos where he was questioned by Insider Inc. Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Carlson on the fact that Osama bin Laden was killed in close proximity to a Pakistani military base, are revealing and open a window into the Pakistani mindset towards terrorism. Imran Khan proclaimed Pakistan’s innocence in the matter by retracing the history of the US government and the CIA working with the Pakistani army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the 1980s to train and arm Islamist guerrilla fighters against Soviet Russia and the communist Afghan government. He added, “What happened was once the Soviets left, so did the US. So Pakistan was left with these groups”.

Khan’s attempt to wash Pakistan’s hands off these Islamic terrorists bred and cultivated by it and shift the entire blame to the US – Soviet Cold War rivalry was as naïve as it was ridiculous. Pakistan had trained and armed the Mujahideen groups fighting in Afghanistan voluntarily and had whole-heartedly joined the US - Saudi campaign in Afghanistan. Far removed from what Khan tried to project, Pakistan was not a hapless, innocent victim. It chose to nurture these terrorists with the full knowledge that once the Soviets had been driven out of Afghanistan, the Mujahideen would not be welcomed into the US with green cards but would remain back in Pakistan and its immediate neighbourhood. Pakistan created the monster, and as is evident from the nudging and pushing that it has been doing with the Taliban to get it onto the negotiating table with the US, it still controls it and uses it as an instrument of State policy.

Imran Khan described Al Qaeda as only one among those mujahideen groups, adding that they were “never considered terrorists”, but rather “heroes”, and that this allowed Osama bin Laden to find refuge in Pakistan. Khan conceded that Bin Laden was able to avoid capture in Pakistan likely due to the “linkages” he had developed within the Pakistani army. However, Khan denied that Pakistan's “military hierarchy had anything to do with it”. Khan’s message that rouge elements influential enough to shield a terrorist as powerful and high profile as Bin Laden exist in the Pakistani army is disconcerting, and his claim that the army’s top brass had no knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence in the country unbelievable.

Khan also said that after 9/11, the mujahideen were cast as villains, not Jihadis, which he stressed the Pakistani military establishment was not willing to accept. Khan questioned, “How would you suddenly tell them that now these guys are terrorists and go after them?” Khan, however, lost sight of the fact that this reasoning applied as much to J&K as it did to Afghanistan. If the military establishment was unwilling to go after its strategic terrorist assets in Afghanistan, it would be even less inclined to act against the terrorist proxies it has set up and nurtured for J&K.

That puts paid lock stock and barrel to the specious Pakistani argument put forth to foreign interlocutors that Pakistan had stopped supporting terrorist groups in Kashmir.