Whither Kashmir Policy

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (February 07, 2010)

The Frontier Post (Print Version) (February 07, 2010)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

In Pakistan, February 5 is observed as a Kashmir Solidarity Day nationally every year. Seminars, workshops and demonstrations are held to highlight the plight of the Kashmiris suffering from the Indian occupation for last 63 years and tribute is paid to their undying courage and determination for standing up to the overwhelming Indian military might. The Day also symbolizes the natural association and expression of support from the people of Pakistan for their Kashmiri brethren. It also reminds the international community of its commitment to enable the Kashmiri people to get their right to self determination as mandated by the resolutions of the United Nations, a commitment that has not yet been fulfilled.

Instead of turning this Day into a mere ritual which it has, we need to focus on its essential message and get our act together. Some questions naturally come to mind. Can an unstable and economically weak Pakistan project the case of Kashmir in a befitting manner? Has Pakistan any coherent Kashmir policy? Does Pakistan have the ability to move beyond its traditional position in tandem with demands of time and ground realities? Has Pakistan's policy to use religious groups as a proxy in Kashmir advanced the Kashmir cause? Why has Pakistan lost broad international support on the Kashmir issue despite its morally, legally and politically justified stance on it? Does Islamabad's apologetic and reactive attitude vis-à-vis New Delhi advance its strategic interest? Answers to these questions represent a crucial test of our collective ability to respond to the foreign policy challenges on the disputed question of Kashmir. What options does the Pakistani establishment have to change the status quo? While we spend the day eulogizing the sacrifices rendered by the Kashmiris, it is high time we also introspected ourselves with utmost objectivity at our disposal with a view to determining the pros and cons of our policy choices on the Kashmir issues. Following points are instructive in that regard:

The ongoing wave of political instability, economic meltdown, and decay of state institutions is eating into the vitals of our body politic. Islamabad's engagement in eliminating domestic terror, though a step in the right direction, is also producing a deadly backlash, thereby upping the ante for the country. Unfortunately Pakistan happens to be a classic case study in bad management, personalized & unaccountable style of governance with no rules of the game, nepotism & favouritsm, corruption and unending power bickering between so-called political parties and military-led establishment. To top it all, Pakistan has a highly centralized political system with little autonomy for the federating units. The clash between federation and provinces over a whole range of subjects is also at the heart of our weakening polity. Despite the political system being parliamentary as declared by the Constitution, it is presidential in essence, for most of the powers are vested in the office of the president.

This sorry state of affairs Pakistan is mired in undermines its negotiating power vis-à-vis India on Kashmir and other disputed questions. It also sends a negative message to the Kashmiris about the kind of political arrangement they would have if they get to accede to Islamabad in case of political settlement of the issue.

Pakistan's Kashmir policy has also been suffering from systematic flaws in that it has been more whimsical and less institutional. Every ruler of the day has had different and incoherent approach to the Kashmir question dictated more by his political compulsions than regional contexts. There has not been much of civilian input into the policy, which has been considered to be sole preserve of military and intelligence apparatus to the exclusion of parliament. The older generation of the Pakistani political and military leaders has gradually lost space to India to maneuver the international opinion in its favour by diluting Pakistan's stated position. They have been less creative and more status quo-prone wedded to the world of make-believe. The ruling elites have also been found wanting in keeping a pace with changing regional and international demands and coming up with proactive response to cope up with the new realities.

The establishment's policy to use religious groups as a proxy to advance its interests in Kashmir has done more harm than good to the Kashmir cause and Pakistan's position on it. The 1989 Kashmir movement, which was purely indigenous in character, represented the demonstration of people's natural urge to determine their political future and rise against the Indian military domination. This movement won broad international support besides highlighting the centrality of Kashmir as the major factor in achieving stability in a highly volatile region that is South Asia. It also put India on the defensive on international diplomatic plane.

However, the intrusion of religious groups from across the border provided India with a lever to justify its domination and beat the drum about the irrelevance of the UN resolution on Kashmir in the wake of change in "ground realities". These groups ended up hijacking the indigenous movement for freedom and self-determination. Their patrons who collected finances and found new recruits carved out a new role in the political landscape of the country with the full connivance of the establishment, which was ever eager to dilute the hold of mainstream political parties. The newfound empowerment of the religious parties enabled them to develop their own agenda informed by their sectarian and ideological associations. The "bleed India" policy of the extremist groups was more than manifests in their oversees operations. In hitting the Indian symbols of prestige and power, they have not necessarily worked with the backing of their patrons. In their attempts to expand their 'sphere of influence', the militant religious organizations have also tended to suppress and eliminate all symbols of resistance from the Kashmiri nationalist forces who were apprehensive of the intentions of these groups and saw in their working the danger of a superimposed religious order defined by strong sectarian connections.

Following the catastrophic events of 9/11, India was able to invoke the international community's obsession with terrorism and paint Pakistan as a breeding ground of terror through its robust diplomatic offensive. This led to evaporation of international support for Pakistan's principled stand on Kashmir.

Now the questions arise: will Pakistan continue to ignore its social and economic development by spending its meager resources on its defence? Will the initiative to pass the gospel word on Kashmir stay in the hands of security establishment without the inclusion of elected representatives? Is the UN still a credible institution capable of delivering solution to the Kashmir issue in the light of its resolutions after its total failure in reining in the US in recent times? Do we have the imagination to think out of box and agree to the resolution of the Kashmir problem along lines different from what has traditionally been put down our throats over the decades? Can Line of Control be declared and accepted as international border? Is settlement of Kashmir possible on the basis of demography and religion? Is an independent acceptable to India and Pakistan?

While we observe February 5 as Kashmir Solidarity Day and rightly pay homage to the sacrifices of our Kashmiri brethren, we should also do some soul-searching on our past conduct. Only an economically strong, peaceful and politically stable Pakistan can protect the rights of the Kashmiris, force India to the negotiating table and evoke international interest and role.

(The writer is a PhD candidate at an Australian University)