For the past 18 months, the issue of Kashmir has been taken up with renewed vigour by Pakistan’s foreign policy planners, signalling that the state is repositioning itself on a principled position on the issue. Much of the credit goes to the incumbent rulers.
The recent reassertion of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy formally began with the emphatic mention of Kashmir in Pakistan’s PM’s speech at the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), held on September 26, 2014. Since then, reverberations of Pakistan’s traditional stance have been echoed by the current regime at all important national events, along with the pronouncement of the four point formula at the 70th Session of UNGA in 2015. Moreover, of late, parliament’s standing committee on foreign affairs has also put forward policy proposals on the issue, which however, appear to be more cosmetic than substantive.
While the renewed interest on Kashmir is encouraging and sends positive signals to Srinagar, it appears more rhetorical than substantive, lacking a concerted policy effort to achieve the desired goals for Kashmir. Given this void, the following are some policy options for Kashmir for the powers that be:
First, the inconsistency of regimes in Islamabad on Kashmir has fractured the national narrative, particularly in the recent past. It has solidified the perception that the policy revolves around three centres in the country: the army, bureaucracy and civilian regimes. As long as this fragmentation in the conception and execution of the policy persists among the state institutions, the desired dividends on Kashmir will hardly be achieved. So there is a need to think together, move together and act together to put in place a holistic policy on the issue.
Second, foreign policy is conventionally an extension of domestic policy, and Pakistan’s case in this context is not an exception. However, it appears that domestic security imperatives are damaging Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. The domestic imperatives need not blur the line between acts of terrorism and the genuine struggle of people to end occupation. Rather, the distinction between the two should be stridently asserted, to keep Pakistan’s legitimate locus-standi intact on the issue.
Then, there is a recent resurgence of uprisings in Srinagar and adjoining areas. The three consecutive years of 2008, 2009 and 2010 are now termed in the contemporary Kashmiri narrative as the 8/9/10 of Kashmir, in which thousands of Kashmiris thronged the streets of Srinagar, demanding the right of self-determination. This peaceful and indigenous resurgence elicited voices from Indian intelligentsia, giving credence in Indian civil society to the people’s right to decide their fate.
The sentiments of resentment and alienation from the Indian union can be gauged by the remarks of Dr Radha Kumar, Director General Delhi Policy Group and a former Indian government’s interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir, in a speech on November 30, 2015: “India could lose Kashmir in the near future, if serious efforts were not made to resolve the lingering dispute”. Pakistan needs to take the emerging political trends in Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) into careful consideration and build on the options accordingly.
Fourth, the role of Pakistan parliament’s 24-member special committee on Kashmir is abysmally poor. The committee was primarily constituted to project the Kashmir cause in the world’s forums but, despite currently having Rs66 million as its annual budget, it appears to be a dysfunctional institution. It is high time that the Kashmir committee be reconstituted and made active by including the concerned people, such as the intelligentsia, Pakistani diaspora living in European countries and stakeholders living in Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and chalking out the strategies and measures to project the cause globally, through consistent global campaigns and advocacy and generate plausible discourse on the subject
Another point is that Azad Kashmir currently lies low in Pakistan’s national priorities. This is partly due to the peculiar status of the region, which is not a federating unit of Pakistan. It is high time the state made a decision on how the region can be uplifted, while keeping its status intact. The region has a huge potential for tourism, which could make it prosperous. A prosperous and thriving Azad Kashmir would widen Pakistan’s support base in IHK.
It is also an undeniable fact that Pakistan has significant clout in the freedom camp in Srinagar; it should encourage them to close their ranks and put their house in order, and steer the freedom sentiments in the occupied region.
Pakistan’s robust but inventive regional alignment may also give the country a vantage point in the India-Pakistan equation. Besides strengthening ties with China and Afghanistan, Pakistan, being among the Saarc countries, should particularly focus on its ties with Nepal and Sri Lanka. The recent developments in Nepal’s political landscape provide opportunities for Pakistan to deepen its ties with the country and augment its regional clout.
At present, India and Pakistan are engaged in an eight-point framework, in which Kashmir and terrorism are treated simultaneously. History stands witness that bilateralism did not yield positive outcomes in the India-Pakistan context, and a perpetual stalemate does call for taking the true representatives of the prime party of the dispute – the Kashmiris – on board. However, Pakistan (in the current scenario at least) should not agree to restructure the current arrangement, because India may try to change the framework to advance its narrative on terrorism.
The main architect of India’s Pakistan policy is India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who has conceived and designed his doctrine, famously known as the Doval Doctrine, based on his defensive-offensive approach towards Pakistan, as he publically outlined in a seminar. India’s moves need to be looked at in this context; they are largely aimed at sapping the will of Pakistan on Kashmir. So Pakistan needs to come out of the policy paradigm that it had framed in response to the Gujrat Doctrine and instead examine the contours and nuances of the Doval Doctrine and come up with overarching policy options.
Lastly, besides highlighting human rights violations in IHK, Pakistan should take into account the recent intellectual voices being raised from within India in favour of the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, and consider how they can be strengthened and amplified.
The writer is an academic based in Islamabad.