Pakistan cannot betray the Kashmiri people

Kashmir Day was this year celebrated as it always is. With a public holiday being observed by most of the citizenry. And special prayers conducted by mosques countrywide. Not to mention Pakistan’s political leadership seizing the opportunity to talk the talk on the disputed territory without walking the walk.

But what the Kashmiri people need from this country is real political will. Meaning that the next government must build on the momentum initiated by Prime Minister Abbasi at the UN General Assembly back in September of last year. This must include ensuring that the UNSC does, indeed, revisit the issue while guaranteeing a plebiscite on the right to Kashmiri self-determination. Similarly, it will be imperative that Islamabad (as well as Rawalpindi) accept the outcome; no-strings attached.

For bluntly put, Pakistan has taken its eye off the Kashmiri ball too many times, without ever getting anything in return. Meaning that it gave into the temptation of fighting the American war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. And today, we are bogged down in a repeat performance; this time having been tasked with securing the US exit strategy from the quagmire of its own making across our western border.

And yet we have not been able to successfully leverage this tactical support with resolving the Kashmir issue. Which essentially underscores how everyone else is exploiting this country’s geo-strategic advantage except the state itself and, by extension, the people. This may be termed a reflection of Pakistan’s geo-strategic decline by its own hand.

Those at the helm need to do more than highlighting Indian human rights abuses; of which there are, of course, many. Nevertheless, a good place to start might be actively reclaiming the narrative and putting an end to framing this as an ideological war; when it is, in reality, one concerning precious water resources. After all, this approach has backfired tremendously. Not least because it gives weight to our reputation as the global exporter of terrorism. We only have to look to the Palestinians to see how they have rejected similar false tagging of the Israeli conflict and, at every turn, remind the world that theirs is a war of occupation.

Whereas the Pakistani state apparatus actively fuels the prevailing discourse. Yet the time has come to admit that this has spectacularly backfired. Think of all the money and resources that have been redirected towards various jihadist groups in this most proxy of wars. And the question remains: where has this got us? Apart from having Hafiz Saeed roaming free once more and vowing to contest the upcoming general elections on the platform of his new party, the MML. This current policy of mainstreaming militants can never be the answer. For far from moderating such extremist views — it will simply legitimise them. Moreover, can we be entirely confident that these groups will actually down arms? Or are we to expect a Hezbollah style set-up whereby a particular party has a political presence and sits in parliament while also overseeing an armed militia wing? Neither option will be good for Pakistan. Just as the US Congress’ removal of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) from the list of militant groups that Pakistan must act against — as part of a possible backroom deal that saw us finally agree to go after the Haqqani Network — isn’t the sort of strategic quid pro quo that the country ought to be seeking.

For we have no right to use Kashmir as a bargaining chip for short-term benefit. The priority must remain securing the referendum. There can be no ifs or buts about it.  *

Published in Daily Times, February 6th 2018.