Addressing the 6th summit in Astana, Kazakhstan,on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, Pak PM Shehbaz Sharif stated, ‘I am absolutely ready and willing to have a serious dialogue and discussion with our counterparts, Indians, provided that they show sincerity of purpose, and they show that they are ready to discuss issues that have really kept us at a distance over decades.’ He added, ‘Pakistan desires peaceful relations with all its neighbours, including India. However, until India brings its atrocities in occupied Kashmir to a grinding halt, just and lasting peace will remain elusive.’
Without mentioning J and K, no Pak leader’s speech is ever complete. Pak believes they have global support while the reality remains that India cannotbe coached,pushed or pressured. It has displayed it multiple occasions, the latest being Ukraine. As expected, Shehbaz placed the onus on India to create the environment. To satisfy his country folk, he tweeted, ‘I explained how India uses the mantra of democracy to hide its gross human rights abuses.The world should recognise brutal nature of Indian policies in J and K. The terrorised valley of Kashmir is manifestation of bullet being a preferred Indian policy than ballot.’
Minister of State for External Affairs, Meenakshi Lekhi responded, ‘I advise Pakistan to dismantle terror infrastructure in their country and get on the better side of law and order, then you can have a conversation with India. We want good relations with all our neighbours including Pakistan but not at the cost of India’s integrity.’ She also called on Pakistan to stop ‘grave and persistent human rights violations in Pakistan occupied Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.’
A few days ago, while addressing graduating students at the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul, their army chief, General Bajwa mentioned, ‘We must give peace a chance by developing a mechanism to resolve all our bilateral issues peacefully.I must highlight here that our desire for peace must not be construed as our weakness.’ The message was to India, without it being named directly. Bajwa has been promoting his doctrine of shiftingPakistan’s global strategy from geopolitics to geoeconomics.
In both cases, Shehbaz and Bajwa, there was no mention of revocation of article 370, a stand down from their earlier position. There are also reports that Pakistan is permitting import of 6 million mosquito nets from India.Pakistan’s change in stance followed visits of Bajwa and Bilawal Bhutto to Washington where they would have been prodded to seek dialogue. The US would have conveyed, in no uncertain terms, as to what would be the limit of support Pak could expect from them, considering its growing strategic relationship India.
While the Pak government’s stance appears to be mellowing down, raising Kashmir in global forums continues. India and Pakistan have been clashing regularly at the UN and almost every other global body on Kashmir. Pakistan raises Kashmir even if the subject has no link, only to keep the pot boiling.
Last week, post the UNGA vote on Ukraine, the Pak ambassador stated that Pakistan looked forward to, ‘similar concern and condemnation about the attempts by India to formalise annexation of Kashmir.’ India was compelled to respond. These clashes, though meaningless, occurring on a global platform demand a rejoinder. Pakistan falsely harping on human rights in Kashmir, is intended to hide its own violations in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. India never raises Kashmir in bilateral and global platforms.
India refusesto relent from its stance of terror and talks being unacceptable. It demands verifiable proof of Pakistan acting against terrorist groups and their leaders prior to even considering dialogue. Simultaneously, India refuses to normalize ties with China unless the border situation reverts to pre-Apr 2020 positions. India has conveyed globally that it will not bow to any pressure on what it believes to be the right approach. This is Indian national power at play.
The desperation for Pakistan’s increased raising of Kashmir and seeking dialogue was excellently summed up by Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, in an article titled, ‘Pakistan’s Worst Nightmare: Indian Kashmir Thrives,’ published by ‘The National Interest.’ Michael based his article on his recent travels through the valley. He stated, ‘While Kashmiris under Pakistani control remain hobbled by a moribund economy and suppressed by Jamaat-e-Islami extremism, Kashmiris in India have security, taste freedom, and thrive.’
He summed up Pakistan’s dilemma by stating, ‘Islamabad and the separatists and terrorist groups it sponsors may say India denies Kashmir freedom, but reality increasingly suggests otherwise.Pakistan may claim to be the flagbearer for Kashmiris, but Indian Kashmir’s great leap forward economically, socially, and politically can only embarrass Pakistan, for it both shows the failure of Islamabad’s stewardship and highlights its cynicism.’ He added that more Kashmir develops and moves towards peace the more Pakistan loses its grip and support.
Pakistan is aware that it cannot convince the world on Kashmir as tourists are flocking the region from all parts of the globe, carrying back fond memories. Its biggest concern lies in the fact that as the leader of the G 20, India will conduct a few preliminary meetings of the organization in the Union Territory. Once these are held, it is fait accompli on India’s position. Its only hope is that Turkey and China could push India to change venues.
Simultaneously, the Pak establishment spreads fake news on Kashmir amongst its domestic audience solely to save face. It cannot admit it has lost the Kashmir plot after investing billions in creating terrorist infrastructure. For years Pakistan equated Kashmir to Gaza but accepting that both are vastly different would damage their egos.
With the US making clear their limits of support and advising it to resolve its differences with India, Pakistan has possibly begun seeing light and advocating talks with almost no preconditions. Rhetoric on Kashmir will continue solely for domestic consumption. India must ignore Pak’s mention of dialogue unless there is verifiable proof of a change in policy. With a change in Pak army chief in Nov, elections in Pak next year and Indian elections in 2024, neither side would be willing to risk a start and collapse of dialogue.
The author is Major General (Retd)