by Saima Aman Sial

As the United Nations hosts the high-level meetings of the 73rd Session debate, the South Asian region is again embroiled in a war of words, instigated by India. After assuming office, Pakistan’s PM, Imran Khan, in his victory speech put forth his administration’s priority for restoring and upholding peace initiatives in the region. Talking about India he said, if it takes one step towards peace, Pakistan would take two. The statement was seen with a pinch of salt by many in India while others saw it as a driver for positive impetus in bilateral relations.

After Imran Khan was sworn in as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Indian premier expressed his desire to pursue “constructive engagement”. Pakistan’s Foreign Office in its response reaffirmed the need for dialogue between the two countries. Meanwhile, taking this opportunity Pakistan’s government offered the resumption of the dialogue process with India, which was accepted initially by New Delhi and on September 27th.

The development was also welcomed by the United States, where the spokesperson for the US State Department said that the US backs dialogue between the two countries. She also added that such exchanges would create a pathway to reconciliation. However, not soon enough the Indian media started reporting the cancellation of the meeting citing references to killing of its three policemen in India-occupied Kashmir and release of postal stamps by Pakistan glorifying martyred Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani. To add fuel to fire, Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat went on to state that, “we have made no bones about the fact that talks and terrorism can’t go hand in hand. Pakistan needs to curb the menace of terrorism.”

However, the developments need to be seen in a broader context of a continuing Indian agenda of isolating Pakistan globally and the emerging domestic political context.

Firstly, with the election fervour reaching new heights in India, pending the general elections, the Modi government is using some lone incident alleging Pakistan’s involvement, to gain political mileage domestically. With little achievements to the BJP government’s credit to show in the upcoming elections, anti-Pakistan rhetoric is an easy election winning agenda in Indian politics.

Secondly, and most importantly, India has been unable to suppress the ongoing popular revolt of the Kashmiri people for too long. Its draconian laws as well as massive use of force are not yielding positive results. On top of this, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) came up with a report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir in June 2018 and in the first of its kind document, made serious note of India’s human rights violations in the Kashmir Valley.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at the launch of the report, categorically urged “the Indian authorities [to] take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir.”

The report outlined that while responding to protest demonstrations, which started in July 2016, Indian security forces had used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries to the civilians. It highlighted human rights violations in Indian- held Kashmir, including forced detentions, lack of access to justice, excessive use of pellet gunshots and enforced disappearances.

The response of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to the report was an angry outburst, describing it as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”. It only showed that India had been caught off-guard.

In a similar vein, it is also interesting to look at India’s somersault for dialogue in the context of the upcoming UNGA session. While in the last UNGA session, India found an often repeated pretext in propagating jingoism against so-called Pakistan sponsored terrorism, this time the opportunity was stolen by the Pakistani PM by offer for talks. Also, in the last session of the UNGA, Pakistan’s former PM Abbasi had drawn the international community’s attention to the Human Rights Violations in the Kashmir Valley. However, with the coming of the UNOCHR report this June, providing fresh evidence against India’s Human Rights violations in Kashmir, India used the concocted narrative of beheadings as a diversion from the real issue of human rights violations.

Thirdly, as India’s so-called ‘surgical strikes day’ approaches on September 29, the country is trying to popularise the anti-Pakistan narrative at the same time as the session of the UNGA. In an effort to glorify the strikes, the government is reinvigorating narratives that draw undue attention to Pakistan and divert attention from real issues like the recent Dassault-Reliance Rafale deal scandal as former president of France Hollande accused Narendra Modi’s government of nepotism in granting the contract to one of his business acolytes.

In a similar vein, India’s University Grants Commission has suggested the celebration of a ‘surgical strikes day’ by students to commemorate the sacrifices made by its soldiers. The hoax created by India to call off the talks would help capitalise its victim’s narrative at the General Assembly.

Finally, if we were to look at the accusation of beheadings, which were the pretext to call off the Foreign Minister’s meeting, DG ISPR General Asif Ghafoor has not only rejected the claim but has categorically stated that such statements are attempts to divert domestic narrative towards Pakistan, when “the Indian government is under criticism internally from opposition on various corruption scams and failure of economic agenda.” More disturbing are the statements from Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman where she was being questioned about India’s lack of response to Pakistan’s alleged beheading of Indian soldiers stated that, “we are also cutting heads, but are not displaying them.” Such declaration from a government official reflects India’s violation of the Geneva Convention as well as the customary norms of international law on armed conflict.

For those overly concerned about looming clouds of war in South Asia, all jingoism from India aside, it can’t afford war. However, short of that India continually makes concerted efforts to destabilise Pakistan internally and malign its image internationally, which needs to be countered by Pakistan by investing on stronger security within and strong diplomacy abroad.