by Harsha Kakar

Last week, Pakistan Foreign Minister SM Qureshi challenged India to conduct an opinion poll of Kashmiris around the world on its decision to abrogate Article 370. He added that if majority were opposed, India should revert its decision. Earlier he had written a letter to the UNSC claiming India might impose, ‘further illegal and unilateral measures’ in Kashmir. It mentioned that India could include, ‘division, bifurcation and additional demographic changes in the occupied territory.’ These are indications of desperation within Pak to keep Kashmir in the news, as global attention shifts elsewhere. Even within Pak, the Pak army’s attention is towards Afghanistan where a civil war is brewing.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had stated that Pakistan is willing for talks even if India announces a road map for restoration of status quo (return of article 370) on Kashmir. He was supported in this decision by Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi. The Pak foreign office spokesperson stated, ‘Pakistan would continue to resolutely oppose Indian attempts to change demographic structure and status of Kashmir.’ Most of these announcements were based on inputs of movement of security forces returning from poll duty. India, on the other hand, convened an all-party meeting, seeking to kickstart the democratic process including elections in J&K.

When the Israel-Gaza strife was ongoing, Pakistan joined Turkey in supporting Palestine, only with the intention of linking Palestine to Kashmir. While addressing overseas Pakistanis during his visit to the UN in New York, SM Qureshi stated, ‘There is a similarity between the situations of Palestine and Kashmir.’ He added, ‘Like Palestine, the people of Kashmir are demanding the right to self-determination.’ For the Pakistan leadership, there is no love for Palestine except that it views the region as a doorway to raise Kashmir and place both on the same pedestal.

Earlier, Pakistan had attempted to link resolution of the Afghanistan issue with Kashmir. Writing for The Outlook, Sidiqullah Sahel and Muzamil Yaqoob stated, ‘Pakistan, which intermittently linked peace in Afghanistan with the Kashmir issue, expects US support on the Kashmir issue in return for facilitating US-led talks in Afghanistan.’ Pakistan had, while promising to push the Taliban for talks, desired that the US either mediate or apply pressure on India for discussions to resolve Kashmir. It was possibly this prompting which had led to Trump offering to mediate on Kashmir.

In August last year, SM Qureshi threatened the OIC and thus indirectly, Saudi Arabia on its hesitation on calling a meeting of foreign ministers on Kashmir. He stated in a news conference, ‘Today, I am telling the OIC to convene the meeting of the council of foreign ministers. If they cannot do it, then I will be compelled to ask the prime minister to call a meeting of Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir.’ Saudi, in anger, demanded Pak return its loans. Relations between the two deteriorated.

Recently, a similar statement was made by him when he stated, ‘If God grants me time, then in March 2022 I will invite the foreign ministers of the Islamic world to Islamabad and try to rally them on the Kashmir issue.’ It remains to be seen whether this is just another comment for domestic consumption.

On the other hand when the world talks of China, Uighurs and genocide in Xinjiang, Pakistan is silent. Every minister in Pak, discussing the subject on global media channels, seeks to avoid the question. When Pak PM Imran Khan was questioned on Uighurs by the Financial Times, he stated, ‘If I had enough knowledge about it, I would comment, but I don’t.’ When SM Qureshi was questioned on the same by CNN, he stated, ‘We are not oblivious of our responsibilities. There are some discussions that are held on an administrative level, not in public.’

Uncomfortableness can be witnessed on Pak politicians on mention of China. Even while answering on Uighurs, Pak politicians shift focus on Kashmir. Neither does Pakistan comment on the civil war raging in Syria, Libya and Yemen, where proxies continue to target innocents killing thousands. Its only topics remain Palestine and Kashmir, solely because it seeks to link the two together.

The world is aware of the reality in Kashmir. It knows that Kashmir is peaceful. The freedom enjoyed in the region is the same as the rest of India, despite low level of terrorism continuing. Hence, while Pak laments, it receives no support. This biased approach has resulted in Pakistan losing support on Kashmir on the global stage. Not a single ally stands by their side. Their comments fall on deaf ears, however, remain a bugbear within the subcontinent. India has even refused to respond to comments by Pak ministers and their foreign office, further irking them. Within Pakistan, Kashmir and Palestine are also raised to shift domestic focus from its failing economy.

This approach by Pakistan and resultant silence by India has suppressed the increasing turmoil in POK and Gilgit Baltistan (GB) as also atrocities committed by its army in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There are regular reports of protests in POK and GB due to rising prices, poor medical facilities, exploitation of resources and high-handed approach by the Pak army. Baluchistan, which has witnessed a near genocide with abductions, killings and mass disappearances is also ignored on the global stage. A near similar situation exists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the Pashtuns have been protesting for a prolonged period.

If India is to block the Pak narrative and push it on the defensive, then India needs to employ global forums, where it has a better foothold and raise aspects concerning troubled minorities of Pakistan, its atrocities on people within POK, GB, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This would leave Pakistan defending itself, rather than mentioning Kashmir or India. It is time to change the narrative and move strongly on the informational and diplomatic stage.