SM Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, in a joint press conference with the Chairman Kashmir Committee, Syed Fakhar Imam on 30 July, attempted to link cooperation on Afghanistan with resolving Kashmir

by Harsha Kakar

For decades Pakistan was demanding UN intervention and a plebiscite in Kashmir. It sought mediation on resolving the Kashmir issue. Pakistan also changed its terminology on Kashmir from Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) to Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK). For Pakistan, Article 370, included in the Constitution, well after the UN resolution, meant nothing. They have exploited it as the basis of ensuring the Muslim majority status of the valley. Pakistan conned President Trump into stating that Prime Minister Modi had requested him to mediate. The US state department deleted all references of mediation in its official release and have stood by India’s views of Kashmir being a bilateral issue. However, Pakistan continued to gloat about Trump’s comment.

China, Pakistan’s permanent ally, stated in an editorial in the Global Times, mouthpiece of the Chinese communist party, after the visit of Imran Khan to the US that it supports the US in wanting to mediate in Kashmir. Chinese investments in POK have been impacted by increased Indo-Pak tensions on Kashmir. China is aware that it cannot officially take sides, as it also seeks to enhance ties with India. Pakistan however remains desperate.

SM Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, in a joint press conference with the Chairman Kashmir Committee, Syed Fakhar Imam on 30 July, attempted to link cooperation on Afghanistan with resolving Kashmir. He stated that the meeting was called “to discern the way forward given the silver lining that has emerged from US President Donald Trump’s offer of mediation in the Kashmir dispute.” He added that Pakistan cannot ignore its eastern borders, while it seeks to fulfil its commitments on its western borders.

India can never be pressurised to accept mediation. Interestingly, Pakistan has never included leaders from Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in any such meetings, seeking to deny it being a part of J and K, which it separated from POK in 1970.

The Hurriyat and Valley-based political parties have stated that Kashmir can only be resolved in dialogue between India and Pakistan. The Hurriyat has demanded that it also be considered a party to the dialogue. Farooq Abdullah has mentioned on numerous occasions that POK cannot be taken militarily and Kashmir resolved by dialogue. Mehbooba Mufti has also begun gravitating towards the Pakistani view, to regain some political relevance.

Thus, the perception doing the rounds is that the area under dispute is only Kashmir and not POK or GB, a claim which has rarely been countered by India. Recently, the defence minister, Rajnath Singh, stated in parliament during the opposition’s criticism of Trump’s remarks that talks with Pakistan would only be bilateral, without outside mediation and would include POK. Such a statement has been rarely given; what has been stated is that ‘talks and supporting terrorism cannot remain bedfellows.’

India’s insistence on sticking to the Shimla Agreement and Lahore declaration as also demands of Pakistan stopping support to terrorism have rattled Islamabad. This was evident when Qureshi stated in frustration, “Neither are they willing to undertake bilateral talks, nor are they receptive to third-party facilitation.” India holds the cards, militarily, economically and in international stature. Pakistan is aware that misadventures and infiltration are now being met with greater force than ever before and in its present precarious state, Pakistan cannot risk escalation. Pakistan remains desperate for talks without closing the terrorist tap. It attempts to push Kashmir into international limelight at every opportunity, ignoring Indian demands for POK and GB, in case talks begin. Thus, till recently, India had been losing the propaganda game on Kashmir. Pakistan’s narrative on only Kashmir being disputed was being blown away in the international domain. POK and GB remained ignored as India rarely raked up the issue, since it stuck to its stand of bilateral talks and end of terrorism. India also advocated in multiple forums that it had no desire for territorial gains.

The decision to revoke Article 370 and convert J and K into two Union Territories (UT) had Pakistan spooked and changed the narrative. It was further aggravated by the words of the Home Minister, Amit Shah, when he stated that the next stage would be amalgamation of POK and GB. It had no answer. It desperately sought solutions and found few. The biggest setback to Pakistan was the complete failure of its assessment and the timing of the Indian decision. Offers on mediation and the crucial stage of US-Taliban talks, on which Pakistan was banking to drag in Kashmir, had just been rendered useless. The present Pakistani government, including its military leadership which runs the country faced intense internal flak for failure of its external policies and intelligence. Balakot had created a sense of panic within Pakistan’s military hierarchy. Thus, they continued to maintain terrorism well below Indian threshold levels of tolerance. The changed Indian military policy from defensive to offensive had caught them off guard twice. They could not risk another setback.

Further, pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), of which India as a member was leading the charge, had forced it to control infiltration, enabling Indian security forces to create a condition of near normalcy in the state. Pakistan was being repeatedly told by the US and FATF that remaining on the Grey List implied that the recently agreed IMF loan could be at risk. It had to show progress. Pakistan acted to save face by reducing diplomatic ties, suspending bilateral trade, announcing review of bilateral arrangements and approaching the UN. It may attempt to push Al Qaeda militants, blaming it on Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and POK residents as trained terrorists. Officially it claims that AQIS is also anti-Pak, a fake statement. It knows it has lost the battle and is now desperate to regain some ground at least for its internal audience.

Finally, in one stroke, Pakistan’s Kashmir narrative has lost ground to India. The propaganda war of Pakistan which was thus centred on Kashmir would now shift to POK and GB. It is India which is now in the driver’s seat.

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army