by Niloofar Qureshi

Eighteenth century Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke’s famous words that “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it”has stood the test of time. And thus, while we have ushered-in 2020 with great optimism arising out of the belief that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promise of serving as “Kashmir ka Safir”(Kashmir’s ambassador) and his army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s assurance of Pakistan army willing to go to “any extent” for the sake of people of Kashmir, will finally resolve the ‘K’ issue.

Many of the Kashmir related developments during 2019 have been unprecedented and that’s why those who are leading the ‘self-determination’ movement cannot afford to evade the inescapable need for serious introspection so that appropriate lessons can be learnt for the future. To be positive is a very good attribute, but when optimism assumes proportions that detaches one from reality, it tends to prejudice rational thinking and ends up serving as the ideal recipe for disaster. So, let’s do some sincere soul-searching on the highs and lows of some important events that occurred during the year gone by and learn the right lessons from them.

Pulwama Suicide Attack

On February 14, 2019, an explosive laden car driven by a local militant smashed into a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Pulwama area killing 40 soldiers and injuring many more. This attack was universally condemned and even Islamabad, which was otherwise supporting ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir by insisting that it was a freedom movement that couldn’t be equated with terrorism, tried to distance itself from this incident. It first, said that the attack was an "indigenous thing" and later termed it a “false flag operation.” This attack also forced Beijing to withdraw its “technical hold” on India’s proposal to get Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief, Masood Azhar blacklisted by UNSC and as a result, the very same forum that had issued resolutions on Kashmir more than seven decades ago declared Azhar a ‘global terrorist’!

Besides earning it international sympathy, the Pulwama attack has also added more credence to New Delhi’s narrative that Kashmir is a victim of terrorism that is being sponsored by Pakistan. It also gave India a legitimate reason to carry out the Balakot airstrike by claiming that it was specifically attacking a JeM terrorist camp. Lastly, the tearing hurry with which Islamabad released Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman amounted to a massive diplomatic victory for New Delhi. The Pulwama suicide attack has once again highlighted futility of the‘armed struggle’ and is thus causing serious damage to the ‘self-determination’ movement. What needs to be noted here is that even Pakistan has completely avoided offering any justification for this attack as it fears being accused of complicity.

Abrogation of Article 370

Islamabad’s reaction to New Delhi’s decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian constitution was both hasty and immature due to which its diplomatic offensive failed to get any meaningful support from the international community. Whosoever guided Khan to attack the Article 370 abrogation decision by terming it “illegal” needs to be sacked because even someone with only an average intelligence knows that the elected government of any country has full authority to make changes in the constitution. Similarly, ill-advised Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshiwho had defiantly announced that Pakistan would approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on this issue ended up eating the humble pie when its lawyer at ICJ, Khawar Qureshi advised against this move because he found that “in the absence of these pieces of evidence (of genocide), it is extremely difficult for Pakistan to take this case to the ICJ."

UNSC Meet On Kashmir

Islamabad’s biggest folly was to insist that UNSC takes up the Article 370 abrogation issue, because right from the beginning there were clear signals that this world body wasn’t convinced about Pakistan’s contention. By saying that “The Secretary-General also recalls the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, also known as the Shimla Agreement, which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,” spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric gave a clear hint that UN had no intention of intervening on this issue. Later, when asked by the media on what she had to say on Pakistan Foreign Minister’s letter on abrogation of Article 370, UN Security Council (UNSC) President Joanna Wronecka expressed the same sentiment by her blunt“no comments” reply.

When UNSC decided to downgrade Islamabad’s specific demand for discussion on the Article 370 abrogation issue to a generic dialogue on Beijing’s request regarding the ‘situation in J&K’ and do so in the form of a “closed door” meeting, Pakistan should have rejected this decision is it made a mockery of the Kashmir issue.Moreover, even before it took place, Qureshi was well aware of the outcome of this meeting and he forewarned his countrymen by asking them not to live in a “fool’s paradise” because those at the UN aren’t waiting for us“with garlands in their hands.” However, Islamabad still went ahead and since nothing of what transpired during this meeting was made public, it was New Delhi that eventually came out smiling as lack of any adverse comments from UNSC endorsed its stance that Article 370 abrogation in Kashmir and imposition of restrictions there are its internal matter.

And though Islamabad is claiming that Kashmir being discussed in UNSC after all these years is in itself a big diplomatic victory, the reality is that since this meeting hasn’t given any positive results in favour of ‘self-determination’ or chided India for its actions in Kashmir, isn’t celebrating this event just because it was held something that’s extremely childish?

PM Khan’s UNGA Address

Khan made an impassioned speech at UNGA and devoted a lot of time to Kashmir. However, by stating “Don't you think that 180 Million Muslims will be radicalised in India as they see 8 million Kashmiris locked up? And what about 1.3 billion Muslims who are watching this knowing that this is only happening to Kashmiri Muslims,” he has unfortunately downgraded the ideological issue of Kashmir and given it a communal agenda. By going on to say “How would the Jewish community react if even 8000 Jews were under lock down? How would the Europeans react? How would any human community react? Are we children of a lesser God?” Khan has only added more weight to the belief that the Kashmir issue is completely communal in nature!

US acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells not only termed Khan’s comments at UNGA “unhelpful” but also said that she would “like to see the same level of concern expressed about Muslims who are being detained in Western China literally in concentration-like conditions.” And by adding that “being concerned about the human rights of Muslims does extend more broadly than Kashmir,” she stuck Khan a diplomatically incapacitating blow. This reference proves that the decision of playing the “Kashmiri Muslim” card was absolutely wrong as it backfired and with a ‘hit-wicket’, ended Khan’s grandiose plans of serving as ‘Kashmir ka safir’!


Some of the lessons that 2019 has left behind for us are:

Armed struggle’ is the main cause for the lack of international support for the ‘self-determination’ movement and to avoid global censure, even Pakistan is prepared to disassociate itself from what it espouses as legitimate ‘freedom struggle’.

Subdued response of the international community to abrogation of Article 370 by India and on imposition of restrictions in Kashmir has contradicted Pakistan’s claim of Kashmir being “disputed territory” which is under “illegal occupation” of India. Thus, Islamabad needs to reorient its Kashmir narrative as no one is objecting to what New Delhi is doing in Kashmir.

Islamabad needs to brush-up its diplomatic strategy and stop scoring ‘self-goals’ by its obduracy and inefficient diplomacy, like taking abrogation 370 issue to UNSC, talking about approaching ICJ and trivialising the ‘K’ issue at international forums by giving it a communal hue.

If Islamabad wishes to play the Muslim discrimination card in Kashmir, it must simultaneously speak up for the Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang who are being persecuted by Beijing because selective concern for Muslims impresses no one.

Most importantly, our leaders need to take the ‘K’ movement in their own hands because Pakistan’s continuing rhetoric on how Kashmir is the “unfinished agenda” of partition and its warning that Kashmir is a flash point that could start a war has reduced the ideological issue of Kashmir into a petty Indo-Pak territorial dispute!