Kashmir: Imran Khan’s Litmus Test
August 28, 2018
On Saturday, August 18, 2018, four days after the Independence Day of the country there was a change of guard in Pakistan. This was not a simply passing baton from one political party to another. It was a paradigm shift inasmuch as it brought to end rotating leadership between the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan People’s Party after decades. In fact, transferred power from the fiefdom of the family rule to a third political party without any trappings of the past.
It took more than twenty-two years struggle for country’s cricket star Imran Khan, to make this change to happen. The slogan of Naya Pakistan that promised end of corruption and establishing a welfare state on the model of Madinah of the times of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) made his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to victory.
In his maiden speech, without expediencies and politicking, he informed his people about the challenges faced by their country. The looming economic crisis that include paying back Rs. 28000 billion debt which is highest in the history of the country, dealing with militant extremism, water shortages, breathing new life in education and health sectors are some of the immediate issues waiting the new government. In his 70 minute speech that was aired by all channels in Pakistan spelling out his plans, he exuded confidence of taking out his country out of the economic mess it has been pushed by corruption at the top. But, he made no mention about the foreign policy challenges his country was confronted, and there was similarly no mention about Kashmir on which country’s relations hinge with its neighbor. It seems that the party was yet draft a policy on the two that are dovetailed to each other. It was also evident in the first press conference of the Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi after he took oath of office and visited Foreign Office of the country.
In a dispute like Kashmir that has caused three full-scale wars and a few limited wars between the two countries, the phrases used in describing the disputes also have an impact on the resolution. “The very vocabulary used for the dispute has become the means and justification for non-engagement,” wrote M. Yusuf Buch, former advisor to UN Secretary-General. Two adjectives, he said, used routinely in describing Kashmir even by US officials are “historical” and “longstanding.” “What, is “historical” about injustices that are being inflicted every day?” he asked and “What is “longstanding” about unarmed teenagers pelting stones to express their opposition.” It would be tomfoolery to subscribe to the dominant discourse that Kashmir Question had shelf-life, as some pet- journalist of the previous government had done. It is as good a livewire today as it was at the time of its birth, in fact with the two contesting neighbors has rich nuclear arsenals it has become a more dangerous flashpoint.
Shah Mahmood, in his press conference, chose to describe Kashmir as an ‘issue’ when his foreign office calls it a ‘dispute’ and New Delhi describes it as a ‘problem.’
In his speech, Imran Khan stated that ‘his role model was Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who conducted politics for a mission.’ ‘Jinnah did not write a book or monograph. Nevertheless, his speeches foretaste his thinking about the type of country he wanted Pakistan to be and the type of relations he wanted his country have with the world in general and neighbors in particular.’ ‘He wanted cordial relations with India. He wished past must be buried and the two countries to start afresh as sovereign states.’ But, how he wished the relations between the two countries is better explained by General Ismay Chief of Staff of the Viceroy in a recorded interview. Jinnah had explained it to him by quoting a case he had pleaded as a lawyer:
Ismay writes, ‘He quoted me the case of two brothers who had hated each other like poison as a result of the portions allotted to them under their father’s will. Finally, they could bear it no longer and took the case to the court. Mr. Jinnah defended one of them, and the case was fought with utmost venom. Two years later Mr. Jinnah met his client and asked how he was getting on and how was his brother, he said: Oh, once the case was decided, we became the greatest friends.’ #
The views on relations with India as illustrated to General Ismay by M. A. Jinnah are as relevant today as they were seventy years back. That the two countries should resolve their dispute either in the court were Kashmir has been waiting adjudication since its birth or engage themselves in meaningful and purposeful dialogue for its settlement in keeping with the principle for the resolution of the dispute agreed upon by the two countries before the comity of nations.
Since the new government took over, there is a pep talk about the four-point formula in a section of media on both the sides.
The much-touted four-point formula of General Musharraf’s during and even after end of his rule betrayed the principle laid down for good relations between the neighbors by the founder of the country. The four-point formula was brainchild of one person; it had support of a section of journalists, but there was no consensus on it even amongst various arms of Pakistan government. No opinion was sought from people of the state on it. Such formulas, which don’t have nation’s consent and are not rooted in the history of the dispute, moreover are not in tune with the urges of the people it directly concerns are bound to fail. A New Delhi based journalist rightly observed ‘Sharif, who promised so much when he was elected as the prime minister delivered very little beyond handshakes and hugs. Instead of an upswing, relations between the two countries touched a new nadir in the past three years.’ The reason for this was not only that he did not have foreign minister, but also he had no foreign policy.’ It were his business interests that guided his relations with India. It was for his business interests that no effort was made to repair the ruptures caused to the 2004- Cease Fire Agreement- that brought misery to over two million people living along the dividing line between the two countries. Otherwise having put Kashmir on backburner, it was but for 2014, Intifada and blinding of Kashmir children with pellets that Kashmir figured in his UN General Assembly speech. But, after making the speech at the General Assembly, there was no serious diplomatic and political initiative that could be seen as a forward movement.
Immediately, after it became apparent that the PTI was forming government, Imran Khan set ball rolling for ending stalemate on relations immediate neighbor by stating that he wanted good relations and trade ties with India. If India takes one step towards us, his country will take two.’ His intentions cannot be questioned, but such statements don’t grow beyond rhetoric unless supported by a well-defined Kashmir policy and foreign policy. A comprehensive policy on Kashmir grounded in the history and relations with India will be a litmus test for the PTI government.
-The author is Srinagar Kashmir based columnist and writer