Save me from my friends and I’ll look after my enemies! In other words, the first duty of a friend who cannot be helpful is at least to do no harm. Has Pakistan been a good friend of Kashmir? It is often said we cannot sacrifice Pakistan for the sake of Kashmir. But no Kashmiri asks Pakistan to do such a thing. They are, in fact, as one in saying if Pakistan is harmed it would be a calamity for Kashmir. All they need from us is consistency. Otherwise, they will be progressively alienated from the idea of any real association with us.
I believe in normalising relations with India. There are innumerable links between us. There are also serious differences. But the challenge of India should not distract us from our overriding priority which is to grow at around 10 per cent per annum for the next 20 years. This will require a peaceful neighbourhood. Without it, we will not be able to mobilise the domestic and foreign resources needed for transformative growth and provide basic services to our people, such as rule of law, health, education, social protections, infrastructure and human development.
This excludes confrontation and conflict with India, unless that country chooses to gratuitously threaten us. But if India is half rational it will be in its own interest to respond to our normalisation policies. In any case, we cannot remain a security state in place of a development state without continuing to betray our people.
Does this mean we forget a principled Kashmir settlement acceptable to its people? No. What it requires is that our policy of progressive normalisation with India and our policy of seeking a principled settlement of the Kashmir dispute be consistent with each other. If India reciprocates, well and good. If not, we still avoid policies that are self-defeating and exacerbate the sufferings of the Kashmiri people. It is, accordingly, important for our policy towards Kashmir to be clear, rooted in law, realistic and acceptable to the present generation of Kashmiris and Pakistanis. If any of these four conditions is not met, it will fail.
Clarity: Pakistan’s policy is entirely and exclusively in support of the rights of the Kashmiri people, including their right to self-determination and freedom, and the protection of their basic human and humanitarian rights. Pakistan seeks the resolution of this dispute with India peacefully, and in accordance with the UN resolutions.
Legality. The Kashmiri right of self-determination is an inalienable right which has been acknowledged by UN Security Council resolutions. As such, it constitutes an obligation for all members of the United Nations, and in particular, the designated parties to the dispute, India and Pakistan. Obligations stemming from UN Security Council resolutions are binding. The right of self-determination has not been exercised by the people of Kashmir because it has been forcibly denied by Indian occupation and suppression. The UN has not recognised the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India. India’s non-cooperation and the passage of time do not erode its obligations. Similarly, Indian-organised elections, statements of the Srinagar regime, and resolutions in the Indian parliament cannot derogate from India’s obligations.
Reality: The UN Security Council resolutions have remained unimplemented for over 60 years. The Kashmiri people have suffered horrendously. Pakistan’s ability to assist Kashmiri armed resistance to Indian occupation is limited. The international community has little interest in compelling India to implement its legal obligations. Since 9/11 the US and the western countries have conflated armed resistance against occupation and repression with terrorism. Pakistan has committed serious policy errors which have made it difficult to garner active international support for the rights of Kashmiris. A younger generation in IHK now prefers the third option of independence. This option is not included in the UN resolutions. In AJK the preference is for Pakistan and unity with their brethren in IHK. A majority of the residents of Gilgit and Baltistan, and Jammu and Ladakh prefer the status quo and wish only to protect and promote their rights within it. A younger generation in Pakistan sees the country besieged by a myriad of challenges and has little inclination to make Kashmir its priority. The UN resolutions are the basis for Pakistan’s legal status as a party to the Kashmir dispute and for challenging the legality of the Maharaja’s accession to India. Accordingly, General Musharraf’s discarding of the UN Security Council resolutions was unnecessary and unacceptable.
Acceptability: The majority of the population in IHK and AJK rejects Kashmir’s being part of India, but are divided over the question of acceding to Pakistan or becoming independent. Since a Kashmir settlement is not imminent, this need not divide the APHC or the Azadi movement. Pakistan needs to emphasise its respect for Kashmiri opinion without pushing its own preferences. It is crucial that any position or strategy adopted by Pakistan should have the support of the majority of Kashmiris. To a great extent, Article 257 of the Pakistani Constitution guarantees that the option of acceding to Pakistan embodies the substance of the Azadi option. It gives the Kashmiris the right to determine their relationship with Pakistan. This should be reiterated as policy in all appropriate forums and implemented. India may well claim the same for Article 370 of its constitution. But its claim is belied by the experience of the Kashmiris of IHK. Accordingly, it is critically important, pending a Kashmir settlement in accordance with the UN resolutions, for Pakistan to ensure in practice that the people of AJK and Gilgit and Baltistan enjoy the full range of political and representation rights available to citizens of Pakistan, and are able to determine their relationship with the Federation in accordance with Article 257 of the Constitution. This is urgent, as it would provide a model for the majority in IHK and strengthen the unity of the APHC and the Azadi movement. Rule from Islamabad is not an option.
Thus, we have a policy framework of maximising the rate and quality of Pakistan’s economic growth and development, normalising relations with India, and strengthening the unity of the Azadi movement in IHK. Critics who say India will never accept a non-status-quo territorial settlement miss the point. Nor will we compromise on Kashmiri rights. But a settlement process respectful of Kashmiri rights and wishes and a normalisation process with India can be compatible because it would be mutually beneficial.
Accordingly, it would be unrealistic and unwise to rush towards a Kashmir settlement with India on the basis of Musharraf’s four points or any backchannel understandings. What is needed is a process that addresses the concerns of all parties, particularly the Kashmiris, along with improving India-Pakistan relations. As long as conflict and violence between India and Pakistan and Indian repression of Kashmiris become things of the past, our transformative growth agenda need not be adversely impacted by the lack of a signed, sealed and delivered Kashmir settlement. As life for Kashmiris, Pakistanis and Indians improves it will provide its own momentum. There is just one condition for all this to be possible: governance and policy making in Pakistan must become responsible.
The writer is Pakistan’s former envoy to the US and India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org