The wrong battlefield

WE are fighting on the cheap and expecting to win. Someone somewhere is not thinking right on Kashmir.

A year after India’s reoccupation of occupied Kashmir, Pakistan is expressing resolve by flexing its vocal chords. Fine. It is also calling the Indian prime minister nasty names. Fine, I guess. To top it all, it has launched an aggressive campaign to raise awareness about the issue — and the campaign is resonating inside Pakistan. Preaching to the converted?

If Pakistan’s Kashmir policy is struggling to achieve quantifiable objectives, one of the key reasons is this: a failure (or refusal) to recognise the location of the battle to be fought. In today’s world, this battle for Kashmir has to be fought on seven places. Pakistan is not among them.

The seven battlefields: Washington D.C., New York, London, Moscow, Paris, New Delhi and Srinagar. Here’s why:

The situation on the ground in occupied Kashmir has worsened in the last one year. India may claim normalcy in the region but the reality — as acknowledged by independent voices (the few that are left in India) — is that repression is on the up, as is defiance by the people. Pakistan’s core objective is to ensure the world knows the reality of the situation. But the world, in this context, is really just the members of the United Nations Security Council. These countries, the so-called P5, wield power to make a difference in Kashmir. Among these five — United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia and France — China is already engaged in the Kashmir issue and hardly needs any convincing. The New York battlefield refers to the United Nations headquarters.

Our battle for India-held Kashmir, for now, has to be fought through diplomacy and strategic communication

If we want to be smart with our policy, we need to focus an overwhelming effort on this target audience. The opinion of the people and governments of these four countries is the only thing that should matter to us. Add to this the obvious emphasis on New Delhi and Srinagar and we have ourselves six Kashmir battlefields.

Every battle needs warriors, weapons and an accurate mapping of the terrain. Our battle for Kashmir, for now, has to be fought through diplomacy and strategic communication. These seven battlefields will therefore require strategies that are tailored for respective terrains.

Contrast this with what we are actually doing.

On Aug 5, 2020, the battlefield for Kashmir was Pakistan. All our official and individual energies were employed in doing things that have negligible impact — if that — on the Kashmir situation. What difference does it make to the Kashmir cause if leaders make speeches, rename highways, wear black armbands and march a few hundred yards for the cameras? What difference does it make if our cities are adorned with banners, slogans and billboards on Kashmir?

Imagine the money spent on all this activity; imagine the time and energy put into these events by the state machinery; imagine the official brainpower expended in putting together such haphazard plans and dressing them up as policy. Now imagine the alternative.

Imagine the millions of rupees (perhaps more) allocated for these events were utilised for strategic communication done smartly; imagine the hundreds (perhaps more) man-hours spent on planning these activities were spent by officials focused only on the seven battlefields; and imagine the tens of hours (maybe more) spent by leaders doing symbolic things were spent by them persuading the target international audience of the righteousness of the Kashmir cause. Imagine if all the money, time and energy spent this last week on activities were focused like a laser beam on the battlefields that actually matter.

But preaching to the converted is easy. It is also lazy. No one has to do anything out of the ordinary and no one has to think anew. The state machinery has these events stored in its muscle memory. Banners, placards, walks, armbands, speeches, programmes, seminars and a few glitzy productions (in Urdu), this is standard operating procedure. Routine stuff, routine results.

Our governments have to decide what is it that they really want: winning Kashmir or winning the next elections by promising to win Kashmir?

While these two may not be directly connected, the larger point stands: focusing on the domestic Pakistani audience means nothing except burnishing nationalistic credentials of leaders for political reasons. This is perhaps why an increasing number of officials are today heard asking what more they can do on Kashmir than what they have done. Well plenty, actually. To start off, they have to recognise the futility of fighting for Kashmir on the wrong battlefield.

The next phase is planning and executing the diplomatic and communications war simultaneously on all seven battlefields. While diplomacy has a well-entrenched system in place, the strategic communications arena requires special attention. With occupied Kashmir being Ground Zero, a brief outline of a strategic communications plan would include the following steps:

1) Facilitate and equip Kashmiris to capture raw video and audio content on devices; 2) Create a way to have this content relayed to Pakistan; 3) Establish a Kashmir strategic communications organisation that can process this content into various formats for all types of formal, informal and social media platforms as well as for official presentations; 4) Translate all content into the languages of the six battlefields; 5) Dissect and tailor content into two categories: for governments and for people; 6) Create a system for distribution of this content on broadcast, print and digital platforms that make it reach the target audience; 7) Construct a system to monitor and measure the reach and impact of the content in terms of viewership and readership including demographic analysis of the audience reached; 8) Create and train the official manpower needed to manage this strategic communications infrastructure; 9) Institutionalise and budget a permanent financial pipeline for Kashmir strategic communications; and 10) Aim to shape opinion through this content in a way that it translates into pressure on official policy.

This is the mere tip of the iceberg. So much is doable. But first, let’s stop fighting on the wrong battlefield.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

Twitter: @fahdhusain

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2020