Pakistan’s Kashmir Fatigue
I was in Pakistan last month for a conference on Kashmir. While the conference was attended by a number of highly placed Pakistanis, both from the ruling establishment and the opposition, Indian participation was limited to a very few people if one were to exclude the 11-member strong Kashmiri participation in it. Many Indians did not turn up simply because they didn’t want to discuss ‘Kashmir’ in Pakistan especially when a number of well-known and vocal Kashmiris are present in such a meeting. “Why get hammered by both Pakistanis and Kashmiris?”, am sure, was the reasoning of many Indians who refused to accept the invitation. Pakistanis couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was a wonderful opportunity for them to corner the Indians on the issue of plebiscite and India’s human rights record in Kashmir. But most of them simply did not choose to do so, barring a few who did raise these issues. On the contrary, a large number of senior Pakistanis, to the utter dislike of many Kashmiri participants, impressed upon their guests that there is a ‘Kashmir fatigue’ in Pakistan. Indeed, there was a visible lack of enthusiasm from the Pakistani side with regard to the Kashmir conflict throughout the three-day conference.
The Kashmir fatigue, at least as I see it, comes not just from the multiple insurgencies and domestic problems that Pakistan is currently faced with but also, more importantly, from the complete absence of any dividends that Islamabad’s Kashmir policy has achieved so far. What, for instance, has Islamabad’s Kashmir policy achieved in the last two and a half decades? Well, successive governments in Islamabad have been able to ‘internationalise’ the Kashmir dispute for sure. But what has this internationalisation of the Kashmir conflict achieved for Pakistan? Nothing. Pakistan has indeed lost a great deal due to its involvement in Kashmir. It has wasted precious resources and more importantly created a situation within Pakistan where religious extremism has become a threat to the society itself. In other words, not only that it has not really gained anything with its Kashmir policy, it has lost a lot.
It is in this context of a cost-benefit analysis that one needs to place the ‘Kashmir fatigue’ that we see in today’s Pakistan. It is not as if Pakistan does not invoke the ‘K’ word from time to time. It does so including during the recent speech by Nawaz Sharif at the UN General Assembly. Sharif said in New York last week: “As in the past, Pakistan calls upon the international community to give an opportunity to the Kashmiris to decide their future peacefully, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions. The issue of Jammu and Kashmir was presented to the Security Council in January 1948; and yet the issue remains unresolved after nearly seven decades”. There was a time Pakistan meant what it said on Kashmir on such occasions, not anymore. Most of Pakistan’s pro-Kashmir pronouncements are mere lip service and most of the informed Pak-watchers would agree with me.
This clearly seems to be the sentiment of the Pakistani political class. What about the Pakistani people in general? How concerned are they about what happens in Kashmir? Most of them, in my experience, are unconcerned and those who traditionally used to argue that Pakistan should actively involve itself in Kashmir are now on the decline for a variety of reasons most important of which would be contemporary Pakistan’s existential problems. That leaves out the Pakistan army (and its subset the ISI) which has actively engaged in Kashmir for the last two and a half decades. Sure, the Pakistani army has not yet fully given up the Kashmir cause. Sections of the Pak army continue to believe that Kashmir can be wrested from the Indian control. But how long can the Pak army afford to toe a drastically different line on Kashmir from that of Pakistan’s civilian government and the people in general? It’s a matter of time, at least to my mind, before ‘the Kashmir fatigue’ hits the Pak army.
So what does the ‘Kashmir fatigue’ mean for the Kashmiris? In the immediate term, this is clearly bad news for Kashmiris. Realizing that the ‘Kashmir fatigue’ is setting in Pakistan, New Delhi will stop addressing the Kashmir issue in any meaningful manner. History of New Delhi’s negotiations with Kashmir shows that when it is not under pressure, New Delhi is not inclined to make any progress in resolving the Kashmir issue. For New Delhi, the Kashmir conflict is fundamentally a bilateral issue with Pakistan, not one that exists between New Delhi and Kashmiris. Therefore when Pakistan takes a backseat, it will give New Delhi an opportunity to forget about Kashmir and worry about other things. Clearly, the bilateral dispute on Kashmir is merely one part of the problem but that’s not how New Delhi would like to see it.
On the other hand, when Kashmiris are agitated by Pakistan’s U-turn on the Kashmir question, they are indirectly – again, in my opinion- buying New Delhi’s argument that it is fundamentally a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. If Pakistan has taken a backseat on Kashmir, that is a result of the dire political circumstances that contemporary Pakistan faces and that should be seen as such. Moreover, when Pakistan stops its interference in Kashmir, it will also lead to less bloodshed in Kashmir: there is absolutely no denying of that. Kashmiris, therefore, should focus on the ‘resolvable’ part of the conflict, the one between themselves and New Delhi