The war of words between India and Pakistan in United Nations fora, which began at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva this week, will continue up to September 27. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan PM Imran Khan are scheduled to spar on that day at the UN General Assembly in New York. It is a foregone conclusion that as usual both sides will claim victory to the drumbeats of their national media.
After August 5, when India changed the status of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan has adopted a two-pronged diplomatic strategy to take it on. It has begun to project the Indian decisions as emanating from the larger ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP, which it claims is akin to Nazism. Simultaneously, it is fine-tuning its plausible deniability in case of terrorist attacks in India by warning of “false flag” operations.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, speaking at the UNHCR, referred to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which India is a party. He claimed that the Kashmiris as a national, ethnic, racial and religious group of people face “grave threats to their lives, way of living and livelihoods from a murderous, misogynistic and xenophobic regime”. He added: “I shudder to mention the word genocide here, but I must.” Mr Qureshi knew which buttons he were pressing.
His Prime Minister was not so coy. In his speech to the Pakistan Parliament on August 6, he compared the Modi government with racists and white supremacists “who go on mass shooting in the US”, and which did everything that “Hitler did during elections in Germany”. Within two weeks he made the definitive leap to calling the Modi government fascist.
On August 18, using his Twitter handle @ImranKhanPTI, he posted a rather bold tweet: “India has been captured as Germany had been captured by the Nazis, by a fascist, racist Hindu supremacist ideology and leadership.” Such a leadership, he claimed, was a threat to Nehru’s and Gandhi’s India, to the Muslim minority in India as well as to Pakistan. “One can simply Google to understand the link between the Nazi ideology and ethnic cleansing and genocidal ideology of the RSS-BJP (sic) founding fathers.”
Referring to the National Register of Citizens in Assam, he claimed: “Already four million Indian Muslims face detention camps and cancellation of citizenship. [The] world must take note as this genie is out of the bottle and the doctrine of hate and genocide, with RSS goons on the rampage, will spread unless the international community acts now to stop it.”
In an earlier tweet, the Pakistan PM had asked: “Will we watch another appeasement of fascism, this time in the garb of the BJP government, or will the international community have the moral courage to stop this from happening?”
Imran Khan had also hammered on the theme in his Independence Day speech at Muzaffarabad. He said: “The ideology of the RSS has only grown. From the Babri Mosque incident to the increase in lynching of Muslims and the atrocities in Kashmir. And now what Modi is doing in Kashmir is like Hitler’s ‘final solution’.” He surmised that the Indian government was emboldened by the silence of the international community.
The international community may have difficulty understanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his style of governance. But fascism is something it understands. Even though fascism can mean different things to different people, for Europeans the associations of the moniker are clear. The use of the term fascism to describe the Modi government seeks to equate the fate of Kashmiris and the Muslim minority in India with that of the Jewish community under Nazism. The vividness of such an equivalence can potentially do more damage to the image of India than a debate on the pros and cons of changing the constitutional status of J&K.
The second new strand in Pakistan’s narrative is of India staging false-flag terrorist operations. Prime Minister Imran Khan told Parliament that the Indian actions in Kashmir could lead to terrorist incidents like the one at Pulwama, for which India would blame Pakistan. His foreign minister, Mr Qureshi, was much more explicit in his speech at the UNHCR, claiming: “I have every fear that India will once again resort to false-flag operations, and use the bogey of terrorism as a red herring, to divert international opinion, even attack Pakistan.”
Pakistan raising the bogey of false-flag operations could be to strengthen plausible deniability for supporting terrorism against India. Such distancing has become necessary because of the international squeeze on it to curb terror financing. The global terror financing watchdog, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has put Pakistan on its “Grey List” of countries with deficient policies on prevention of money-laundering and terror financing. Earlier this week on Tuesday, September 10, Pakistan submitted answers to 125 questions posed by FATF on measures taken by it to prevent financing of terror. Pakistan cannot afford to slip from the Grey List to the Black List, a decision which the FATF could take as early as Friday, September 13.
Additionally, in July, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, during their visit to Washington were told by the American officials that they needed to see “irreversible action” against terrorist groups in Pakistan. Therefore, while Pakistan may be planning to use terrorist groups against India, it needs to strengthen its deniability.
As of now, it seems that except for claiming that Pakistan is building a false narrative, India does not have an effective diplomatic reply to Pakistan. If the ground situation in J&K continues with intermittent curfews and overwhelming presence of security forces, then soon there may be more buyers for Pakistan’s claims than for India’s denials. And much as India may point to Pakistan as the source of terrorism directed against it, Islamabad has already built its defence by predicting false flag operations.
Pakistan, it would seem, is playing a much cleverer diplomatic game than India....