India’s recent actions to eliminate Article 370 and 35a in India-held Kashmir have once again stirred the debate in Pakistan. But, unfortunately, we refuse to look at the issue any differently despite Delhi’s obvious departure from the past. It seems as if in recent times in Pakistan, the debate has become limited to two aspects: first, accusing the government (whichever one it is) of having sold Kashmir (if Nawaz Sharif was said to be guilty of this once upon a time, now it is Imran Khan who seems to have committed the same sin), and second, to accuse the state of not doing anything to ‘answer’ or ‘counter’ India. We saw this need of a ‘reaction’ at the time of Pulwama and it is apparent even now.
But lost in the din of this debate, which obsesses with a ‘ghairatmand’ or ‘mun tor jawab’ to India as well as doing something to miraculously push forward our claim on Kashmir, is the reality of international politics. And this reality is the unspoken discomfort of the international community with the success of sub-nationalist movements.
In other words, while the international community may speak in favour of freedom and the self-determination of people, it silently prefers the status quo. And the status quo, in this case, means maintaining the world map as it is; and this can only be done if all the peoples tend to stick to borders they were ‘given’ and not redraw them. In practice, it’s not a healthy precedent for oppressed people anywhere to think they have the right to form a new state.
Where would it end? For most states in the world are inhabited by sub-groups, sub-nationalisms who may believe that they would be better off as an independent state. Consider the havoc if they all got their way. Take the Kurds. Or if you want a more civilised example, there are the Scots. South Asia is full of such examples too.
This is why when borders change (and they do so very infrequently) it usually comes after considerable bloodshed. In recent years, Yugoslavia was a case in point. The breakup of the country into new states was accompanied by ethnic cleansing, genocide and war crimes. In addition, it was a product of its times — the end of the Cold War which was accompanied by the emergence of a number of new states as the Soviet bloc lost cohesion.
But once the dust settled, the world went back to its old ways of maintaining the status quo — so Iraq could effectively fall into pieces but the world continued to see it as one country and all the suggestions that Syria be divided to end the conflict there also fell on deaf ears.
This is the context and the world in which the issue of Kashmir exists. This, too, has two aspects — a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. And on both aspects, Pakistan’s stand in a way goes against the status quo — change in the ‘border’ as it exists (however flawed and internationally impermanent as it may be). It is this which has always weighed against us, internationally. Our policymakers are aware of the odds against us, which is why in recent decades most have tried to reach out to India only to be accused of selling out. For the populace has been fed a diet of ideals and unreal promises, it has proved incapable of understanding the reality and the impossibility of its dreams.
Here it is also important to mention perhaps a serious mistake made in recent years — of condemning Musharraf so much for being a military dictator that we also rejected his efforts to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Not only had he come close to a solution, it had actually been in the realm of possibility — the status quo would have been maintained but along with bringing normalcy and freedom of movement to the Kashmiri people. And in retrospect, it seemed as if that was perhaps the best chance we had to settle the matter and at a time when we were not negotiating from a position of weakness. But so eager were we to condemn Musharraf for his politics that his Kashmir formula was tarnished too. Despite this, those in power, at some level, know that resolution is the only way forward (though now it is India which doesn’t seem to be in any mood). This is why Pakistan reacted so cautiously to Pulwama, despite the pressure it faced from its own people who wanted immediate revenge; and this is why Pakistan has focused on diplomatic manoeuvring even now. Prime Minister Imran Khan was spot-on when he asked the opposition: “What shall I do? Declare war?”
This is now something that the Pakistani society needs to understand also. War is not an option and there are few — very few — examples in the world where borders have changed in the absence of war. This is the biggest factor we have to contend with; and not the ‘diplomatic isolation’ which has been reduced to such a meaningless cliché in our dialogue. Once we understand this, it may help us to move our internal dialogue forward, without which there can be no progress on Kashmir. But of course, we will have to then wait for India to also understand its responsibility towards the people of Kashmir.
By arrangement with Dawn...