It has been a good week for China and Pakistan, with Big Brother helping out its poor cousin at the UN Security Council on the Kashmir issue and even paying off its ‘EMI’ with Saudi Arabia. But the question Islamabad should be asking itself this week is, ‘Is its obsession with Jammu and Kashmir losing it both friends and influence?’
Certainly, there was little left of J&K’s special status under Article 370 even before 5 August 2019, except the fig leaf that it was somehow exceptional – although the diminishing of the state’s obligations to its citizens ever since are both immoral and unconstitutional. But of that, another time.
This week also belongs to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who on the first anniversary of the scrapping of Article 370, tweeted that “a transformation is underway” in J&K and in Ladakh, in the “application of progressive laws, delivery of social justice, advancement of women’s rights and empowerment and support for vulnerable sections”.
Sometimes it seems like the good minister has outsourced his Twitter handle to someone who lives in the Land of Gup. Salman Rushdie surely needs a sequel to his brilliant novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories to properly explain the inversion of reality where everything is somehow the opposite of what it is supposed to be, at least in the Kashmir valley.
Significantly, the inversion of reality has long been a hallmark of the Pakistani state, which has believed its own stories of planting the crescent moon on Srinagar’s Lal Chowk over the decades, from Operation Gibraltar in 1965 to Kargil in 1999.
Since that is never going to happen – whatever India’s own multiplicity of views on what’s happening inside J&K – it was interesting to see Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi marching down Islamabad’s main avenue on 5 August marking ‘Youm-e-Istehsal’ or Kashmir Siege Day.
Only days before, Pakistan’s infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) media wing, ISPR, had asked Shafqat Amanat Ali, the Pakistani singer who has sung dozens of Bollywood songs in better times (Mitwa to Manchala), to sing about the continuing atrocities in J&K. He is said to have been paid Rs 3.8 crore for his efforts.
In fact, nothing illustrates the massive change in India-Pakistan relations than Ali’s superlative performance of Gandhi’s favourite bhajan, ‘Vaishnava jan toh”, in 2018, commissioned by then High Commissioner in Islamabad Ajay Bisaria in the hope that culture could join at least a few hearts and minds, despite surgical strikes and cross-LoC infiltrations.
Saudi closes tap, on Kashmir too
We don’t know if Ali was finally paid or not by ISPR, but Pakistan has increasingly been reduced to paying lip-service to a cause its own establishment knows is increasingly hopeless. None other than Qureshi admitted that the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) was not paying heed to the Muslim world’s pain on Kashmir and not even convening a meeting, which would rap India on its knuckles.
The enormous irony of this statement cannot be underestimated. The OIC is headquartered in Saudi Arabia, which has remained the foremost and fiercest Muslim brother of Pakistan these past several decades. From bustard hunting in Pakistan’s Thar desert to setting up the 39-nation Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition in 2015, first headed by former Pakistan army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, the Saudi-Pakistani relationship has been a thick bond.
Ironically, most nations part of this Islamic military coalition are members of the OIC.
The day after Qureshi & Co’s frenzied march in Islamabad, Pakistan was embarrassed enough by its Saudi brother, which asked it to pay back $1 billion out of the $3 billion cash it had borrowed in October 2018. This was in addition to $6.2 billion in oil the Saudis had promised to loan to Pakistan.
Except, the Saudis seem to have lost patience with their little Pakistani sibling. Two months ago, they turned off the oil tap when Pakistan was unable to pay back that EMI. So, guess who signed a cheque last week to keep Pakistan’s izzat intact? China.
A win for India
Meanwhile, on 5 August, China tried to bring back Jammu & Kashmir to international attention again. It sought a meeting of the Permanent-5 at the UN Security Council, under the rubric of ‘Any Other Business,’ like it had done twice before this past year. With the US and China at daggers and the rest of the world equally furious with the impact of the Wuhan-originated virus on their economies, the Kashmir mention died as quickly as it was raised. No one was remotely interested.
In the ‘dangal’ or contest of Big Brotherhood, the Chinese have certainly trumped the Saudis this week. Remember, though, that Saudi, Emirati and increasingly the OIC’s disinterest in Pakistan is as much a victory of the Modi government’s outreach to the Islamic Ummah – Sushma Swaraj’s invitation to the OIC foreign minister’s meeting in UAE last year and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman visit to India are proof.
For the time being at least, neither the OIC, the UAE or the Saudis are paying serious attention to Pakistan’s tantrums on Jammu & Kashmir – as recently as 1996, the last three were the only countries in the world to have recognised the Taliban when it took power in Afghanistan.
Still, the prize for the biggest irony this week must be awarded to four Chinese labourers who beat up Pakistani soldiers because they wanted to work on a new site on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Pakistani havildar ostensibly protecting them couldn’t make out a word of what the Chinese were saying. Before he could call the local military camp, he was assaulted by the furious Chinese not used to being told to wait for permission.
In its obsession with Jammu & Kashmir and the constant iteration of its friendship with China being ‘higher than the mountains, deeper than the seas and sweeter than honey’, Pakistan forgot the basic slogan that trumps everything else: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
Views are personal.