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Pakistan’s international shouting match over Kashmir is empty. Here’s what it really wants

No one wants a ‘united’ Kashmir. Pakistani leaders refer to ‘self determination’ in Kashmir, but they’re really referring to Indian Kashmiris joining Pakistan.

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This time, the rhetoric on Pakistan Day, 23 March may mark something of a change, though much will be camouflaged. Usually, on this day or any other occasion, the banners are all about India and its ‘atrocities’ in Kashmir — a narrative that seems to encompass the entirety of Pakistan’s concept of national security.

That, however, seems to be shifting, at least in public speeches. At the recent Islamabad Security Dialogue, Prime Minister Imran Khan was heard talking about Pakistan’s actual problems — its serious food crisis, vulnerable economy, inflation, and admitting that defence alone could not deliver national security. He sees Kashmir as the ‘only’ dispute with India, bookended by the usual call for self-determination. Of far more importance was the keynote address by Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa, which offered up a possibility of Pakistan emerging as a key trade corridor to criss-cross South Asia and beyond. His take on Kashmir blamed ‘political bellicosity’ for derailing any peace initiative, though one may point out that terrorists are hardly political wannabes. The bottom line — both seemed to be saying that with ‘Kashmir’ out of the way, there is a possibility of at least an absence of conflict, to allow for dialogue with India.

This is curious. The reality is that there’s nothing much either country can do about the other’s slice of Kashmir. All the public wrangling and international shouting matches about Kashmir are empty, and have been for years. Read the facts.

Also read: Why distrust-but-verify is a prudent response to Pakistan Gen Bajwa’s call to bury the past

Nobody ‘wins’ Kashmir

The most obvious option in a territorial dispute is that one or the other party seizes control by force. Despite all the brave talk, the reality is that Pakistan doesn’t have the military might to even attempt it. With a stronger army, India may be able to take a large slice of ‘Azad Kashmir’. But keeping it is another matter altogether, and will require far more manpower than we can possibly deploy. Apart from that, there is that little matter of nuclear weapons. To imagine that Pakistan would sit by tamely while Indian armoured forces drive deep into disputed territory, is straining credibility. Then, there is the opprobrium of the international community, who will certainly balk at either side taking any such action. China may do more, such as attempt another thrust into Ladakh, but leaving that aside, any military action by superior Indian forces is a no-no, declarations by political leaders notwithstanding.

Terrorism may really be an end game

This is where Pakistan’s terrorist games come in. The option of grabbing the Kashmir Valley was seen as feasible after the Soviets left Afghanistan to the triumphant Mujahideen. In fact, a whole book by a key person who trained the Mujahideen was dedicated to this ‘victory’, leading to the same pattern being set up in Kashmir after 1990. A belief that such terror, together with wailing on the walls of international opinion, would get them some part of Kashmir through a negotiated settlement was intrinsic to Islamabad’s approach till the late 1980s. Since then, however, the sheer blowback from the Afghan instability has meant severe terrorism across Pakistan, which led to former Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani noting that the primary threat to Pakistan was ‘internal security’, not external.

The Pakistan Army was forced, step-by-reluctant-step, to deploy forces against its own people in the tribal areas, where they remain to this day. A strategy of forcing the issue on international forums, with a war of disinformation about India’s human rights record, certainly took up India’s diplomatic time, but in terms of actual effects on the ground, it has done nothing at all, not even in West Asia. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s rant against the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for not taking any action on Kashmir is still fresh in most diplomats’ minds. Elsewhere, with China looming large, neither the United States nor anyone else is interested. Then, there’s the detailed quizzing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on terror financing. None of this means that Pakistan will entirely turn the tap off. But it’s not a valuable counter for Islamabad anymore. Rather, it’s the reverse. That is the reality.

Also read: Bajwa’s change of heart on India isn’t enough. All of Pakistani military must be on board

Indian Army has ‘untied’ itself

Conventional strategic thought has also ascribed Pakistan’s terrorism strategy as aimed at getting the Indian Army bogged down by a manpower-intensive counter-terrorism war. That was true for some years, but here’s the flipside. Actual counter-terrorism operations are now more in the hands of paramilitary forces and an increasingly capable police force.

The Army has its counter-terrorism ‘grid’ focused on preventing infiltration. In the process, there are several thousands of troops right across the Pakistani border, all acclimatised, toughened by operations, and ready to roll. That can’t be very good for Rawalpindi’s morale. So, that’s another counter off the table.

The difference in ‘Kashmiris’

Then, there is the most basic question of all. Do the Kashmiris of India want to be part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and vice versa? Everyone knows the religious and ethnic differences between Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir Valley. But here’s the thing — less than 5 per cent speak Kashmiri in ‘Azad Kashmir’, and its tribes including Sudhan, Jat, Abbasi Awan, Gurhar and others are ethnically entirely different from the Valley. Gilgit Baltistan is even more diverse, including a bewildering variety of groups and subgroups, none of which have much in common with the Valley, though some claim kinship with Ladakh. More importantly, over the years, the two have evolved into politically different entities. Raja Farooq Haider, the ‘Prime Minister’ of ‘Azad Kashmir’, for instance, may claim to have family roots in the Valley, but his lineage is entirely from a political family in Muzzafarabad. The Sudhan tribe, to which most PoK politicians and influencers such as former ‘President’ Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim belong, is seen as a war-like and superior race, but is not viewed for much on this side of the border. The Syeds of Kashmir, which include the Geelani, Andrabi, Bhukhari, Shah families among others, trace their roots to the Prophet, and see themselves as being on top of the pie — on both sides. Similarly, separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq are from families that have headed the Jama Masjid in Srinagar for decades.

These high caste families have scant interest in the fortunes of PoK. To put it simply, none have a stake or influence in the other’s political arena. Ergo, none actually would want a united Kashmir, where each would be threatened by the other with nothing to gain.

Also read: What the amazing rise & sudden death of a ‘Holy Warrior’ tell us about Islam & politics in Pakistan

Who wants a united Kashmir?

No one wants a ‘united’ Kashmir. Pakistan’s political leaders refer to ‘self determination’ in Kashmir all the time, but that’s their speak for Indian Kashmiris joining up with Pakistan. Imran Khan’s most jumbled statement on that: “When you get the right to decide on your future, and when the people of Kashmir, God willing, will vote in favor of Pakistan, I want to assure you that after that Pakistan will give Kashmiris the right to decide whether you want to be independent or a part of Pakistan”. Join us first, is the bottom line.

Absolute proof is available in the Constitution of ‘Azad Kashmir’, which says “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan”. Neither would China ever want a united Muslim state of Kashmir sitting next to its volatile Xinjiang.

It’s all about the water

So, the question arises as to why Pakistan covets Kashmir, even at the risk of destroying itself. For the truth, look at the map. When Imran Khan says Kashmir is Pakistan’s ’jugular vein’, he’s talking about water. Both the Jhelum and the Chenab run through Kashmir and then into Pakistan. The Chenab is the largest tributary of the Indus, and where India has most of its hydropower projects. This is why the ‘Chenab formula’ has done the rounds for years. This ridiculous plan envisaged ceding all lands on the right bank of the river, coincidentally mostly Muslim majority districts, to Pakistan. But the cherry on the cake was the control of the rivers and an end to Pakistan’s mounting water woes. That India has never ever broken the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 does not matter at all. Much water has since flowed, and the chances of India ever considering such a formula are extremely remote.

Pakistan’s ‘principled stand’ on Kashmir, which envisaged a deceptive ‘self determination’ based on a selective recall of UN resolutions, has been nothing but political theatre and terrorist games. None of that counts for much anymore. If Pakistan sees any sense, it will use the Indus Water Commission to push cooperation, and not confront India to deal with climate change and water flows. It will declare satisfaction once India provides ‘statehood’ for Kashmir, which New Delhi must do for entirely separate reasons. And it will take over Gilgit Baltistan as a full-fledged province, and thus end the dispute. That’s it. Game over. Islamabad just needs to end its obsessive terrorist ‘strategy’ to the East and the West, and let the trade begin.

The author is former director, National Security Council Secretariat. Views are personal.

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  1. Kashmir needs to become its own state if there’s any chance of having peace. I don’t trust India or pakistan, just like they can’t trust each other. I also believe the Kashmiris at least deserve their freedom which has been highlighted by world media.

  2. There are powerful forces with strong vested interests on both sides of the border who do not want resolution to Kashmir issue of any other issue between the countries.The raison d’tere for Pakistani army is the imagined rivalry with India and they have used it as an excuse to build up a huge military-industrial complex eating up a large share of the national income of that poor country.On the Indian side,peace with Pakistan will finish off the current ruling dispensation as no more votes can be garnered in the name of
    threat from Muslims/Pakistan and hyped up nationalism. So the bogey needs to be maintained on both sides .If Kashmir issue did not exist between the countries,then something else will have to be invented to maintain the charade.South Asia which is home to the largest population of poor people in the world will continue to squander resources on military build up and brave soldiers will keep dying due to duplicity and mendaciousness of powers on both sides of the border. Jai Hind.

  3. Balanced well written article. Though there is element of Hindu phobia by Pakistanis on why they want Kashmir.

  4. All said & done any sensible human thinks that a more humane approach is required to address the atrocities perpetuated in the valley for so long.

  5. Pakistan’s wild dream of accessing Kashmir will remain for ever, until some wise unbiased positive thinking leadership emerges. Army’s corrupt practices to control the entire polity of Pakistan is another major stumbling block. At present Pakistan’s major issues to address are baluchistan, sindudesh and major economic crisis and external debt. Can they handle these pestering problems effectively? I am not optimistic.

  6. The Gilgit Baltistan and area donated to China, can be settled by buying out those areas and paying bankrupt Pakistan medical,financial, and food security. These were Old Afghan warlords like Ghori,Abdali,Gaznavi, or Uzbeks and Tajiks. Amongst themselves since 1050 ce they killed more than 20 million Muslims. They are barbaric hordes still in 632 ce. Don’t entertain them and any remnants should be sent to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

  7. This is only a tactical move by Pak-army. The financial capabilities of Pakistan especially its army needs to be further degraded to force them out of equation.
    A FATF blacklist would have been a real icing but keeping Pakistan in FATF greylist for few more year would also be OK.

  8. I think that the final remedy either for Kashmir or for Axai Chid / Arunachal Pradesh would be to accept present status as final. No country is going to give up what is in its possession, be it Pakistan or India or China. But, even such a decision any of the three countries will require strong political will. Accusation of sell out are bound to fly thick and fast.

  9. Good read. Neither pakistan nor India will be allowing a free sovereign kashmir state. And free kashmir will be a landlocked country sandwiched between pakistan india china. China will never allow a muslim country with islamic basis of foundation to grow in their backyards as they can later influence Uyghur community for a islamic revolution. Pakistan obviously won’t allow a free state to protect their interests like water and all, if they loose military control over this region. And India will rightfully defend its own territory.
    Better solution is going forward with status quo, with creation of autonomous region of India controlled kashmir, pakistan controlled kashmir , with military power vested upon both the governments. But for betterment of kashmiri people there may be free passages of them to both side of the region. I know it’s very difficult to implement such things, but at the end of the day you need to hear the people out.
    And a complete sovereign kashmir state is not a possibility in coming 100 years.

  10. Is there any problem if Govt of India allows Muslims of Indian Kashmir to cross over to Pak Kashmir willingly? Theoretically speaking in this process if 80 percent Kashmiri Muslims leave India then what is wrong? If that happens then it would be easier to make one country one rule one constitution. Even it would help Govt of India to have Hindu State. And if Kashmiri Muslims majority donot cross over to Pakistan Kashmir then that would finish the Imran Govt argument that Indian Kashmiris first to cross over to Pak Kashmir then there would be a plebiscite to decide the Kashmir issue. The end.

  11. The author still doesn’t get it. It’s not about water. It’s not about economy. It’s about destroying India. Remember the old boast: 10 Hindus equals 1 Muslim. Most of us consider it “hot air”. Instead, it is a deeply held belief in Pakistan, even at the highest levels. Once you can accept this (irrational) belief Ayub Khan’s folly will become logical. Yahya Khan’s suicidal preemptive attack will make sense. You will understand why Musharraf invaded Kargil. They have already told us, repeatedly, that they are in a 1000 year war. Why do we not believe them? We think of détente, Pakistan sees it as buying time for the long war. Currently they want to get out of the FATF grey list. hence all this talk of peace. But there is no irreversible action. The killers of Mumbai roam freely. Dawood Ibrahim’s criminal empire continue to flourish. Until there is an irreversible change, we waste time with these ridiculous articles.

  12. Do NOT fall into the same pit of peace process again & again. All that we have got is terrorist attacks of worst kind.Reason for existence of Pakistan is Ghazva-e-Hind. Kashmir is just an excuse. If Pakistan is brokering for peace, it means it’s under severe pressure. The only way there can be lasting real peace in subcontinent is to break-up Pakistan & the idea of Pakistan, which is a nation created for people belonging to a particular Religion. Break-up of Pakistan will be final death nail to the idea of Ghazva-e-Hind & other such Breaking-India forces (both inside & outside). Any peace process initiated by Pakistan is an excuse to buy time & resources for their ultimate purpose of Annihilation of India (Ghazva-e-Hind).

  13. One militant can kill tthousands of People.
    Rev better go and see Uighur muslims.
    Also see Hindus condition in Pakistan .

  14. #China want peace with india, suddenly wanted to end conflict at ladakh and started withdrawing their army back! Pakistan’s army chief want to forget the past and intend into peace movement. Somewhere something is not gelling well. Some big plans are going on in the back. Better India be very careful. Both these neighbours are untrustworthy and have backstabbed not once but many times. Hope both Jai and Rawat are listening!#

  15. You are quoting constitution of POJK which says Azad Jammu and Kashmir

    But in your entire article you say only Azad Kashmir

    Jammu doesn’t matter to you

  16. One sincerely hopes reports of the UAE using its good offices are true. No place for a third chair at the table is one of many dogmas that have outlived their utility. Had the US played that role, its overwhelming power would have caused one – or both – neighbour to feel it was being pressurised. UAE is a source of economic benefit to both India and Pakistan, not seen as a source of coercion. One is waiting for phone calls to go to the relevant channels.

  17. The now idle, and the former director of National Security Council Secretariat, simply whitewashes this fundamental question in Kashmir: Do the Kashmiris want to be part of India?

    And the answer is???

    Can you be honest with your gullible people for once, for goodness sake?
    India’s problemm in Kashmir is not Pakistan, it is Kashmir!

    • “Do the Kashmiris want to be part of India”
      Another question that is even more important is if Indians want Kashmiris to be part of India? And the answer is NO. We want our people, the Hindus, to be settled in Kashmir. Kashmiris unwilling to be Indian were NEVER prevented from leaving India. India’s emphasis has always been only on Kashmir territory and the people who consider India to be their home.

  18. Imran recently said that if Kashmiris vote to join Pakistan, he would respect their wishes if they want to be completely independent. Pakistan realizes an independent Kashmir will probably be friendly toward it, and from what I’ve gathered, Pakistanis are far more open to the idea of an independent Kashmir (that does not include Ladakh or Gilgit-Baltistan)

  19. All these thought excersices can be performed by so called journalists till the next terror attack takes place on Indian soil which could be traced back to Pakistan. Then Shekhar ji will come up with another cut the clutter next day with what went wrong with India’s understanding of Pakistan’s thinking.

  20. Always a pleasure to read Ms Kartha’s viewpoint…
    One must always be careful what one wishes for…and be very mindful that destiny sometimes has its own designs and plays its own part…the glaring example of it was galwaan…where at the cost of the martyrdom of those 20 brave’s and the foolishness of that ONE chinese soldier(who had come from the mainland)who struck that fatal blow to col santosh babu…the well laid plans of the chinese and ….the huge personal political capital of our pradhaan sewak ji…all got washed off…in that collapsed ridge…thus freeing bharat from the clutches of the dragon’s tail…this act of china will not be forgotten…nor forgiven…the mind has been made up..and a certain design has probably been set in motion…the final outcome of which might probably unravel in a couple of years time…at that very road which is so crucial to china…anybody who has studied and observed him..will know how far he thinks and how mindful and unforgetful he is..even a lion takes a couple of steps back to make the final leap…these are somewhat notions of those very same steps bieng taken ….
    to make the final leap…

  21. until and unless kASHMIR won’t be united there will be no peace and order.

    kASHMIR belongs to Kashmiri people not neighbors who have false claims over the for economic reasons.

    Gilgit Baltistan Aksai chin Shaykham valley Ladakh Jammu Muzaffarabad Mirpur Srinagar r parts of Kashmir a sovereign state

    • Those who still think Kashmir would become a separate country ,or an Islamic state in the remote future.I drink to your delusions.

      • Me as a kashmiri want to let u know that the people of kashmir should be given the right to determination and both the countries should solve it peacefully with the help of UN and kashmiri people.We have our own rights. If there exists an independent state ,kashmir, then no one can stop the people of kashmir in doing so,to be an independent, By By
        Now about report:
        Its only 50% right, rest 50 is myth…

    • You still think Kashmir would become a country with it’s army and police force? Pakistan and China would leave parts of Kashmir that they acquired by fair means or foul? I drink to your delusions.

  22. Namaskaram,
    Pakis does not like peace between India and pak.No 1 if there a peaceful settlement with India then pak Army will be a big zero.No 2 pak Army with whom they will fight .Iran and Afghan are their islamic brothers can not fight with each other.The Gens of pak Army has to be retired without the huge pension and other benifits.Every country has an Army but for pak an Army has a Country.Jai Hind.

  23. @Rev
    I acknowledge That That’s The Truth I myself Being A Kashmiri Know the Real Truth Which The Indian Media Hides From The World .
    Never They Want The Voice Of Kashmir To Be heard.

  24. Is there no possibility of taking back illegally occupied Kashmir from pak? Is the world going to gift The perperators?

  25. The author seems to have been bred,born and nutured in the lap of RSS and cannot se and think beyond casteism.This apparaisal is only for “nationalists “ who have already foregone factual confrontation with reality.

  26. one of best articles on kashmir issue. i suggest that the author should send a copy to each and everyone who matter in pakistan.

  27. Please tel the reality history of jammu and kashmir to the who fallows u what are doing with your community

  28. I think the k-issue ll” be resolved now becoz the financial condition of both countries r far bad, even Bangladesh’s gdp r better than both the countries in future both countries could face serious troubles if issue not resolved better is to move on and resolve issue peacefully .

  29. Baised article. WHY…? There are soldiers after every Twenty yards in the valley….? From last ten years GOI is claiming , there are only 200 to 250 militants . Why do you need 0.7 million troops for 250 militants. You can not hold any place against the wishes of people. At the end there will be destruction in the Indian subcontinent untill disputes & conflicts are addressed

    • A) bulk of those troops are at the border/LOC not in the hinterland
      B) Area of J&K UT is 42,241 sq km. If there are soldiers at every 200 sq yards, 0.7 million soldiers would cover only 1.19% of the total area, that’s hardly an “occupation”

    • Are you Paki bro? Who told you that there are 0.7 million soldiers for 250 militants? How’s it possible that India China border, Bangladesh, Myanmar, all are taken care of by another 0.5 million only?

    • When you have time read this article again and jerk off.. you need to flush out your frustrations. It is a well devised article technically and geo strategically

  30. The army generals of Pakistan are interested to keep raking up Kashmir issues to get humongous hikes in the federal defence budget.

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