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.
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.
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.
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.