Missing the point: Pakistan-India relations

Asif Ezdi
Monday, March 31, 2014

Sharif just doesn’t seem to get it. After his meeting with Kerry at The Hague last Monday, the prime minister once again pleaded for US mediation to help resolve the Kashmir dispute with India, much as he had done five months earlier on his visit to Washington last October. The US had on that occasion indirectly turned down Nawaz’s appeal by restating its position that it is for Pakistan and India alone to determine the “pace, scope and character of their dialogue”.

It is difficult to make out what Nawaz was hoping to achieve by repeating his call for US mediation on the Kashmir issue at a meeting with Pakistani reporters in the Dutch city. Even if the US were to play an active role in a Kashmir settlement, there is no reason to suppose that Washington’s involvement would go in Pakistan’s favour or that of the Kashmiri people. If Nawaz’s intention was only to draw international attention to the problem, there are many other – and better – forums which are available for the purpose, which the government has regrettably failed to make use of.

In her weekly briefing last Thursday, the foreign ministry’s spokesperson said that what the prime minister had said in The Hague about US mediation was “essentially” that if there is reluctance on the Indian side to resolve the Kashmir issue bilaterally, our common friends could help convince India to come to the negotiating table. The ‘essential’ point that the Nawaz government misses is that India is not prepared to budge from its basic position that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of Kashmir, and that none of our ‘common friends’ is prepared to, or in a position to, ‘convince’ India to change that.

Any bilateral talks that India has with Pakistan on Kashmir would be aimed, from India’s standpoint, at securing Pakistan’s acceptance, implicitly if not expressly, of the Indian occupation and at ending Pakistan’s support for the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination.

The other ‘essential’ point that Nawaz obviously misses is that in the present international and regional environment Pakistan cannot gain at the ‘negotiating table’ anything in addition to what it already has. The question that the Nawaz government should really be asking itself is whether bilateral talks with India on Kashmir, through normal diplomatic channels or the backchannel, serve any useful purpose and should be pursued. Pakistan should also consider resuming its full diplomatic, political and moral support to the Kashmiri cause, which has been cut back since 2004.

Talks or no talks, it is clear that Delhi will stop at nothing to suppress the demand of the Kashmiri people for self-determination. But what Pakistan has – and there are two things – is also very valuable and Pakistan can wait till conditions are created under which the Kashmiris can freely decide where they want to belong.

First, about one-third of the state is under Pakistani administration, thanks to a popular uprising of the Kashmiris. That part is of vital importance because it provides Pakistan with a direct overland route to China, Pakistan’s foremost strategic partner. It also cuts off the Indian-occupied territory from Afghanistan and Central Asia and keeps India from some further mischief against Pakistan.

Second, Pakistan has the UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir. It is on the basis of these resolutions that Pakistan has been espousing the cause of the Kashmiris in international fora. It is also because of these resolutions that the UN treats the state as a disputed territory whose status is yet to be determined and the international community does not regard the Kashmir freedom movement as a separatist or secessionist movement, but as one for the achievement of the right to self-determination, a right which is enshrined in the UN charter and international law.

After the acquisition of nuclear capability by Pakistan, India has no hope of seizing AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan by force, but it has made considerable headway, thanks to a mix of obtuseness, power hungriness and blurred vision on the part of much of our political class, in getting Pakistan to water down its commitment to the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir. Musharraf led the way when he declared in 2003 that Pakistan was ready to “lay aside” these resolutions in a search for a mutually agreed out-of-the-box solution through backchannel negotiations.

The PPP-led governments under Zardari’s presidency were also keen to pursue this course but were unable to do so after the Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008. Last December, Imran also spoke approvingly of the backchannel negotiations. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, he said that PTI vice-president Shah Mahmood, who was Zardari’s first foreign minister, had told him that the two countries were “really close to forward movement on Kashmir”.

This of course is true only if ‘forward movement’ is equated with a sell-out of the Kashmir cause. To their credit, the political parties that together are labelled the ‘religious right’ are the only ones to have come out in opposition to the dangerous course Musharraf was pursuing.

Now, the Nawaz government is also treading the same defeatist path as the ousted military dictator. Nawaz himself has carefully avoided any reference to the UNSC resolutions since his speech in the UN General Assembly last September. This is not fortuitous but in fulfilment of a commitment conveyed by Shaharyar Khan, Nawaz’s special envoy for India, to his Indian interlocutor.

Nawaz’s keenness to grant MFN status to India and buy electricity from that country also betrays the same confused and dangerous approach. After having recklessly pushed ahead with his plan to open the Pakistani market to Indian goods in disregard of objections from Pakistani industry and agriculture and of advice from the foreign ministry, Nawaz surprised many by declaring casually to Pakistani reporters at The Hague last week that the grant of MFN status to India had been postponed.

In typical Nawaz fashion, the decision to postpone MFN was taken not by the government but by a closed circle of cronies and family and clan members. The foreign ministry was not even informed, but first learnt about it from press reports.

A postponement does not mean that Nawaz has taken a definitive decision to refuse MFN status to India. Nevertheless, the decision to defer the matter is to be welcomed. Still, it is quite bizarre that he does not want to take ownership for it himself. Instead, he has passed on the responsibility to unnamed “stakeholders”. Evidently, he does not know that while governments are expected to take all views into consideration, the ultimate responsibility for taking decisions is theirs alone.

There is also no sign that Nawaz has given up his wider plan to open Pakistan to India’s economic penetration. One sign is Trade Minister Dastgir’s proud announcement last Tuesday that an agreement had been reached with India to purchase electricity and that power would start flowing from India as soon as transmission lines have been laid.

Despite its own power shortage, India has been very keen to sell electricity to Pakistan, not out of love for Pakistan but in order to gain leverage over Pakistan’s policies. Under the projected deal, Pakistan would import 500MW of power initially, to be enhanced to 1,200MW at a later stage. This would be about 10 percent of Pakistan’s current production which ranges between 10,000MW and 16,000MW. As an Indian commentator has noted, the sale of electricity to Pakistan would give India a “geopolitical tool” and enable it to “punish Pakistan”, when needed, by withholding power.

Strangely, our decision-makers seem to be blissfully unconcerned about the potential for the use of power by India as a political tool to pressure Pakistan. While other countries of the world are aiming at energy security by diversifying their sources of supply, the Nawaz government is bent on creating dependence on a country with a long record of hostility to Pakistan. Clearly, Nawaz needs to be given a crash course in basic diplomacy and the history of Pakistan-India relations.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.

Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

Courtesy The NEWS

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