The developments of August 5, 2019 have left a deep scar on the psyche of Pakistan. This was the day when the special provisions granted to J&K in the Indian constitution– Article 370 and Article 35(A) – were revoked. The state was bifurcated into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Subsequently, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) started referring to the meteorological sub-division of Jammu and Kashmir as Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan and Muzaffarabad. This was a subtle signal to Pakistan that the entire erstwhile princely state of J&K was legally a part of India.
After August 5, 2019, Pakistan took a slew of measures including downgrading diplomatic relations as well as severing trade ties till it realised how dependent it was on pharmaceuticals from India. Pakistan at that time also announced a review of other bilateral arrangements with India. But till date no further steps have been taken. Some of the proposals being discussed in the media, notably by retired generals and diplomats, include declaring Gilgit-Baltistan as Pakistan’s fifth province and rescinding the Shimla Agreement.
Pakistan’s narrative during the last year has been three-fold: One that India’s action of ‘annexing’ Jammu & Kashmir was a violation of the UN charter. Second, it had triggered a new border conflict in Ladakh that could jeopardize regional stability. Here, Pakistan is trying to project that China saw the abrogation of Article 370, and the formation of the new union territory of Ladakh as signs of newfound Indian aggressiveness and which was being bolstered by international efforts to prop up India as a counterweight to China. There is also the hope in Pakistan that China will now redouble its efforts to support Pakistan in contesting Indian aggression in the Kashmir valley. Third, the Modi government has made claims on Gilgit-Baltistan and so-called ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)’ and India could well launch a military offensive in these areas. A linked strand is that India could launch a false-flag operation.
Pakistan’s strategy is focussed on the diplomatic front. It feels that Kashmir has been internationalized and thus the bilateral route is not worth pursuing. So the emphasis is on asking the international community and organisations like the UN to denounce India’s actions in Kashmir and to take urgent actions to reign in Indian ‘fascist ambitions’ and ‘Hindutva agenda’ so as not to jeopardise peace in the region.
Specifically, it has focused on the following:
- Kashmiris have been facing restrictions on civil liberties due to an extended lockdown and a communications blackout and are being subjected to human rights abuses. The Coronavirus has now condemned them to a ‘double lockdown’.
- People from anywhere in India are now allowed to buy property and permanently settle in Kashmir thus altering the state’s demography from majority Muslim to majority Hindu.
- India has introduced new ‘domicile rules’ to engineer a demographic change in Kashmir. It rejected the grant of domicile certificates to 25,000 Indian nationals since May 18, as it signalled the beginning of demographic changes in the Muslim-majority state.
However, Pakistan’s strategy to internationalise the Kashmir issue has met with limited success.
Several developments have hurt Pakistan’s cause. First, its credibility hit a new low when it was revealed that it spent Rs 30 lakh on a trip to Pakistan and POK for the chair of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir (APPGK) Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, who was barred entry to India in February 2020 owing to an invalid visa. The group received a “benefit in kind” of between £31,501 (Rs 29.7 lakh) and £33,000 (Rs 31.2 lakh) on February 18, 2020 from the Pakistan government for a “visit to Pakistan and POK” between February 18 and 22. During the visit she also met Imran Khan.
Second, while Pakistan has been calling for the rights of the Kashmiris, its hypocrisy has been exposed by the proposed 14th Amendment to the constitution of AJK that actually diminishes the rights of this so-called ‘Azad’ (Free)’ area. Thus, the Kashmir Council, headed by the PM of Pakistan has been given powers to legislate on critical subjects whereas earlier it only had advisory powers. Moreover, under a new Article 35, ‘A bill passed by the Council shall not require the assent of the President (of AJK) and shall, upon its authentication by the Chairman of the Council (i.e. PM of Pakistan) become law’. In effect, this totally negates and voids the legislative functions of the AJK Assembly.
Third, the resignation of Syed Ali Shah Gilani from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference was a blow. Pakistan has tried to recover lost ground by conferring an award on him.
As a result of these developments, Pakistan is getting increasingly frustrated. It is acutely aware that it is running out of time. From January 1, 2021 India will assume its seat as a non-permanent member of the UNSC and then it will be difficult to get an anti-India resolution. Pakistan is also aware that there is a new generation of Kashmiris that is aspirational and does not want to go down the stone-pelting route anymore.
In the past Pakistan has sent dossiers and parliamentarians around the world to highlight the human rights situation in J&K. Imran Khan tried unsuccessfully to fire the imagination of the world through his much-hyped address to the UNGA in September 2019. Pakistan is well aware that despite all the efforts of Imran Khan to instigate a “blood bath” in Kashmir leading to ‘genocide’, nothing even remotely like that happened during the past year. On the contrary, various development schemes have been launched by India which have been well appreciated by the people.
Thus, for the August 5 anniversary that is being observed in Pakistan as ‘youm-e-estehsal’ (Day of Exploitation), the ISI has come out with a detailed programme. The elements include a visit by Imran Khan to POK where he will address the legislative assembly. Prior to this, foreign journalists and members of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) would be taken to POK. Islamabad has also asked Kuala Lumpur, Ankara and Beijing to issue statements on the occasion. It will be contacting international human rights groups, the OIC, organising events and rallies at missions abroad and drafting a memorandum to be handed over to the UNMOGIP. All this will be accompanied with a domestic media blitz that would comprise of ‘packages’ that includes: criticism of the Indian government by Kashmiri ‘leaders’, international organisations, international media and Indian political leaders as also video clips. In addition the Kashmir highway would be renamed Srinagar highway.
However, how serious Pakistan is about August 5, and Kashmir was evident by the fact that, as reported in the media, as late as July 24 the federal government was still contemplating a proposal to form a bipartisan political committee to devise a unanimous strategy to observe the first anniversary of India’s actions on August 5. The opposition was, however, skeptical seeing in the move an attempt to ‘torpedo’ the fast-developing alliance between the major opposition parties. A scribe summed it up well when he wrote: ‘There is no stir or any activity in Azad Kashmir, except political statements…. We failed because we had recruited a barber (the reference is to Shah Mehmood Qureshi whose video of blessing constituents by cutting locks of hair) to plead in the court and hired a lawyer to shampoo and shave in the barber’s saloon. We have entered into a political cul de sac and ahead is a political wilderness.’
Overall, Pakistan has painted itself into a corner by harping on Kashmir being its jugular vein. August 5 should actually be a time for Pakistan to reflect on what has happened in Kashmir.
What Pakistan does not realise or if it realises, does not accept that it has little credibility in claiming to be the votary of Kashmir. It carries with it the baggage of its failed attempts to forcibly grab Kashmir starting with its invasion of the princely state of J&K in October 1947, Operation Gibraltar in 1965 and the Kargil intrusions of 1999. The example of how the then East Pakistanis were butchered by the Pakistan army in 1971 is still fresh. Since 1989-90 it has fuelled terrorism in the state that has led to the death of thousands of Kashmir youth and sounded the death knell of Kashmir’s composite culture- Kashmiriyat. Today’s Kashmiri generation has seen the vision for prosperity provided by the Indian government in the post Article 370 phase. They are not likely to fall prey to Pakistan’s machinations again.
This article was first published by Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF)