Not many options for Pakistan

Left with no real course of action to alter the reality of a ‘changed’ Kashmir

Tilak Devasher
Member, national security advisory board

For the past many decades, the slogans ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’, ‘Kashmir hamari shahrag hai’ (Kashmir is Pakistan’s jugular vein) and ‘Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of Partition’ were the oxygen that sustained Pakistan. Kashmir and such slogans were integral parts of ‘nazaria-i-Pakistan’ (ideology of Pakistan). The term ‘ideology of the state’s accession to Pakistan’ even formed part of the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir’s Interim Constitution Act, 1974. 

On August 5, 2019, even as Imran Khan was preparing to celebrate a year in office, the revocation of J&K’s special status under Article 370 demolished Pakistan’s narrative and the carefully constructed nationalist architecture. In one fell swoop, the government of PM Modi demolished the central pillar of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ and struck a sledgehammer blow at the raison d’etre of the army’s domination. 

Where does Pakistan go from here? For the long term it will have to go back to the drawing board and rethink all old narratives. But Pakistan is not known for introspection and for taking a long-term view. Given the kind of propaganda that the people have been fed with for decades, they will demand an immediate response. Failure to do so will severely dent the army’s image. 

However, the government’s options are limited and in inverse proportion to the rhetoric emanating from its leadership, both civil and military. Moreover, Pakistan is also constrained by the fact that while there is unity on Kashmir, it is a divided house internally with intense polarisation among the political parties and economically is on the brink, seeking doles from friendly countries. 

Possible Pakistan efforts could involve a big spike in tensions on the LoC coupled with large infiltration attempts and terrorist violence. Observers have noted the movement of air and ground assets in POK. The disclosure of Imran Khan in the US that Pakistan had over 30,000 to 40,000 jihadis becomes relevant. Pakistan would like to provoke a serious security situation in Kashmir or elsewhere in India and hope the resultant Indo-Pakistan crisis grabs US attention and intervention. This, however, would come up against the commitments it has given to the Financial Action Task Force to take ‘irreversible action’ against terrorists or face blacklisting in October. 

Among its legal options are to approach the UNSC, asserting that India’s actions are violative of the council’s resolutions on J&K and likely to endanger international peace and security. The September meeting of the UNGA would also provide a platform for venting its rhetoric. Approaching the International Court of Justice is another option, but here Pakistan may not be able to unilaterally invoke jurisdiction. Pakistan is also hoping that the Indian judiciary will strike down the constitutionality of the move. 

Diplomatic options would include calling for a special session of the OIC as well as approaching relevant world capitals to explain how India is in violation of international law, bilateral treaties and its own Constitution.

Pakistan would work through human rights groups, too. Additionally, it would make special effort in the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Three facets of the Pakistan narrative are noteworthy: The first is that the move would change the demography of J&K and so materially breach the plebiscite arrangements of the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir. Second, as articulated by Imran Khan, India might stage Pulwama-like incidents to find an excuse to start an armed conflict with Pakistan. Third, Pakistan would try to project that developments in Kashmir would adversely impact the Afghan peace process and resultant US pullout. 

Notwithstanding Pakistan army chief General Bajwa’s assertion that the army was prepared and shall go to ‘any extent to fulfil their obligations’ with regard to Kashmir, the steps announced by Pakistan so far are geared to assuage domestic opinion. Downgrading ties with India, expelling India’s High Commissioner, cutting off bilateral trade, suspending the Samjhauta Express, etc., will impact India. Pakistan has also threatened to review bilateral arrangements without specifying details. 

Its helplessness was revealed when a visibly upset Imran Khan, responding to the opposition’s criticism of the government’s response during the August 6 joint session of Parliament, asked Shahbaz: ‘What do you want me to do? Attack India?’

The bland statements issued by the international community show that Pakistan’s narrative is not succeeding. Concerns expressed are about human rights violations, restrictions imposed in the Valley, urging restraint and not critical of the measures taken. Thus, the US has noted that it was an internal matter. Russia has categorically stated that it is under the framework of the Indian Constitution. Even China has emphasised its own territorial dispute in the Ladakh region. To Pakistan’s discomfort, even the Taliban have debunked any linkage between Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Whatever options Pakistan chooses to adopt, the basic question that it needs to ask is whether any or all of them will lead New Delhi to reverse its actions in J&K. The answer has to be a resounding no. Ultimately, there is likely to be sullen acceptance that the international community would do little; Pakistan, by its own admission, is not looking for a military option, using terrorists could boomerang and the legal challenge would not amount to much. The constitutional moves of the Indian Government are a fait accompli and Pakistan will have to learn to live with the changed reality.

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