On Wednesday, August 5, Pakistan will commemorate the completion of a year of tyranny and illegal Indian annexation of the already-occupied portion of Kashmir. Dubbed “Yuam-e-Istehsaal”(The Day of Exploitation), the day is set to be marked by a flurry of activities aimed at highlighting unabated Indian atrocities in Kashmir. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, is due to address the Legislative Assembly of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), in a bid to not only reiterate Pakistan’s unflinching support to the beleaguered Kashmiris but to also send a clear message to India. While Pakistan looks forward to vehemently jostling the conscience of the international community, through the powerful projection of the plight of the oppressed and incarcerated Kashmiris, detractors are flaying these efforts, terming them as ineffectual and merely symbolic. Their reasoning is that Pakistan’s adoption of a run of the mill diplomatic options only has let India off the hook. A survey of Islamabad’s approach towards the Kashmir issue post-August 5, will remain incomplete, unless the environment under which Pakistan was and is operating in, is dissected.
The oft-repeated assertion is that Pakistan’s response to India’s August 5 attack on Kashmir’s autonomy, was and has not been in accordance with the magnitude of the steps that India took and continues to take. Indeed, India’s revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A was repugnant to the terms of all bilateral and multilateral frameworks devised to resolve the decades-long Kashmir dispute. However, it must be borne in mind that the brazen yet predictable move by a buoyant BJP leadership was made at a time when Pakistan was clawing its way back insofar as its standing was concerned. A fumbling economy, coupled with an image-problem, seemed like a cul-de-sac. Weeks before Modi’s sledgehammer in Kashmir, Pakistan took a significant leap towards resetting its troubled ties with the US. PM Khan’s maiden official visit to Washington made for good optics, as he and Islamabad heard what they wanted to hear: acknowledgement of Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process, expression of a desire to turn a page in their relations, and a mediation offer on Kashmir.
That said, in the eyes of the US, for all the bonhomie between President Trump and PM Khan, Pakistan had to make good on its promises to help the US in Afghanistan. The corollary was that Pakistan had to be mindful of the levers that the US had up its sleeves to pin it down. With the US being preponderant in important bodies that Pakistan needed to convince, Pakistan could not have squandered the opportunities created by the glad tidings with the US. Contrary to the popular belief within Washington, Islamabad did not condition its help in the Afghan peace process to that of the US in Kashmir.
The decision to walk gingerly with the US has helped Islamabad in more ways than one. Firstly, Pakistan’s continued and assiduous efforts to keep the Afghan peace process on track, despite the hiccups, has meant that its ties with the US are witnessing a period typified by cooperation and consultations at the highest levels, which was missing in the past decade. It must be stated that PM Khan and President Trump have had six conversations with each other since 2019. Cooperation between the two countries has strengthened, even during the pandemic, with both countries helping each other in fighting the gargantuan crisis. Secondly, Pakistan has not faced a tough time at the US-dominated International Monetary Fund and the Financial Action Task Force(FATF), something that has been a sigh of relief for a country that was ensnared in multiple crises.
Had Pakistan pulled the plug on the US in Afghanistan and taken a non-diplomatic route after India’s forays in Kashmir, it would have been encumbered with a battle on many fronts. Pakistan would have had its work cut-out in the IMF and FATF, something that would have compounded problems precipitously. India would have, along with practical US’ succour, easily shifted attention towards Pakistan’s so-called recklessness. That it did not happen meant that the gaze of US lawmakers did not turn away from India’s high-handed policies in Kashmir. Despite India’s burgeoning strategic hobnob with the US, it has been unable to subdue criticism on the Hill or dissuade President Trump from giving his peace overtures on Kashmir.
All this means that India finds itself in an invidious situation and that too in its favourite capital. If India were thinking that it will win the war of narratives in a canter, one year down the line, it has failed, as it is in a position that is anything but propitious. Thus, Pakistan has navigated minefields in ties with Washington, and delivered what it promised, while creating spaces and contingencies for the Kashmiris, inside Washington.
Free from Washington’s nagging, Islamabad has robustly engaged with other leading international actors, to include China. Beijing’s stakes in the Kashmir issue, coupled with its partnership with Pakistan, have been used to good effect by Islamabad. Not only has China castigated India left, right and centre, it has also arranged UNSC moots on Kashmir, causing a big dent to India’s efforts to term the Kashmir conundrum as its internal matter. Seemingly, India’s incursions in Kashmir have reinvigorated strategic consultations between Beijing and Islamabad. The result is that India is unlikely to get away with its shenanigans in Kashmir.
Pakistan has also been constantly imploring Muslim countries to focus on the carnage taking place in Kashmir. Countries like Malaysia and Turkey have been at the forefront in batting for the rights of the Kashmiris. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has been firm in condemnation of India’s unremitting use of force in Kashmir. Also, Islamabad has ramped up its diplomatic traffic to Iran. A country that is deemed closest strategic partner of India, out of all the Muslim country, has taken exceptions to Indian annexation of Kashmir. As of this writing, it appears that the halcyon days of Tehran’s marriage with New Delhi are numbered, with the former turning the other way in India’s Chabahar juggernaut. Pakistan’s bid to recalibrate its ties with Iran gives it a chance to pounce on the opportunity that Iran’s growing strategic camaraderie with China offers. This is likely to dispossess India of one of the means through which it could bog Pakistan down, in the region.
In the past one year, Pakistan’s diplomatic thrusts have not only exposed India’s canard the world over but also disallowed India from riding roughshod and spreading tendentious claims about Pakistan. All this, it must be stated has happened without Pakistan coming across as an aggressor or an ‘abnormal ‘ nuclear state.
That said, the momentum generated by PM Khan’s all-out campaign at the United Nations, last year has seemingly lost steam. While the government continues to broach the Kashmir issue with one and all, Pakistan has been found wanting in its strategic communication, chiefly due to the inability of the media to step up and support the government in reshaping a narrative against a behemoth oppressor. The academia for its part has been fairly active. It has kept the Kashmir issue alive even during the pandemic by tapping into the webinar phenomenon.
All in all, Pakistan’s scoreboard makes for good reading since August 5. Neither it has let the world forget Kashmir and India’s colonial project there, nor has it resorted to war or warmongering. Pakistan’s diplomacy-only toolkit was prepared to correspond to its baskets of predicaments. With shackles breaking, Pakistan is placing itself in a position to stymie more menacing Indian designs, that too, through the force of diplomacy.