Will strategy or ideology decide the future of Pakistan occupied Kashmir?
Pakistan equates the right of self-determination with religion, and religion with its territorial interests, which complicate its Kashmir policy
The Kashmir issue is described by Pakistan as an ‘unfinished agenda of the Partition’. The rhetoric indicates that ideology remains an important element in Pakistan’s perception. This has not changed even after the emergence of Bangladesh, which was a repudiation of the Two-Nation Theory by the largest province of Pakistan. The 1971 war left its unfinished agenda. (Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto in his agreement with Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman had agreed to take back a quarter-million Mohajirs, who had sided with the Pakistan army during the liberation struggle. The agreement is yet to be implemented.
Both Kashmiris and Mohajirs are Muslims. The Bihari Mohajirs twice sacrificed for Pakistan—in 1947 and 1971. However, Pakistan’s position on two issues presents a stark contrast. It has loudly proclaimed the ‘Kashmir cause’, while quietly relegating the ‘Bihari’ issue to the backburner, despite MQM’s protests. Kashmir promises an opportunity to gain territory in a strategic location. The return of ‘Biharis’ from Bangladesh would not bring any land and would upset the ethnic balance in Karachi. Punjab will not accept Urdu-speaking Biharis.
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What is more critical to the future of PoK—strategy or ideology? Pakistan’s policy is a complex overlay of ideology, strategy, and interests. Kashmir did not figure in the Lahore Declaration of the Muslim League, though it was part of Chaudhary Rahmat Ali’s conception of Pakistan. The former is a far more important basis of the ideology of Pakistan than the map drawn by a student of Cambridge.
Pakistan’s Kashmir policy is driven by the primacy of strategy and interests over ideology. (M.A.) Jinnah described Kashmir as the jugular vein of Pakistan. President Ayub Khan, in his memoirs, has mentioned his concern that the headwaters of the Indus lay in Jammu and Kashmir. The growing Chinese presence in the hydropower sector in Gilgit-Baltistan (G–B) and its location as the land-bridge to China has increased the importance of the region in Pakistan military’s calculations. The recent move to confer a ‘provisional provincial status’ on G–B saw the army chief hosting a meeting with opposition parties to fashion a political consensus.
India does not represent a threat to Pakistan. All four conflicts were wars of choice by Pakistan. A state of perpetual confrontation with its bigger neighbour has imposed strains on its economy. It makes frequent statements projecting ‘Kashmir as a nuclear flash-point’. If this is not to be dismissed as posturing to invite international attention, it amounts to risking Pakistan’s very existence for the Kashmir ‘cause’. This goes beyond any rational concept of nuclear deterrence. Pakistan is not only at odds with ‘Hindu’ India, but also with Afghanistan and Iran on its western borders. A day before the Pulwama incident, twenty-seven Iranian soldiers were killed on 13 February 2019 in an identical attack inside Iran’s Sistan–Balochistan province. The suicide bomber was a Pakistani national.
With impending US withdrawal from the region, the importance of PoK and G–B has increased in Pakistan military’s calculus. The Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) reinforces strategy with economic interest. Public debate has remained focused on the Chinese presence in Gwadar. But expected Chinese financing of US$5.946 billion in ‘AJK’ (Azad Jammu and Kashmir) and the US$16.129 billion in Gilgit–Baltistan. The last includes the construction of the Daimer Bhasha dam with a project cost of US$14 billion and infrastructure projects worth the US$2.129 billion. This far exceeds US$900 million being invested in the Gwadar port. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and G–B have shorter lines of communication and can be more easily controlled by the Pakistan military. They also have water and hydropower; Balochistan has run out of Sui gas. In this calculus, the ‘people’ do not figure. The role of strategy and interests in Pakistan’s policy towards PoK and G–B will grow with CPEC.
Pakistan equates the right of self-determination with religion, and religion with its territorial interests. This challenges the modern, liberal value system in which the idea of human rights is rooted. A ‘people’ need not be defined in terms of narrow identities. The slogan for ‘azadi’ cannot be a camouflage for territorial interests or justification for going back to the medieval concept of a theocratic state.
If neither azadi nor provincial status is an attractive option from Pakistan’s perspective, could it at least act on its oft-repeated positions? It bases its claim on PoK and G–B on the reference in United Nations Commision for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) resolution to the ‘local authorities’ in areas ‘evacuated’ by Pakistani troops to work under UN surveillance. This would mean a very different dispensation from the highly centralized structure it has created in the two territories. Pakistan will have to either withdraw, which is what the UNCIP resolution required, or give a large measure of autonomy. The ‘local authority’ cannot mean Pakistan’s federal government in Islamabad. Under the 13th Amendment of the PoK Constitution as well as the Government of Gilgit–Baltistan Order of 2018, Pakistan or Pakistan’s prime minister directly exercise legislative and executive authority within PoK and G–B. The other benchmark for the future of at least Gilgit–Baltistan would be the 1999 decision of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which had asked it to provide judicially enforceable fundamental rights and a representative government in Gilgit–Baltistan within six months. The territory has an elected assembly, which has very little legislative power.
Pakistan’s control of PoK and G–B is more intrusive than its control of its provinces. In the case of the provinces, they are subject to Federal control in respect of Federal subjects. But the provincial legislature is free within the sphere of residuary powers vested in the provinces. In the case of PoK and G–B, Pakistan not only exercises authority over the defence, foreign affairs, and currency but a whole range of other subjects. In fact, the entire list of sixty-one items, when the G–B elected assembly earlier had legislative powers, has been abolished. In the case of PoK, Pakistan exercises direct powers over thirty-two subjects, while the legislative authority of the PoK Assembly over the remaining twenty-two is also subject to Pakistan’s ‘consent’. Will it be too much to expect that Pakistan does not treat the people of PoK and G–B as lesser people than the people of its provinces?
Jinnah briefly referred to the Catholics and Protestants living together as equal citizens of Great Britain in his 11 August speech. But the politics he had followed in the previous three decades was opposed to this ideal. He never returned to this principle again. His successors buried the idea. The separation of Church and State is built into American and French Constitutions. The monarch is the head of the Anglican Church in Britain. But the role of religion and politics is constrained by a legal system based on non-discrimination. This principle is reflected in the highest Cabinet offices and leadership of the corporate world in the UK and the USA.
Despite the trauma of Partition, India chose a Constitution which guarantees equal opportunities and non-discrimination. India is a plural society with enormous diversity. Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, are microcosms of India’s diversity. The UN representative Owen Dixon recognized the state’s heterogeneous character. But his prescription would have made the problem worse. It did not take into account the effect of the communal division of the state on the rest of the country, where the welfare of the Muslim minority required a secular dispensation. Does the idea have more legitimacy after the events of 9/11 and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?
Excerpted from Forgotten Kashmir: The Other Side of the Line of Control by Dinkar P. Srivastava with permission from HarperCollins India. The book is available on pre-order.
LAST UPDATED03.02.2021 | 01:12 PM IST