Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was expected to throw no surprise, and it didn’t. If Pakistan’s prime minister was reading from the same tired script, updated with some recent information on Kashmir, all over again then this is how it was supposed to be. Such speeches are basically meant for the consumption of the audience back home. Since in actual terms the approval points from them matter more than the opinion of world leaders at the UN, there’s no way a leader can withdraw from a position he has emphatically conveyed to the home crowd. Of course, he cannot look intimidated or defensive.
So we had Sharif revisiting the familiar tropes – the UN resolution on Kashmiri self-determination, the home-grown freedom movement, occupation of the state by the Indian military, extra-judicial killings among others. The only new addition to the script giving it an updated feel was Burhan Wani, the Hizbul commander killed by security forces, and the subsequent widespread protests in the Valley. The fact that Sharif would raise the issue of Burhan, leader of a Kashmiri terrorist outfit, is a bit odd – “it’s self-incriminatory, ” BJP leader MJ Akbar has said. However, if the home audience is the target group then such things hardly matter.
When Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj speaks at the UNGA, she would have the domestic audience on her mind too. After the Uri attack a vocal section of the population wants India to initiate punitive action; if it means war so be it. The media on its part has been doing a good lot of war-mongering. The foreign minister will be mindful to this section’s needs while making her address. In the absence of right action from the government she will need to find the right words to placate this lot. It won’t surprise anyone if it’s combative, war-like and openly provocative.
The war of words is maybe good for egos, the real question, however, is does it serve any real purpose? UNGA is just another forum where both sides present their cases, and a few ‘your proof vs my proof’ dossiers on each other, to influence world opinion. Pakistan likes to draw the world’s attention to Kashmir and India to terror. While both sides acknowledge the strong connection between the two, interpretation of the nature of it varies. The call the UN body may take depends on how members weigh Kashmir and terror.
Even if it is in India’s favour it may not be satisfying to it substantially. Branding of Pakistan a terrorist state by several nations may be a psychological victory, but it hardly changes anything on the ground in Kashmir. Moreover, it would like the Kashmir issue to be discussed in a bilateral framework. If it gets internationalised — as Pakistan wants it to be — it opens up several complexities.
The best option for the government is to re-assess its approach to Kashmir while it continues its terror-focussed diplomatic offensive on Pakistan. With Kashmir on the boil there will always be an excuse – a legitimate one for its own audience - for Pakistan and the world to intervene. It has to douse the fire quickly, even if takes swallowing pride.
It’s clear by now that we have no policy on Kashmir. Or if there’s one it’s condescending to the people. If that were not the case the government would have been more careful about a section of the media running a hate campaign that almost alienated the Valley from the country. Another area where it could have acted is the foolish linking of the leaders of the Hurriyat and a section Kashmiri agitationists to Pakistan. The correct approach would have been to treat them as separate from each other even though that might not be the case.
The government can make amends. But there has to be intent in the first place. Making Pakistan miserable everywhere and in every way is fine, but that is not the solution to the core problem.