Pakistan goes all out to internationalise Kashmir; Indian government, media would do well to focus attention on PoK

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impassioned address to the nation with a plea to Srinagar to walk alongside Delhi is not enough.

  • The doomsayers inside and outside the country are waiting for the first sign of failure, and that could be as early as next month, or even next week.

  • Lesson number one for India is that 'strategic communication' matters.

Even as Islamabad is thinking up new ways of getting the Kashmir issue up and into world bodies including the International Court of Justice, there are many within the country – and outside – who are genuinely puzzled at this paroxysm of outrage and disjointed actions. There are, after all, few foreign ministers in the history of diplomacy who have tried to inflame nationals abroad into protesting and creating trouble on the streets.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s call was certainly heeded in the UK, where a horde of hooligans turned up outside the Indian Embassy intent on causing damage. If it didn’t resonate elsewhere, it’s because Pakistani nationals abroad are not prepared to put their residence and future status at risk for a country that seems to have gone over the edge in more ways than one.

 Pakistan goes all out to internationalise Kashmir; Indian government, media would do well to focus attention on PoK

File image of Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. AP

The puzzling part of Pakistan’s reaction is that first, the ‘Kashmir dispute’ remains as it is. The new Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019  retains 26 seats for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in its state Assembly, thus continuing with the Indian position that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is one and that PoK is disputed territory. The Line of Control remains as it is, and so does the dispute on Siachen. In short, the territorial holding or the claimed area hasn’t changed by an inch. So then what is Pakistan’s outrage all about? It can continue to opt for dialogue on this and related issues any time it chooses to entirely end its sponsorship of terrorism. This has not happened so far. The jihadi infrastructure is on a tenuous hold, but that’s simply not good enough. Arising from that, India can only continue its own position to refuse to talk.

Second, the main aspect of Pakistan’s position – which it has successfully sold to the US media – is that the dissolution of Article 370  is a  ‘unilateral’ action by India. But here’s the interesting part. Pakistan itself has not scrupled to shift, change and carve out its Occupied areas absolutely at will. Remember that the Occupied Areas were sliced up into three portions. In 1962, an area of 6,000 sq km was ceded to China as part of a boundary agreement. This effectively ensured that China would be a shadow ‘third partner’ to the dispute. So no surprises that Beijing is in arm with Islamabad at the UN in highlighting the “Kashmir issue’.

The second section of some 5,000 square miles was carved out as early as 1947 as “Azad Kashmir’  to give lip service to a ‘free Kashmir’. It is anything but and remains tightly under the control of Islamabad.

The third section of PoK was hived away much earlier on 28 April 1949 in a secret exercise involving Pakistan and 'Azad Kashmir government’ where the latter ceded 24,000 km to Pakistan. Not a single person from these annexed areas was present. Till 2009, the area was not on even on textbooks as a specific area.  In that year it was rechristened Gilgit-Baltistan, and given some limited powers. However, as of date, the area remains in legal limbo, neither part of Pakistan or part of Azad Kashmir, with no media, no internet, and restricted entry to all, barring Chinese officials and workers engaged in the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It is of course, entirely under the control of the Pakistan Army. Those protesting the media blackout of Kashmir should know that Gilgit-Baltistan has had no free communications for the last 70 years.

The even more interesting point is that Islamabad has continued to tinker with the status of these areas. Last year, the apparently independent 'Azad Kashmir’ saw even its marginal autonomy further eroded by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Interim Constitution of Azad Kashmir 1974. The Amendment was rushed through in the Assembly in just two days and transferred the entire powers of the Council – an amalgam of elected and nominated officials – directly to the prime minister of Pakistan. In addition, the new amendment rather notably states “No law providing for preventive detention shall be made except to deal with persons acting in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, security or defense of Azad Jammu and Kashmir or Pakistan or any part thereof.”

That puts paid to the apparent independence theory. India protested the change on 11 June, 2018 but and let the matter go without undue public activity. It was ignored entirely by international media. In other words, a so-called ‘independent’ entity was virtually made a province of Pakistan, and nobody cared. To cross the ‘T’s and dot the “I’s’, Pakistan chopped, changed and controlled areas that on paper, are entirely outside its constitution. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan — or perhaps even India — can make an international case out of it, if they so wish. It's downright illegal in any court of law.

The question then arises as to why the ‘international community’ (there's no such thing, but it's nice to pretend there is) has taken no note at all of the ambiguous status of Gilgit-Baltistan where it is in effect, the only stateless place in the world? First, the complete media and communications blackout of the area, where even Pakistani media doesn’t report on it, much less the international reportage. And here’s the mistake – neither did Indian media care to report on it is a reflection of the indifference of New Delhi. ‘Kashmir’ is all over the pages, and PoK is not, not ever, not even now. Pakistan has made sure that Kashmir remained a ‘live’ issue, even through terrorist attacks where everyone knew of Srinagar, stone-pelting and live coverage of Indian counter actions.

Lesson number one for India is that ‘strategic communication’ matters. It mattered during the time of prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and it matters even more now, in the time of the world wide web. Change this, and do it quickly, by explaining the reasons for a media blackout, the need for peace, and the future plans on elections. At another level,  bring up the very real issues that are ‘live’ in PoK including its vassal status. This is a war being fought not in hushed staterooms, but through a wholly ignorant media. Hand out information and hard data on the web, in newspapers, and on TV.

Lesson number two is even more important. The prime minister’s impassioned address to the nation with a plea to Srinagar to walk alongside Delhi is not enough. The benefits have to pour in and at a very un-government like speed. It means involving NGO’s, the private sector and everyone available to ensure that change is delivered literally on the doorstep in areas relatively unaffected by militancy. There’s not much time. The doomsayers inside and outside the country are waiting for the first sign of failure, and that could be as early as next month, or even next week. So far the enigmatic silence is only deafening.

Third, is a far more difficult task, which is to shut up those loose cannons who are calling for a blitz kreig into PoK.  Pakistan’s sole objective is to cry out that war is imminent and use the narrative of the ‘most dangerous place on earth’. Delhi needs to deny such an eventuality entirely, by stating that we have better things to do, and meanwhile allow the army to simply seal up the Line of Control. Delhi can control the situation in Kashmir through a patient healing process. But it needs to use diktat to control its own party.

Updated Date: Aug 22, 2019 09:22:00 IST