A reality check needed

This year ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ was observed with extraordinary zeal and enthusiasm. Since Benazir Bhutto as prime minister had declared February 5 as ‘Kashmir Day, perfunctory support to the UN resolutions on Kashmir and condemnation of India’s continued occupation of the valley became a routine matter.

But this time, with hardliner Narendra Modi at the helm of affairs in New Delhi, extra vigour was added to the occasion. At the Charing Cross on the Mall, Lahore — a stone’s throw from my office — I could hear the enthusiastic chants of demonstrators, many of them belonging to proscribed jihadist organisations. ‘Kashmir banay ga Pakistan (Kashmir will become Pakistan)’ was their mantra.

Predictably, Pakistan’s declared love for Kashmir on the day has rankled India. Its ministry of external affairs spokesperson has duly advised Islamabad to forget Kashmir and focus on ‘other important’ issues facing the country.

Notwithstanding India negatively reacting to enthusiasm expressed across the border for liberation of Kashmir, the day should serve as a befitting occasion of taking stock of our foreign policy options on the issue.

Since independence we have fought four wars with India with disastrous results — losing half the country in the process in 1971. Hence there is an underlying realisation across the board in Pakistan that another war with India over Kashmir is not a viable option. It is widely acknowledged that both the belligerent neighbours being nuclear weapons states, such an eventuality would be mutually assured destruction (MAD).

Unfortunately Pervez Musharraf as army chief, realising that war was not an option, launched the ill planned and ill-conceived Kargil misadventure in1999 that proved to be a foreign policy and strategic nightmare for Pakistan. The former dictator still insists that Nawaz Sharif as prime minister squandered away the ‘Kargil victory’ by securing a ceasefire through the good offices of President Bill Clinton by dashing to Washington to meet him.

Unfortunately Pervez Musharraf as army chief, realising that war was not an option, launched the ill-planned and ill-conceived Kargil misadventure in 1999 that proved to be a foreign policy and strategic nightmare for Pakistan

Notwithstanding Musharraf’s claims to the contrary, the Kargil misadventure was a setback for Pakistan and for the Kashmir cause. In the eyes of the world, it overnight transformed an issue of self-determination for the Kashmiris to that of insurgency and terrorism, inflicted from across the Line of Control.

Post-Kargil, talks with India on Kashmir were considered as the only viable option. But it takes two to tango. Now under Modi the Indian government is in no mood to negotiate with Pakistan on the matter. Hence, on the one hand New Delhi wants Islamabad to renounce Hurriyat as a precondition for talks, while on the other it is poised to annex the valley by revoking its special status under article 370 of its constitution.

Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri in his forthcoming book, ‘Neither a Hawk nor a Dove’, claims that Pakistan and India were only a whisker away from a settlement on Kashmir as a result of concerted back channel secret diplomacy. But any breakthrough (if at all) was stillborn after 2007 – Musharraf being inexorably weakened as a result of the lawyers’ movement to restore the deposed chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

It is obvious that now Pakistan is in a cul-de-sac in its relations with India. New Delhi has played its cards rather well. Despite Narendra Modi’s Hindutva it is Islamabad which is seen as the enfant terrible of the region.

Thanks to obstinately sticking to obsolete and self-serving paradigms, winds of change have largely eluded Islamabad. India is being wined and dined by world leaders while Pakistan is increasingly feeling isolated internationally and in the region as well.

We can conveniently overlook the manner in which New Delhi is being wooed by the US and take solace in the fact that Washington has increased military assistance six-fold for Pakistan for 2016. But while India is being perceived as an economic giant and world’s largest democracy by the west, Pakistan is being supported for the wrong reasons. No one wants to even harbour the idea of a nuclear armed-to-the-teeth state going under to the jihadists.

A lot of weight is given by our spin doctors — both khaki and civilian — to our close relations with China. Of course Beijing is a friend-in-need both in economic and strategic terms. But to assume that the China of today will stand up with us as a bulwark against India will be indulging in an extreme form of naiveté.

Modi is engaged in an aggressive form of personal diplomacy. Recently he replaced his foreign secretary with his outgoing envoy in Washington. This epitomises his seriousness of pursuing his carefully nurtured relations with the US in the past few months to its logical conclusion.

Modi was quick to dispatch his foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to Beijing in the immediate aftermath of Obama’s highly successful visit to New Delhi to assure the Chinese leadership that New Delhi was not part of any alliance to isolate Beijing. Swaraj, apart from meeting her counterpart, also met the Chinese President Xi Jinping. He reportedly assured her that Beijing did not view its relations with Washington as a zero sum game.

Islamabad, on the other hand, is still flogging the dead horse of cold war era alignments. It has over sold its strategic importance without realising its inherent limitations in the largely changed post-Cold War realities.

Post-Kargil, talks with India on Kashmir were considered as the only viable option. But it takes two to tango. Now under Modi the Indian government is in no mood to negotiate with Pakistan on the matter

Instead of merely paying lip service to friendship with China, Islamabad should also heed its advice on how to conduct relations in the neighbourhood. Today Pakistan is facing an existential threat from home grown and foreign inspired terrorism. Hence peace in the region should be its top most priority.

Relations with Afghanistan have significantly improved since President Ashraf Ghani assumed the presidency in Kabul. But inversely relations with India have deteriorated since Modi was elected prime minister last May.

Of course forgoing Kashmir is not an option for Pakistan. And as Sartaj Aziz – the advisor on foreign affairs – has reaffirmed, talks with New Delhi without Kashmir on the agenda will be meaningless.

But on the other hand it is clear that Kashmir is not going to be liberated anytime soon. Nor is New Delhi going to hand it to Pakistan on a platter. With war not being an option, talks are the only way forward.

Resuming the stalled dialogue process with New Delhi is perhaps the biggest foreign policy challenge facing Pakistan. For that to happen, the mindset in Islamabad and Rawalpindi needs to change. And the change has to come from within.

Of course Modi’s belligerence is the biggest hurdle to peace in the region. But even bigger threats are the jihadists within our fold. Pakistan is still giving mixed signals on how to rein them in.

Merely parroting the theme that we ourselves are ‘biggest victims of terrorism’ no longer sells. It is high time we walk the talk by some out-of-box thinking.

Unlike his predecessor the COAS General Raheel Sharif surprised many by taking on terrorists out to undo Pakistan head on. Now, as a natural in conceiving strategic thinking, he has to reorient Pakistan’s security paradigm in line with the twenty first century.