Former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri deserves praise for rejuvenating the Kashmir issue. Nobody else could do it; not even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his last two consecutive speeches in the UN General Assembly since he assumed office for his third term.
After the nuclear tests in South Asia, first by India and then by Pakistan in May 1998, Kashmir became a ‘nuclear flashpoint’. Now, Khurshid Kasuri’s book ‘Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove’ makes Kashmir a veritable ‘media flashpoint’.
Despite the prevailing tensions between the two countries and war-like situation along the Line of Control in Kashmir, Kasuri took the risk of travelling to India for his book launch. In Mumbai, he narrowly escaped an ugly situation after a group of Shiv Sena activists attacked his local host Sudheendra Kulkarni calling him a Pakistani ‘agent’ and splashing his face with black oiled paint.
Shaken by this incident, Khurshid Kasuri almost called off the book-launch but Kulkarni – despite his charcoaled face – was determined to go ahead with the event. The book launch was then held under heavy security. The world saw what they do in Modi’s India today to anyone promoting peace with its neighbours.
Speaking on the occasion, Kasuri said the reason he wrote his book was to correct perceptions on both sides as history was being murdered in both countries. He is perhaps right and deserves credit for bringing together his skills in compiling a ‘memoir’ that provides an authoritative and personal account of Pakistan’s foreign policy during a fateful period in Pakistan’s history. According to him, this was the period of change representing a critical threshold in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Indeed, 9/11 came as the moment of reckoning for General Musharraf.
Musharraf was among the very first foreign leaders to have received a clarion call from Washington. The then US secretary of state Colin Powell telephoned him late in the evening on Sept 12, 2001. In a sombre message from one general to another, Colin Powell made it clear that mere condolences and boilerplate offers of help from Pakistan would not do. Pakistan would have to play a key role in the war on terror that was about to begin. Facing domestic problems and global challenges, Gen Musharraf took no time in pledging full support to the US in its plans to invade Afghanistan. In the blinking of an eye, Pakistan became a battleground of the US war on terror.
Ironically, as we fulfilled our obligations as a partner and an ally in this war, paying a heavy price in terms of human and material losses, the US de-hyphenated Pakistan from India and bracketed us with stone-aged Afghanistan. The US also entered into a long-term multi-billion dollar military pact and a discriminatory country-specific nuclear deal with India, introducing a new and ominous dimension into the already volatile and unstable environment of the region. From being a major power in South Asia always equated with India, Pakistan is now bracketed with Afghanistan in terms of its outlook, role and relevance.
Indeed, our post-9/11 alliance with the US was the beginning of another painful chapter in our turbulent political history. We are today the only country in the world waging a full-scale war on its own soil for its security and survival. We have also been the main target in an Al-Qaeda-led war with more than 50,000 civilians and security personnel having lost their lives in terrorist attacks. And yet, one is bewildered at Pakistan’s demonisation by its friends and allies. We are seen both as the problem and the key to its solution. We continue to be accused of not doing enough.
Kasuri should be grateful that he was not the foreign minister when Musharraf was taking those crucial decisions all alone. I am sure he is not owning the sins that he never committed. In his book, besides giving a bird’s-eye view of various developments in our external relations during that period, Kasuri amply covers Pakistan’s security dilemmas and its quest for strategic as well as religious balance. We really needed this historic account of the post-911 geo-political dynamics to correct misdirected perceptions on Pakistan.
In the words of an eminent Indian historian and author AG Noorani, Kasuri’s “book is a cross between a textbook and a memoir and will long rank as a dependable work of reference on the wide canvas” and “his observations on the roles of the Army, Foreign Office and public diplomacy are interesting.”
What makes his book unique is the exclusive prism with which Kasuri looks at President Musharraf’s back-channel ‘hurrah’ on Kashmir. As a vocal advocate of Musharraf’s out-of-the-box four-point Kashmir solution, he was expected to make and he does make a strong defence of the Musharraf formula.
No wonder, he claims that “90 percent of the work had been completed and the final document was just a signature away once the two sides decided to pull the file from the rack.” But interestingly, nobody knows where the file is if at all there is one. Kasuri admits “the details of the draft agreement contained in a non-paper on Kashmir were never shared with many in our Foreign Office or in the government partly because it was still a work in progress.” I am sure the relevant elements must be in Indian emissary Satindra Lambha’s notes. He is known to be a meticulous diplomat. His Pakistani non-diplomat counterpart Tariq Aziz, it seems, never kept or made any notes.
Kasuri, however, clarifies that “general awareness about the contours of a possible agreement on Kashmir was common knowledge after several statements by President Musharraf on his Kashmir initiative.” I am sure he is not suggesting that we can extract contours of the alleged accord from the public memory. Anything discussed on TV channels, hotel lobbies or press conferences has no sanctity or status. All this notwithstanding, those familiar with the post-9/11 history of India-Pakistan relations know why Musharraf gave up on our principled position.
After his October 1999 coup, in order to remain relevant to Washington’s post-9/11 agenda, Musharraf made a U-turn in his India policy and abandoned Pakistan’s traditional stand on Kashmir based on UN Security Council resolutions. Musharraf’s out-of-the-box Kashmir solution was nothing but legitimisation of the ‘status quo’ that in itself is the problem, not a solution.
Status quo in any form was a non-starter. Any hope to pick up the threads from where Musharraf left is wishful thinking. Kasuri’s passion for peace with India and his anxiety to alleviate the Kashmiris’ sufferings are genuine and laudable. But in seeking remedies, fundamental realities and legal commitments can never be set aside.
Even the Kashmir-related CBMs agreed to as part of the composite dialogue remained unimplemented. The moral of the story is that the peace that Kasuri wants will never come by giving up on the inalienable right of self determination of the Kashmiri people or by compromising on our own national causes. India’s military occupation of Kashmir is an illegality that must end if Kashmir’s malaise is to end. And there is only one fair, just, legal and moral solution to Kashmir as was provided by the United Nations, and which both India and Pakistan had mutually accepted.
Kashmiris no doubt are the final arbiters of their destiny. India-Pakistan peace will come not through shady ‘backchannel deals’ but only through serious, purposeful dialogue and constructive engagement for conflict-resolution and peaceful co-existence. As the largest country in the region, the onus lies with India to inspire confidence among its neighbours. Perpetuation of hegemony will not serve the cause of peace.