The most telling moment in the parliament session called to discuss the Modi government’s recent actions on changing the legislative status of Kashmir came when the prime minister, after being harangued and berated, turned to the opposition leader who was sitting directly across the aisle from him, and asked in a vexed tone: “What do you want me to do? Attack India?”
And there in that brief exchange was revealed all the helplessness with which Pakistan’s government stood and stared as India unilaterally devoured a disputed territory. Of course, Shahbaz Sharif had no answer to this question, all he could say was that he wanted the prime minister to give a strong speech and “inspire the nation” at this critical juncture. Sure, and then what?
The steps announced by the National Security Council are notional at best. Downgrading ties with India and cutting off bilateral trade will not cause anyone in Delhi to flinch. Taking the matter to the United Nations, especially the Security Council, is the right step since that is where the disputed nature of Kashmir has been acknowledged for decades, but how many of the big powers are likely to line up behind Pakistan’s position and urge Modi to reverse the step?
Some important expressions of alarm have indeed been sounded from global forums, the International Commission of Jurists being one example. It has invoked the grave human rights violations in the Valley, citing reports by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to say that occupied Kashmir “has been the theatre of grave human rights violations, including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture, committed with impunity by Indian security forces.”
Notice that even here, the focus and emphasis is on the human rights violations and the impunity enjoyed by Indian security forces in Kashmir and only secondarily on the annexation and truncation of occupied Kashmir.
The secretary general of the United Nations would only say “we urge all parties to exercise restraint” without adding anything more.
China issued a strongly-worded statement, but kept the focus on Ladakh, where it has territorial claims. “China is always opposed to India’s inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction,” the statement issued by China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, read. “Recently India has continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law,” she said, adding that the action would “not have any legal effect”. Regarding Pakistan’s concerns, the statement acknowledged the disputed nature of Kashmir, and said only that “[t]he relevant sides need to exercise restraint and act prudently. In particular, they should refrain from taking actions that will unilaterally change the status quo and escalate tensions”.
A report in Gulf News mentioned that the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates basically welcomed the Indian move. “He commented that from his understanding the reorganisation of states is not a unique incident in the history of independent India and that it was mainly aimed at reducing regional disparity and improving efficiency. He viewed this latest decision related to the state of Jammu & Kashmir as an internal matter as stipulated by the Indian constitution,” the report said.
Meanwhile, the official Saudi Arabian news agency announced on Aug 6 that the crown prince “received a telephone call today from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. During the call, they discussed the development of the situation in the region and efforts exerted towards it. HRH the Crown Prince was also briefed by the Pakistani Prime Minister on the latest developments in Kashmir.” That was it.
The reaction from Turkey’s President Erdogan went a little further, but even here the language was restrained. According to the release from the president’s Directorate of Communications, “Erdogan called on Pakistan and India to strengthen the dialogue process” and “Erdogan also shared his concerns over the situation and assured Khan of Turkey’s ‘steadfast support in this regard’.” There is no indication of what “steadfast support” means, especially in the context of the actions announced by the NSC on the evening of Aug 7. It is doubtful that Turkey will put its own trade or diplomatic relations with India on the line.
The reaction from the United States is the most telling. The State Department first acknowledged the situation, then simply said “[w]e note that the Indian government has described these actions as strictly an internal matter”. Zalmay Khalilzad had just emerged from a round of talks with the Taliban in Doha when Modi’s government took the step on Aug 5.
On the same day, Khalilzad tweeted, “I will travel to #Delhi later today for pre-scheduled meetings to further build international consensus in support of the #AfghanPeaceProcess.” Later, he tweeted a picture of himself sitting with India’s Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar, saying: “#India has an important role to play in helping deliver & sustain a durable peace in #Afghanistan”. Clearly, the focus of the United States will remain the peace process in Afghanistan.
He was in Pakistan three days before Modi’s action on Article 370, when he met the army chief and the prime minister, and simply stated that “[w]e discussed Pakistan’s role in support of the process & additional positive steps they can take”.
The message from Washington, D.C. is clear: ‘let’s stay focused on Afghanistan, shall we?’ A couple of days after the Aug 5 action, a senior US delegation visited Islamabad to underline that progress on the action plan submitted to FATF is crucial to avoid blacklisting.
And that is the round-up, folks. What has been known by wiser minds for decades has now become clear. The justness of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir has been clouded by the bloodletting that the valley has seen over the decades. Hence today, when the people of Kashmir need us more than ever, our prime minister asks: “what do you want me to do?”