Most of the media comment on Nawaz Sharif’s visit last month to New York has centred on his meeting with the Indian Prime Minister on September 29. Yet, his most important engagement at the UN headquarters, potentially, could turn out to have been his address to the General Assembly two days earlier, if it signals a turnaround from the path of capitulation on Kashmir followed by Musharraf from 2003 onwards and continued by Zardari.
In his speech, Nawaz restated Pakistan’s long-held position on Kashmir, from which Musharraf retreated in 2003 when he declared that Pakistan was prepared to “lay aside” the UN Security Council resolutions. After a 10-year gap, Nawaz became the first Pakistani leader to remind the UN of its responsibility to play its due role for the realisation of the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people and called on the international community to give them an opportunity to decide their future in accordance with the Security Council resolutions.
Nawaz made this statement despite urgent behind-the-scenes appeals and ‘warnings’ from India not to ‘rake up’ the UN resolutions. When those pleas went unheeded, the Indian prime minister responded predictably in his address to the General Assembly on the following day. In that speech, he reaffirmed India’s commitment to resolving the Kashmir issue through bilateral dialogue with Pakistan but on the “clear understanding” that the state is “an integral part of India and that there can never, ever, be a compromise with the unity and territorial integrity of India”.
A settlement on the basis of that ‘clear understanding’ is exactly what Musharraf was negotiating with India under his ‘four-point formula’ when his luck ran out early in 2007. If Khursheed Kasuri is to be believed, 90 percent of the agreement had been hammered out. No wonder India is dying to revive the backchannel dialogue on Kashmir to complete the work started under Musharraf.
Welcome as Nawaz’s statement before the UN General Assembly is, it does not by itself show that the government is embarked on a rollback of Musharraf’s sell-out on Kashmir. In fact, the signals that Nawaz has been sending out are quite mixed.
Some of his public remarks on relations with India, made before his election victory, were very disturbing. He seems to have been so smitten by the India bug that in a speech in August 2011 he lamented that Pakistanis and Indians had been separated by a ‘border’ although, in his words, they had the same culture, spoke the same language and shared the same way of life.
Since becoming prime minister, Nawaz has kept his infatuation for India in check as far his public statements are concerned. But his actions have not been entirely reassuring. In many ways, he is still following in the footsteps of Musharraf and Zardari.
First, Nawaz has explicitly delinked Kashmir from other issues on the agenda with India, in particular trade. The government’s statements on the grant of MFN status to India have not been consistent.
In a talk show on August 12, Finance Minister Dar said that MFN status for India was not under immediate consideration. But less than a month later, the minister took a diametrically opposed position in a communication to the IMF. “We are moving forward with … extending India most favoured nation status”, the Finance Minister assured the IMF in writing.
The question is: who was the minister trying to fool? The Pakistani public or the IMF. Most likely the former.
This is not to say that Pakistan should shun all economic and cultural exchanges with India till the Kashmir issue is resolved satisfactorily. But it does mean that we should open these contacts only in parallel with and in the same measure as India takes steps to ratchet down its repression in Kashmir.
Second, Nawaz seems to have acquiesced in treating Kashmir as just another bilateral issue between Pakistan and India rather than an international dispute over the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris and the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that lies at the heart of regional tensions.
Even young Hina Rabbani Khar, who as foreign minister won much acclaim in India for attacking the supposedly anti-India ‘mindset’ of the older generation of Pakistanis, sometimes used to refer to Kashmir as a core issue, though not as the core issue, as Pakistan had long maintained. But this is a term that does not seem to exist in the diplomatic vocabulary of the Nawaz government.
Third, the Nawaz government has failed to draw the attention of the world to the distinction between armed resistance against India’s illegal occupation, which is a right of the Kashmiris recognised by international law, and acts of terrorism, which is prohibited. Last month’s attack by Kashmiri freedom-fighters on Indian police and soldiers in Kathua and Samba would qualify as legitimate resistance. But our government’s statement indirectly referred to the incident as an act of terrorism. After that, Pakistan can hardly object to the condemnation of the “terrorist attack in Samba” in the Manmohan-Obama joint statement.
What is more, our statement described the dead policemen and soldiers as members of “security personnel”. This of course is contrary to the facts. As every Kashmiri knows, the Indian Army and the police are in the state mainly to terrorise and intimidate the population, not to provide security to them.
Fourth, the government of Nawaz Sharif, like those of his two predecessors, has been very restrained in its criticism of human rights abuses by India in occupied Kashmir and has failed to raise the matter appropriately in international fora. For example, the government has been completely silent over the killing of five unarmed civilians in Shopian last month and the ensuing wave of protest that kept the Kashmir valley in turmoil for nearly two weeks.
Fifth, the government has agreed with India on reactivating the backchannel on Kashmir and has appointed a new special envoy to conduct this dialogue.
India’s eagerness to revive the backchannel is no secret. India is so keen that at the New York summit, it quickly and quietly dropped all conditions, bar one, for the resumption of bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. The only precondition, as India’s national security adviser said after the meeting, was “an improvement of the situation on the Line of Control”. The DGMOs of the two sides would meet for this purpose and an agreement to fully restore the ceasefire agreed in 2003 should not present any problems. India had tried to cover up its keenness for a resumed dialogue with Pakistan behind a barrage of verbal volleys. But after the New York summit, that camouflage is in tatters.
The simple truth is that Delhi has great expectations from Nawaz, but feels that he is being held back by the Pakistan Army. A day before the summit, the Indian foreign minister publicly urged Nawaz to keep the military and ISI under control. After the summit, Manmohan expressed the same wish, saying that Nawaz had said all the right things about Pakistan-India relations and praying for the prime minister’s success “in carrying out his mission”.
While the Indian objectives and tactics in pursuing the bilateral dialogue are clear, that cannot be said of the policies of the Nawaz government. Nawaz cherishes a fond desire for better relations with India, expanded economic ties and a Kashmir settlement. But he has few ideas on how to go about trying to realise these wishes, apart from hosting a visit by the Indian prime minister, “picking up the threads” from 1999 and activating the backchannel. He also seems to think that if he shows generosity to India and takes steps to meet their demands and concerns, they will reciprocate. But that is not how states conduct their international relations.
Appeasement, as every student of history knows, never buys peace, friendship or respect. It only breeds contempt and whets the appetite for more. This is a lesson that Nawaz has yet to learn.