Bilawal Bhutto’s visit to Goa

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Dr Qaisar Rashid

On May 4-5, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister (FM) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited Goa to attend the Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), being hosted by India, the current chair. After more than a decade (since 2011), Pakistan’s FM was visiting India, where the local media was also excited to receive the guest.
Unfortunately, India’s Minister for External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar made a deliberate attempt to disappoint the guest in a press talk after the conclusion of the SCO meeting. The reason was understandable. India did not want to show leniency on its act of 5 August 2019, when India revoked Article 370 (and Article 35-A), thereby eroding the autonomous status of the Indian-held Kashmir.
In his talk, Jaishankar committed two acts of indiscretion. The first act was that he used language, which was short of being considered gracious. He deliberately exploited the word “terrorism” multifacetedly to diminish the size of Bilawal Bhutto. Jaishankar tried to justify India’s stance on the new status of Kashmir as if this were the solution to the Kashmir issue.
It is known that India has stabilized its economy and forged relations with powers of the world, but the change of realms does not change ground realities. Jaishankar may think that all bilateral agreements on Kashmir and UNSC resolutions can be swept under the carpet of terrorism. Jaishankar is oblivious to the fact that he is also being watched by the Kashmiris who know that, in 1947, it was India that announced the provisional status of accession and subjected the accession to the self-determination of the Kashmiris.
Just to remind Jaishankar, on 28 October 1947 – one day after signing the Instrument of Accession – India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent a telegram to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. The telegram read: “The Government of India had no desire to intervene in the affairs of Kashmir after the raiders have been driven away. In regard to accession, it has also been made clear that this is a subject to a reference to the people of the State and their decision. The Government of India has no desire to impose any decision and it will abide by people’s wishes, but these cannot be ascertained until peace and law and order prevail. The protection of Kashmir from armed raids thus becomes first objective and in this we trust we shall have your cooperation.” In fact, Jaishankar’s statements have been making difficult the job of the Pakistan Government, which has been restraining the Kashmiris living on its side of the Line of Control (LoC).
Revocation of Article 370 was a formality. The substance had already been taken out of it. Since 17 October 1949, when Article 370 embodied the Instrument of Accession in the Indian Constitution, Article 370 had been in tatters. Just to remind Jaishankar, on 4 December 1964, India’s Home Minister Gulzari Lal Nanda uttered unequivocally that Article 370 had been used to serve as a “Tunnel in the wall” to enhance the Center’s powers. The admission changed the future of India-Kashmir relations. The systematic erosion of Article 370 through the Presidential Orders (issued under Article 370) undermined Kashmir’s autonomy. Even 5 August 2019 came with removing the last residual symbols of Kashmir’s sovereignty, if any had been left. The Kashmiris were the instant victims of India’s dishonesty, but Jaishankar thought it better to hide behind the excuse of terrorism. The ostrich buried its head in the sand of delusion.
Ask Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, how they felt when, on 5 August 2019, they were put under house arrest for six months and then detained under the Public Safety Act till the end of March 2020. They were set free on the promise that they would not agitate against the revocation of Article 370. This was the end of the dynasty of Sheikh Abdullah, the grandfather, who remained hopeful of his Pandit ancestry (shared with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru) to secure and sustain a sovereign separate status of Kashmir. In fact, in the disparaging replies of Jaishankar, Bilawal Bhutto did not lose the Kashmir cause, but Jaishankar himself did.
Jaishankar’s second act of indiscretion was that he used the term “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir” (PoK) to belittle Pakistan. Similarly, in an interview with Rajdeep Sardesi, who represented the Indian news channel, India Today, the host used the term, PoK.
The question is this: Where is PoK? Making speeches to discomfit the guest is one thing, but showing the reality is a different thing. PoK is a misleading term used by the Indians to offset the reality of the occupation of the major part of Kashmir.
The term PoK is a grave insult to the Kashmiris who migrated to Pakistan as refugees and who are now running businesses and serving in the administration and armed forces of Pakistan. They are as equal citizens of Pakistan as the domiciled Pakistanis are. No sense of discrimination prevails. Jaishankar and Sardesi should get their head examined on uttering such nonsense.
Ask Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, what happened to him when he landed by a parachute on “PoK” just seven kilometres from the LoC on 27 February 2019. He was about to be killed by the villagers when they came to know of his being an Indian pilot. If it had been PoK, the villagers should have hosted him gladly – and not grudgingly. He was fortunate that the Pakistani soldiers reached the spot on time and saved his life. Jaishankar and Sardesi should have shown gratitude to the Pakistani soldiers who saved the life of the Indian pilot in “PoK”. In fact, the humiliation of 27 February 2019 prompted India to cause 5 August 2019.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office must also train Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar who remained in a denial mode to accept that the diplomatic entourage had visited India. In an interview with WION, an Indian multinational English language news channel, on 4 May 2023, she kept on exploiting nuances that the delegation did not visit India and that it was not an India visit (or tour); instead, it was an SCO visit. The point is simple: Goa is in India, and hence Bilawal Bhutto visited India to attend the SCO meeting. Visits are important to open the vistas of talk. Pakistan used the opportunity to reach out to India. No problem. Nevertheless, whereas Bilawal Bhutto was naïve to handle such a crisis, Khar remained a nuancer.