Envoys for Kashmir, a cosmetic exercise?


Prime Minister of Pakistan Mian Mohamed Nawaz Sharif’s nominees from among parliamentarians to act as envoys who would highlight the Kashmir case abroad came amidst an opaque selection criteria, which presented to the opposition an opportunity to question it. The job necessarily entails expertise in diplomatic affairs and knowledge of geopolitical realities so that they could effectively articulate Pakistan’s case. Unfortunately, it appears that the ruling party used this opportunity to distribute patronage as out of the 20 nominees, 16 are from Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). Furthermore, seven envoys are from southern Punjab, which suggests that preference of parliamentarians from deprived areas weighed heavily in the selecting criteria. While there is nothing wrong in positive discrimination when it comes to facilitating the development of deprived areas, such moves in which deprivation has nothing to do with the job at hand are nothing more than mere eyewash that also vitiates the purpose of the mission in the first place. In addition, they also create the impression that government is using such cosmetic moves to deflect attention from its own internal issues such as the Panama Papers controversy, which has proved to be very difficult to brush under the carpet.
Moreover, it is all very ambiguous as to what would be gained through this entire exercise. Pakistan’s image in the international community has become so stained due to Indian allegations of sponsoring cross border terrorism that most of Pakistan’s cries over Kashmir fall on deaf ears. And Pakistan’s mishandling of the Kashmir dispute is also to blame for this.
In addition to myopic games that were played in the region, Pakistan’s historic lack of tact in raising the Kashmir issue on every available forum has cost Pakistan many opportunities to get something good out of them, thereby allowing other countries to conveniently ignore Pakistan whenever it talks about Kashmir. This is not to say that the Kashmiri struggle for independence is not a legitimate cause as the grievances of Kashmiris are indigenous, and the latest wave of unrest is an expression of those grievances.
However, Pakistan needs to be clear regarding its objectives on the Kashmir dispute and this is where bloated notions of grandeur must be done away with in favour of realism. It is highly unlikely that India would let go of even an inch of the part of Kashmir that it occupies, and therefore military exercise is not an option, to even contemplate. Hence, the immediate imperative for Pakistan is to bring India to the negotiating table, and hold talks within the framework of the four-point formula agreed between the then president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf and the then prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, which came very close to settling the Kashmir dispute.
Unfortunately, India is unwilling to put Kashmir on the table and, very recently, it has used Balochistan as a means to deflect attention from Kashmir and use it as an example to deprive Pakistan of the moral grounds of raising the Kashmir dispute. Balochistan and Kashmir are of course two very different issues when it comes to international norms and conventions as Kashmir is a disputed territory while Balochistan is not. Needless to say that Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi’s mentioning of Balochistan was brazenly out of line, and which further created an atmosphere of mutual hostilities and misgivings. However, Pakistan should also look inside and see where it went wrong with Balochistan, not only to silence those who use it to target Pakistan, but also to resolve an internal crisis. The separatist movement in Balochistan is certainly a recent phenomenon, which in all likelihood was precipitated by the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti. Unfortunately, the paucity of information coming out of Balochistan has fuelled apprehensions and given space for narratives from which it has become very difficult to separate the truth from falsehood. This is where Pakistan needs to work so that an effective counter narrative could be launched that is able to counter all allegations that are hurled at it.
In the context of Pakistan’s own interests, Pakistan would have to first resolve its internal crisis before it can effectively mount a strong case for the Kashmiri right to self-determination.