Will Pakistan’s soft power approach to Kashmir pay off?
Umer Karim
It has been over 170 days since the Indian government decided to revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution and end the special status of Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir. This decision abrogated United Nations resolutions on Kashmir but also went against the spirit of bilaterally reached understandings in Simla and Lahore. Moreover, the valley of Kashmir was put under a security lockdown with extremely limited and regulated internet and mobile phone access.
This securitization of Kashmir started with the death of Burhan Wani – a veneered leader – in 2016. The resulting deterioration of the law and order situation in the valley and the use of excessive force by Indian security forces created wide scale dismay and despondency among the people of the valley as observed by a non-partisan Concerned Citizens Group (CCG) during its visits to Kashmir. Instead of addressing these grievances, India eventually imposed Governor Rule in the state signalling the implementation of a new governance paradigm within the state.
The Pakistani government has remained under enormous pressure from its citizenry and political opponents to react against this Indian move and actively confront it. Yet, for the first time, Pakistan limited its response to raising the matter within international power corridors and political platforms. This approach also aligned well with media attention focused on Kashmir, helping to internationalize the cause.
Pakistan was ultimately successful in bringing the issue on the floor of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) through China’s support and the Security Council had a discussion over Kashmir in a closed-door session in mid-August. This was the first time since 1971 that the Kashmir issue was discussed on the UNSC platform but the members disagreed among themselves even on the wording of a joint statement regarding the meeting.
Eventually, no statement was issued primarily owing to the concerns of Germany, France and US that such a gesture might be construed as a sign of support for Pakistan’s perspective on the issue and that the matter should be resolved through bilateral mechanisms. This effectively ended the first diplomatic offensive of Pakistan which managed to highlight the issue on the political scale, yet could not derive any significant dividends.
Then came Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech at the UN General Assembly session in September alongside his meeting with US President Donald Trump in which he expressed his willingness to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. These two developments made Kashmir the centre of world attention again, and put India in a tight spot… particularly Trump’s mentioning of Kashmir and the possibility of third actor involvement for its solution.
Pakistan was successful again in putting up the issue on the agenda of the UNSC after foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi wrote a letter to the UNSC President to take notice of the vulnerable situation over the Line of Control. In turn, the Chinese envoy in UNSC demanded the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to present its observations on the developments in Kashmir.
Kashmir was discussed for the third time within the UNSC in January 2020. This time, the meeting was also held in the backdrop of a new Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) in India that essentially discriminates against its Muslim citizens and has received a largely critical reception globally. India again managed to thwart this attempt with the help of France that opposed China’s attempt to bring Kashmir up for deliberation.
UNSC has emerged as the newest arena of Pak-India diplomatic wrangling and till now both sides are confronting each other by virtue of their respective allies. However, the utility of these diplomatic offensives isn’t plentiful and doesn’t change the reality that UNSC in particular and UN in general remain toothless forums which have failed at reducing the suffering of people entrapped in conflict.
Pakistan’s strategy on the international political front has failed to bring any significant change in the state of Kashmir conflict but by employing diplomatic and not military means, it has denied India any excuse to incite allegations of terror sponsorship. And it has projected Kashmir as a human rights issue on the global media scape. The soft rewards of this approach have managed to tarnish India’s global image and can turn out to be more troublesome in the longer run than any hard gains won on ground.