Wednesday Oct 02 2019

Beyond the rhetoric

PM Imran tried his best to wake up the world’s conscience over Kashmiris plight in his speech to UNGA. Photo: File 

Both the prime ministers of Pakistan and India were received with great jubilation on their return home from their weeklong visits to the US and addresses to the 74th session of UN General Assembly — even though they came back almost empty-handed.

If hard-hitting speeches and hawkish rhetoric were to deliver the Vale of Kashmir on a platter, both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto would have solved the dispute long ago. Despite lamenting the world’s apathy towards commercial interests and widespread Islamophobia, Prime Minister Imran Khan desperately tried his best to wake up the world’s conscience over the plight of the Kashmiris in his hard-hitting speech to the General Assembly. Conscious of street sentiments at home and the anxiousness of the locked-up Kashmiris, this was the least a fiery leader could do for domestic consumption while facing international diplomatic isolation.

Great Khan’s ‘great speech’ did raise his falling popular rating at home — rendering a bewildered opposition almost speechless while boosting the sapping morale of his followers. Even critics of rising majoritarian communalism and the Modi government in India seem to have found some solace in PM Imran’s diatribe against Hindutva ideology. Indeed, there will be more voices in sympathy with the oppressed Kashmiris, even if despite a joint statement Pakistan’s Foreign Office failed to solicit required sponsors (16 members) for a resolution or an urgent debate (24 out of 47) at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council which has 15 OIC members.

On the other hand, Khan’s counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his US tour with a high-profile event — ‘Howdy Modi’ — in a stadium packed with around 50,000 Indian-Americans where the prime minister of India showered great praises on, and appealed for the re-election of, Donald Trump who returned the compliments quite generously. Wearing three highest honours from Saudi Arabia and, after the crackdown in Kashmir, from the UAE and Bahrain on his chest and having received the Gates Foundation’s 2019 Goalkeepers Global Goals Award, Modi made a self-praising speech while forgetting that the largest numbers of people live in abject poverty in India (no less in Pakistan), which is also the second biggest polluter in the world after China.

Conscious of the worldwide concerns about his Hindu supremacist nationalist ideology and uproar in India against the RSS agenda of imposing Hindi on all, he portrayed India in the image of Tamil poet Pundundranar Vivekananda of Dravidian descent who had said 3000 years ago: “We belong to all places and to everyone”. This was in contrast with the RSS’s ideology, as enunciated by Golwalkar in his book (“We or our nationhood defined”), which insists on “the glorification of Hindu nation…. and (all others) must lose their separate existence to merge in Hindu race” while urging Hindustan to “learn and profit by” Hitler’s fascist Germany for “purging the country of the Semitic races”.

Continuing with the reversal of Nehru’s legacy of recourse to the UN for plebiscite in Kashmir, Modi didn’t even refer to Kashmir after having annexed it again – and most brutally. He did appeal to the world to join hands against terrorism – India’s core issue. But in the end, according to Nayanima Basu (ThePrint), Modi returned with “no trade deal, no Kashmir win and no investment” and “to top it all off, Modi was told (by Trump) he would ‘go along well’ with Imran Khan”.

To understand the results of this acrimonious diplomatic exercise by two hostile neighbours, quite noteworthy are the official remarks by US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice G Wells, who said, “Prime Minister Imran Khan has made important public commitments regarding the need to prevent cross-border terrorism and sanctuary for terrorist organisations, which if implemented fully, would provide a strong basis for a dialogue”. She also said that the US had already expressed its “concerns over the widespread detentions, including of local leaders and business leaders, and the restrictions on the residents of Jammu and Kashmir”. She added: “when the confidence emerges, I think then the dialogue will follow … but practical steps have to be taken”.

Appreciating Pakistan’s efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, Wells said, “the US wanted to help Pakistan meet the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to avoid being placed on its blacklist”. It should now be clear that the US, and its most allies, would want Pakistan to first bring an end to what they allege to be “cross-border terrorism” and “sanctuaries of terrorist outfits” not only as a confidence-building condition for a dialogue with India, but also to escape from being blacklisted by the FATF. After that, the US may try to get India to withdraw restrictions on Kashmiris and release their leaders.

It should now dawn on us that not even our close allies are ready to entertain the Kashmir dispute at international and multilateral levels while reducing it to a bilateral conflict — not even the Ummah as enunciated by the foreign minister of the UAE. Mediators like Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Trump may, at best, facilitate a bilateral dialogue to reduce tension and, at worse, go for acceptance of the status quo, regardless of what divided Kashmiris wishes.

PM Imran has not only rightly committed to not let any non-state actor cross the LoC, but has also shown character in inviting international observers to see for themselves that no terrorist sanctuaries or terrorist groups are operating from Pakistani soil. Notwithstanding PM Imran's grandiloquence about the spectre of nuclear holocaust that he should have avoided, his conditions for dialogue with India are quite pragmatic. He has asked India to just lift all restrictions imposed on the Kashmiris and release all the prisoners taken during a prolonged curfew. On these two demands, he is getting the support of not only international community, but also secular, federalist and democratic forces in India who are faced with the nightmare of an emerging Hindu Rashtra.

Everybody is waiting for the lifting of curfew and other restrictions in Kashmir and the kind of reaction that is being anticipated by diverse observers. If there is a massacre, as PM Imran Khan has warned, then the conflict could spiral to higher levels with unpredictable consequences. This is the time to act to bring India and Pakistan on to the negotiation table or it will be delayed for yet another round of conflict.

The parties to the conflict will have to realize that the rights of the Kashmiri people and peace in the Subcontinent are inseparable. Instead of falling back on the beaten course of brinkmanship, why not try for a peaceful resolution to Kashmir, which is in far greater interest of the peoples of the subcontinent?

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

Originally published in The News