Bad strategy: Why Pakistan won’t gain by playing the Kashmir card

  • Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 14, 2016 14:50 IST
A policeman stands guard at a street in violence-hit Srinagar. (Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)

As the Kashmir protests broke out, over a coffee in a central Delhi cafe, a senior intelligence official told this writer that the violence will fade away. But, he added, this was a serious challenge. “The unrest is primarily local, unlike the 90s when Pakistani and foreign militants were swarming the valley. We will have to manage this local factor.”

Even as the more thoughtful elements within Indian state - and civil society - were emphasising the local roots of the trouble, Pakistan walked in.

Its Foreign Office spoke about ‘human rights violations’ in Kashmir, and reiterated support for the ‘demand for the realisation of the right to self determination’. PM Nawaz Sharif and Army chief Raheel Sharif condemned Wani’s killing. At the United Nations, on a debate over human rights, Pakistan raised Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing, drawing a sharp Indian response.

Read | Pak ‘extols’ virtues of terrorists, covets territory of others: India at UN

Screaming about Kashmir on international platforms may help the Pakistani elite score brownie points at home. It may make them feel reassured about the the two-nation theory, which has received too many jolts to count. And it may help entrench the power of the military-jihad complex.

But it delegitimises a local Kashmiri movement; shrinks the space for a genuine conversation within India; gives ammunition to those within the Delhi establishment who see Kashmiri discontent only through the prism of Pakistan; and only provokes a stronger, militarised response - which harms the Kashmiri people the most. Given Pakistan’s own track record in how it deals with democracy and rights, in places like Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Balochistan, its concern is also deeply hypocritical.

Look at the context.

India is confronting the most serious challenge to state authority and legitimacy in Jammu and Kashmir since 2010. The killing of Burhan Wani triggered mass protests, the manifestation of deep political alienation in the valley against the excesses of the Indian state. The protests provoked the excessive use of force; civilians were killed; and this in turn led to more rage.

Read | Stay out of our internal affairs: India tells Pakistan over Kashmir remarks

Pakistani protesters offer prayers for Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani, who was killed in an encounter in Kashmir. (AP)

You don’t need to be ‘anti national’ to empathise with the sentiment that drove the protests. You don’t have to be an admirer of the politics of violence to understand the vicious cycle - alienation, terrorist violence and state repression - that the place is stuck in.

The situation led to critiques of the Indian state’s handling of the situation. Mainstream national dailies honestly reported on the popular upsurge at Wani’s funeral. The Indian media and civil society dropped the self censorship they often exercise while reporting on the valley - to the extent that PM Narendra Modi was reported to be unhappy about the ‘lionising’ of Wani in the press. There have been many commentaries about the need for a political outreach to Kashmir; not just reliance on a militarised solution.

Read | Call on India to respect human rights in Kashmir: Pakistan tells UNSC

Pakistan then stepped in, with its self righteousness few can take seriously. This is a state that has exported terror both to its east to India, and west to Pakistan for three decades. It is a state that has, for only short bursts in its history, allowed citizens to exercise democratic rights. It is a state which is dominated by a single ethnic group, and has done little to tackle violence against minorities - be it Shias or Ahmadis or Christians or Hindus. It is a state that runs its part of Kashmir firmly from Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Its words on restraint in use of force and respecting human rights ring hollow.

Take Kashmir itself.

The Kashmir movement would have enjoyed more moral strength and legitimacy but for its overt identification and alliance with Pakistan’s establishment. Islamabad may have helped internationalise the issue - but what did this internationalisation bring? It may have made some Kashmiri politicians richer and given them junkets. But it did little to bolster their negotiating power with Delhi or provide relief to the Kashmiri people from everyday violence.

As India’s power grows, and as the nature of Pakistan’s sanction to violent groups becomes more and more obvious, Islamabad’s instrumental use of the Kashmir card will bring even fewer dividends. Over the decades, it has become clear to many Kashmiris that the card is merely used by Pakistan to embarrass India - and for that, Kashmiris have had to pay a heavy price.

There is a problem in Kashmir. Those in Delhi who delude themselves into pretending otherwise better wake up with an effective political response to the local anger. But along with that, those in Srinagar who want a respectable accommodation should tell the Pakistanis to stay away.

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