Pakistan struggles to get traction on Kashmir, links it to Afghanistan
- Struggling to draw attention to the Kashmir issue, Pakistan has linked it to Afghanistan imbroglio, warning that it might have to redeploy troops from its western border to the eastern front
- Pakistan has been busy dialing up the world for support, calling leaders from Ankara to Teheran to Kuala Lumpur but has found little backing
Pakistan’s “Kashmir-for-Afghanistan” card was played by its ambassador to the US Asad Majeed Khan in course of an editorial board meeting with the New York Times, even as he professed that the two issues were separate and he was not attempting to link them.
However, the NYT quoted him as saying, “We have our hands full” on the western border, but “If the situation escalates on the eastern border, we will have to undertake redeployments.” Right now in Islamabad, he added, “we are not thinking about anything but what is happening on our eastern border (with India).”
The remarks came from a familiar Pakistani playbook going back to the Musharraf era, when Islamabad would often warn it would not be able to support American objectives (in its war on terror) because of problems with and perceived threats from India, in an effort to seek US intervention and/or aid. The tactic often resulted in the Bush and Obama administrations putting a restraining hand on New Delhi to not respond forcefully to Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attacks on India.
The Trump administration is reported to be in the final stages of an agreement with the Taliban and Afghan representatives to facilitate a US drawdown from Afghanistan, and although all parties have cautioned Islamabad to refrain from linking its support for the deal to the Kashmir issue, Islamabad appears ready to throw a monkey wrench into the works after finding that it is not getting any support for its dispute with India.
Pakistan has been busy dialing up the world for support, calling leaders from Ankara to Tehran to Kuala Lumpur. But it has found little backing, aside from calls for it to use the bilateral channel to settle issues with India, and expressions of concern for the human rights situation in the Kashmir Valley.
The biggest setback to Pakistan has come from its Gulf and Arab allies who while expressing concern about the situation in the Valley have gone ahead with business as usual with India, where there is no visible unrest among the 200 million Muslims elsewhere in the country. On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced a massive $ 15 billion buy-in into Reliance Industries’ petro business, even as India and China signed several agreements during External Affairs Minister S.Jaishankar’s visit to Beijing, despite differences on the Kashmir issue.
But in an effort to corner India, Pakistan finds itself alone. Some realization of this appeared to have dawned on Monday when the country Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi asked Pakistanis not to live in a “fool’s paradise” and warned “nobody will be standing there (in the UNSC) with garlands in hands” – a reference to the lonely furrow it has had to plow in the global fora.
Still, Pakistani diplomats, tasked with raising the issue at every forum possible, have been making the rounds of the media and think tanks to talk up India’s purported aggression and heavy-handedness in Kashmir, with sympathetic hearing from western media outlets such as CNN, NYT, WaPo, BBC, and the Guardian.
On Monday, Fox News featured both the Pakistani and Indian ambassadors on the issue.
"Let me explain this to you and for your viewers, it is just like one fine morning, someone in Washington decides to split the state of New York into three constituent units -- without making any reference to the people of the state. And this is done on top of that state being a disputed territory, duly recognized by the United Nations,” Pakistan’s Asad Majeed Khan said as he attempted to throw light on an issue most American don’t care about.
Indian ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s response positioned India as a democracy whose 200 million Muslims were spread beyond the Kashmir Valley.
"In India we have 200 million Muslims. They comprise 18 percent of our population. This is the second-largest population of Muslims in the world. What is important is to understand is because we are a democracy - because we give a voice to all the people in our country irrespective of religion - there is very little [desire] among Indian Muslims for ISIS or Al Qaeda,” he explained.
"We will slowly open up the situation. At some stage we will have elections. ... They'll have their own chief minister. We will ensure that there is massive development assistance," Shringla added.
The verbal skirmishes extended beyond traditional media and TV studios to think tanks and social media, drawing in partisans from both sides. Exceptionally, there were also dissenters.
In a widely circulated video, a Pakistani national attacked Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN and her aides at a briefing, calling them “thieves” who were “stealing our money” and yelling, “you do not deserve to represent Pakistan.