If I’d ask you to name one bone of contention between India and Pakistan, you’d probably say Kashmir. Kashmir issue has been here for a long time and it doesn’t look like it is going away any time soon. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir as their rightful territory. A brief look at the history of Kashmir tells us that the issue started when the ruling Hindu Prince of Kashmir and most Kashmiri civilians disagreed on where Kashmir should go after the India-Pakistan partition in 1947. It was at that time when India and Pakistan fought their first war in Kashmir, which resulted in the emergence of Azad Kashmir, also known as Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The Prince of Kashmir decided to stick with India while Kashmiris revolted and wanted to go with Pakistan. After the first Kashmir war, Pakistan went on to give Kashmiris in its part of Kashmir full rights under Pakistani law while India went on to pack its part of Kashmir with its security forces and riot police who unleashed holy hell on Kashmiris asking for self-determination. Today, after so many years, the issue is still there. While Kashmiris in Pakistan-administered Kashmir live peacefully, elect their own leaders and even make their own laws, Kashmiris in India-held Kashmir have to face pellet guns on almost daily basis. In Azad Kashmir, Kashmiris have their own President, Prime Minister, Supreme Court and High Court. They live as they choose, with full self-determination. They have also integrated well in Pakistan and some of the most well-known leaders of Pakistan have been Kashmiri. Meanwhile, in India-held Kashmir (also known as Jammu Kashmir), some 600,000 to 700,000 Indian troops are barely struggling to control the angry Kashmiri public, especially the young generation, who are sick of Indian state oppression and want nothing to do with India. The indigenous Kashmir freedom struggle is heating up each passing day and all Indian establishment is doing is to provoke Kashmiris even more by giving irresponsible statements, likely to cause more anger than win hearts and minds in the Kashmir Valley. While Indian barbarity in Kashmir has been well-documented (also: here, here, here, here, here), India still doesn’t allow United Nations (which is free to operate in Pakistan-administered Kashmir) to operate in India-held Kashmir. Although Kashmiri and Indian human rights groups have done a splendid job raising awareness about the situation in Kashmir.
What Pakistan Must Do
Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir hasn’t wavered over the decades even when some Pakistanis did. There’s a segment in Pakistan, also sympathetic to India, that has tried to sell the argument that Pakistan should abandon Kashmir issue and handle its own issues. While this argument may sound credible on the surface to some, it is anything but. It is true that Pakistan has many issues such as terrorism, religious extremism, poverty, etc and Pakistan must seriously tackle all these issues but that doesn’t have to come at the expense of Kashmir issue. If there has ever been a time when Pakistan needed to fully back Kashmiri struggle, it is now. Kashmiris are rising up, unafraid of Indian troops, are demanding for their right to determine their own future. India has decided that it will do whatever is necessary to oppress the Kashmir people but will never allow them self-determination. At the same time, India may also be involved in terrorism and subversive activities in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan and Sindh. While doing all this, India has still managed to largely avoid international scrutiny, particularly on the Kashmir issue. One of the reasons for that are the geopolitical realities of today: India is a major if not the top trading partner for many Western countries while it is now the strategic partner of United States of America. Obviously this means the governments of these countries won’t be saying or doing anything that may anger India. Another reason for that is strong Indian lobbying in the West. Indians are more in number than Pakistanis and NRIs (non-resident Indians) are generally more educated than overseas Pakistanis, meaning they get more important jobs, including in tech industry, politics and media. Indian Americans have now even reached the corridors of power in Washington DC. At the same time Pakistani lobbying has been literally dead. In fact, some former Pakistani lobbyists are lobbying for India these days. All this comes into play when India sells its narrative, which many buy right away without questioning. India has also been successful in waging cultural war, not only against Pakistan but also in West. While International Yoga Day is now officially celebrated across the globe, reminding everyone about India every year by making people psychologically associating it with a fitness practice, the Kashmir Day isn’t an International Day yet. So to put that into perspective, when Westerners read about India-Pakistan, they psychologically associate India with all the ‘cool’ things while associating Pakistan with all the ‘uncool’ things. Take a look at the last 100 stories done in New York Times on Pakistan. You’ll shockingly (or not so shockingly perhaps) find that more than 90% of the coverage of Pakistan in NYT was inherently negative even though there are many great things happening in Pakistan. The Kashmir issue has also taken a back seat because many Pakistani politicians, who maintain assets in Western countries, wouldn’t want to do anything that may harm their political future. All these factors (and more) come into play when discussing why Kashmir issue doesn’t get as much international focus as, let’s say, the Arab-Israel conflict.
All that being said, things can change dramatically if Pakistan gets its strategy right. Here are some suggestions for Pakistan on how to make Kashmir a priority issue once again:
- Declare full and open support for pro-freedom groups or individuals in India-held Kashmir.
- Announce an annual aid package for Kashmiris in India-held Kashmir. This aid can take multiple forms, such as financial, counsel, logistics, etc
- Unite Kashmiri groups living abroad and invest in heavy publicity of these groups in the West.
- Start an English TV channel comprising of Indians, Pakistanis, Kashmiris that is dedicated to news and events from Kashmir. This channel should be based in any country that is not named Pakistan.
- Declare diplomatic war on India on every public forum. Pakistan should raise Kashmir issue wherever possible.
A serious, collective, well-funded effort by Pakistan will once again bring Kashmir to the attention of the world. The only question is how serious are Pakistan’s rulers about it.
Why Kashmir Is Not ‘Palestine’
Too many Pakistanis often compare Kashmir with the Palestinian issue, which doesn’t seem so problematic from the surface to some but a deeper look tells us Kashmir issue is not even remotely same as the Palestinian issue. Here are some arguments on why Kashmir and ‘Palestine’ are not the same and it could be counter-productive to compare both.
- A state named Palestine has never existed. Most land considered to be part of Palestine was captured by Israel from different Arab states in wars imposed by those Arab states on Israel. Wars that Israel went on to win and as a means to avoid perpetual war Israel came up with the policy of ‘Land for Peace’, which offered Arabs their land in exchange for peace with Israel, which included recognizing Israel. Obviously, Arabs have been rejecting Israel’s peace offers since day # 1. The famous three NOs of Khartoum Resolution is one example. On the other hand, Kashmir used to be part of British India and was ruled by a Hindu prince. At the time of partition, the prince went against the wishes of the Kashmiri people, who wanted to go with Pakistan.
- Palestinians want an independent Palestinian state but most Palestinians and some of their backers (Iran, etc) want to see end of Israel. In Gaza, Hamas is already ruling a mini Palestinian state where there is no Israeli presence today. On the other hand, Kashmiris won’t want a separate Kashmiri state. They simply want to go with Pakistan. They even bury their dead in the Pakistani flag. Moreover, no Kashmiri wants to see end of India as a state. They just want nothing to do with India, that’s all.
- The Palestinians have their own flag, which is a slight variation of the Jordanian flag. Kashmiris don’t have their own flag and instead wave Pakistani flags.
- Palestine issue is mainly an Arab issue. The Arab refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state side by side with a Palestinian state brought things to where they are today. It is, in no way, a Muslim issue. Muslims who want to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque or other important Muslim holy places in Israel can easily do so. But can the same be said if let’s say Hamas takes control of Al-Aqsa and its surrounding area? On the other hand, Kashmiris living in Pakistan-administered Kashmir has stayed away from religious extremism and militancy. Even the Kashmiri rebels in India-held Kashmir are not the sort of hardcore Islamist militants we often see in Syria or Iraq. These are mostly young men who have been raised under a climate of fear and usually have one or more family members killed by Indian forces and the target of their militant activities are not Kashmiri civilians (Muslim or non-Muslim) but Indian security forces, which they consider as occupation forces. The thirst for revenge and the glimmer of hope is what drives Kashmiri rebels.
- Palestinians and their Arab backers have rejected countless peace deals with Israel while India has never offered a real peace deal to the Kashmir people or Pakistan. India is only interested in suppressing the Kashmiri struggle, no matter how many soldiers it takes. Yet even Indian Generals and intelligence professionals also believe that Indian policies in Kashmir are not sustainable for a long period of time.
- The geostrategic reasoning behind Pakistan’s support for Palestinians was mainly keeping the Arab world close. But that reasoning is old. Today Arab countries have their own geopolitical interests and their priorities have changed. Not only Arab states have largely restricted Kashmir issue on their agenda to lip-service but they are now also creating an alliance with Israel to contain Iran. On the other hand, some Arab countries (namely UAE, etc) now seem to be openly allying with India and even (unofficially) taking part in Pakistan-bashing. The changing geopolitical realities in Middle East compel Pakistan to reconsider its old stance on the Palestinian issue and secure its own interests, and Pakistan’s interests are not with the Palestinians but with strong relations with Israel. Perhaps more on that in another article.
- Israel is skeptical of Palestinian demands for a separate state because Israel tried that formula in Gaza and the result was Hamas taking power and then going on to launch several rocket attacks at Israel. Israel is compelled to make its security its first priority. Palestinians also don’t agree on what a future Palestinian state would be like. Supposedly moderate Palestinian groups like Fatah don’t agree with groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad while Israel fears that if the future Palestinian state is taken over by Islamists and Jihadis, Israel would have a new, much more dangerous threat to take care of. On the other hand, Kashmiris want to go with Pakistan and not have a completely independent Kashmiri state because Kashmiris fear they will be very weak in front of India as a separate, independent state. Kashmiris fear they will end up like Bhutan and Bangladesh as an Indian client state. But if they go with Pakistan, they would have the protection of Pakistan’s nuclear umbrella and a national army waiting to get enlisted into while having full self-determination rights such as choosing their own leaders and making their own laws. So the conclusion Kashmiris reach is simple: it is better to stick with Pakistan than end up like Bhutan.
- Pakistan doesn’t get anything even if Palestinian issue is resolved exactly the same way as Palestinians want it to, which is highly unlikely. All Pakistan has got for decades of blind, unhelpful support for Palestinians is a lousy thank you from Palestinians, who see Pakistan mainly as a source for more donations most of which go into the private bank accounts of corrupt Palestinian leaders. On the other hand, India-held Kashmir and Azad Kashmir uniting would bring abundant bounties to Pakistan’s table, purely from a geostrategic point of view.
- Palestinians have always maintained strong ties with India and have supported India over Pakistan, even on Kashmir. Pakistanis will never hear Palestinian leaders talking about Kashmir. Palestinian President Abbas was recently in Pakistan where he was gifted a whole friggin’ embassy by Pakistani govt. When the topic of Kashmir came up, Abbas said India and Pakistan should resolve Kashmir issue bilaterally. This is exactly what Washington tells Pakistan and India. This is what Pakistan got for giving billions in donations to Palestinians and passing anti-Israel UN resolutions on behalf of Palestinians for DECADES. If the Kashmir issue could be resolved bilaterally b/w India and Pakistan, it would have been resolved by now. So why can’t Pakistan also tell Palestinians they should bilaterally solve their issue with Israel and don’t expect Pakistan to be their bodyguard?
The arguments mentioned above include only some of the many reasons why Kashmir issue is not the same as Palestinian issue. It may be time for Pakistan to get its priorities straight. The above arguments will help Pakistani readers at least understand some of the realities of both issues. Abandoning the Palestinian issue won’t go down well with some Islamists in Pakistan, I admit. But Pakistan should decide its interests regardless of what a small segment in Pakistan thinks about it. After all, like I’ve mentioned earlier in this article there’s also a segment in Pakistan that is against Pakistan making Kashmir a priority. The rationale is you win some and you lose some but you can’t please everyone. Pakistan should do what is necessary for its geopolitical and strategic interests.