Pakistan’s Dilemma, Kashmir’s Sorrow!

Pledging that if elected, he would end American drone attacks on Pakistani soil, Nawaz Sharif’s promise struck the right chord with an electorate agitated by the scourge of incessant drone strikes. After winning the elections, in his first address to the parliament, Sharif unambiguously announced, "This daily routine of drone attacks, this chapter shall now be closed… It is mandatory on others that they respect our sovereignty." While his detractors claimed that he was merely playing to the gallery and just could not afford to antagonise Uncle Sam for the fear of losing out on financial aid from America, Sharif promptly proved them wrong. Pursuing his mission to end US drone strikes with a missionary zeal, he painstakingly garnered international support for his ‘anti-drone’ campaign and personally took up the issue with no one less than the US President Barak Obama himself.

Even though Obama remained non-committal, Sharif did not lose heart or relent. And when on November 1, a drone strike killed the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud in the North Waziristan tribal area, just when the Pakistani government had managed to broker a deal for getting the TTP onto the negotiating table, his Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan expressed Sharif’s anger by threatening that Islamabad could ‘review’ its ties with the US in response to this act. Luckily, this never came to pass as Sharif’s sustained efforts and perseverance finally paid- off when on December 19, the UN unanimously passed a resolution against the use of this barbaric weapon by America in its ‘war on terror’. Both the media and public relations pundits rightly went about emphasising this was in effect, Pakistan’s ‘victory’ as the idea of this UN ‘anti-drone’ resolution had afterall been initiated by Islamabad.  Sharif had finally won and kept the promise he had made to his people!

Unfortunately, this ‘victory’ was short lived, as within a week of the unanimous passing of this historic resolution by the UN, two missiles fired by a US drone struck a residential compound in the restive North Waziristan tribal agency of Pakistan killing four people, whom the Americans claimed were ‘terrorists.’ The people of Pakistan, who were still celebrating what they perceived to be the end of drone attacks era, were now up in arms against America’s flagrant violation of the UN resolution on drone strikes. This led to widespread protests spearheaded by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and Jamaat-i-Islami, resulting in suspension of NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The protests soon spread to Balochistan with the demand that the second land route being used by NATO forces in Afghanistan also be closed and it is this call for closure of all NATO supply routes that has for Nawaz Sharif, proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back! 

While his critics would be more than amused in seeing a hitherto- fore defiant and roaring Sharif suddenly turning into a meek lamb and abandoning his much publicised ‘anti- drone’ stance, let us be fair to him. Sharif is no loser, but he knows very well that discretion is the better part of valour.  Thus, even though he may still be harbouring strong reservations against the US drone campaign in Pakistan, he certainly cannot afford to be mulish and thereby run the possible risk of forgoing American aid. It needs to be remembered that just last week, the US Congress had passed a bill authorising the grant of $1.5 billion to Pakistan during 2014 as Coalition Support Fund (CSF) reimbursements. However, release of these funds have been cunningly linked directly to the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and thus, for Pakistan, any closure of the same could well mean forfeiture of the CSF grant. And while Sharif’s volte face on the drone issue as well as his current accommodative stance on the same may appear to be a ‘sell-out’ of nation pride and sovereignty, he has little choice.

So, we find that in trying to retrieve a situation that he has himself created, Sharif is now being forced to eat his own words. One could always say that it serves him right, as he should have realised right from the beginning that by promising to put an end to the US drone programme in Pakistan, he was knowingly treading on thin ice. However, more than being a culprit responsible for the destruction of his own ideals, Sharif is merely a helpless victim of circumstances. Appeasing Uncle Sam just for the sake of ‘a few dollars more’ has unfortunately been the bane of Pakistan polity ever since it became part of the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) in the 50’s and started receiving lavish US aid in both cash and kind for permitting the Americans to use its soil for the covert U-2 intelligence flight programme over the then USSR. Ironically, even though America let down its CENTO ally Pakistan by not coming to its aid during both the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971, a ‘dollar dependent’ Pakistan graciously forgave Uncle Sam for these betrayals and US-Pak relationship flourished once again - ‘just for a few dollars more’!.

While anti US feelings run high in Pakistan with calls to break all relations with America, unless it does something substantial to revive its economy as well as curb radicalism which is earning it the dubious sobriquet of a ‘breeding ground’ for global terrorism, Islamabad has no other choice but to keep Washington in good humour- once again, just for the sake of ‘a few dollars more’. And Sharif’s own admission that, “We live in a globalised world where no-one can afford isolation at any level,” aptly sums up Pakistan’s unfortunate predicament.  Importantly, since what Sharif has said of Pakistan is equally relevant for Kashmir, the separatist leadership should introspect on the import of this statement as, of late, there is a pronounced tendency amongst them to indulge in reckless rhetoric which could well result in them being isolated. 

The first issue which needs introspection is the ambivalence which the separatist leadership exhibits regarding the ideology they claim to espouse for achieving the ‘right to self determination’. How does the Hurriyat conglomerate expect the international community to come out in its support with leaders like the Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani making paradoxical statements such as, “We never denied or ignored the role of gun in our struggle, but we, (the) Hurriyat Conference, favour peaceful struggle and we will continue to fight peacefully” ? Next is the lack of sensitivity and discernible disdain for civility in the statements the Hurriyat (G) chairman often makes by giving them an accusatory nature. While the venerable patriarch is right in criticising the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for not doing enough on the ‘K’ issue, but accusing the OIC member countries of “taking orders from America and cosying up to India and Israel,” without substantiating the allegation is unkind and certainly not expected from a respected personality like SAS Geelani.  Moreover, with ill considered announcements based on warped logic, like declaring Osama bin Laden a ‘martyr’ since “He fought (the) US and its imperialistic designs," how can one even dream of the international community coming out in our support? 

The last issue relates to the separatist leadership’s complete faith that Pakistan is fully capable of resolving the Kashmir problem through its influence and if required, will not even hesitate in exerting pressure on the international community for our sake. While Islamabad has done precious little in this regards in the last six and a half decades, there still may be no reasons to doubt the genuineness of Islamabad’s commitment towards the Kashmir cause. However, there are all the reasons to question the effectiveness of the influence Pakistan wields in the international arena and its ability to do anything meaningful to resolve the Kashmir problem other than perfunctorily raise the ‘K’ issue in international forums, because even though the ‘spirit’ may be willing, but the ‘flesh’ is certainly weak!  

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