Kashmir, ultra-nationalism and religion

Relations between Pakistan and India are at a depressingly low point. Not that their relations were smooth during the last couple of years of the Congress rule, but now they have deteriorated to a such an extent that their troubled legacy will haunt both countries even if they overcome the current drift. A lethal combination of religion and ultra-nationalism in both countries has undermined this relationship.

In India, the mentality of the Sangh Parivar in the ruling BJP appears to have overwhelmed the external affairs and national security civil-military establishment. With an emphasis on the cultural and political manifestation of Hinduism, there is increased pressure on religious minorities in India’s domestic context and a strident approach has been adopted in foreign and security affairs in the region. India has returned to its traditional position on Kashmir, i.e., Kashmir is an integral part of India, and has taken up a tough policy towards Pakistan. The BJP government is showing to its political far-right and religious supporters that India can assert its conventional military superiority and economic advantage over Pakistan.

The BJP knows that the Kashmir issue cannot be settled on the basis of its traditional position. However, it continues to insist on that in order to build support for itself in the domestic context, by projecting Indian fearlessness. This has led India to take serious exception towards the meeting of the Pakistani high commissioner with Kashmiri leaders. This was not the first time that the Pakistani high commissioner has met them. However, the Indian reaction was belligerent and the foreign secretary-level talks were cancelled in protest. This satisfied the political far-right and those with conservative orientations, who want India to act strongly against Pakistan. Similarly, the ongoing violations at the Line of Control (LoC) in the Jammu-Sialkot sector (the Working Boundary in Pakistani parlance) are another manifestation of India’s toughness for the benefit of its domestic audience. In a way, the Indian Army, another supporter of the ‘get tough with Pakistan policy’, has found a way to undertake punitive action against the Pakistani mainland by launching artillery attacks across the LoC from the Jammu sector, targeting the Pakistani mainland rather than Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The two sides are engaged in firing bullets and bombs from their bunkers close to the LoC rather than going across it. This has avoided escalation against the backdrop of the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides. India can build military pressure on Pakistan, knowing well that the Pakistan Army is engaged in countering terrorism in the tribal areas and it is strengthening security on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

India has shifted the focus of the bilateral dialogue from eight issue areas to a single issue. It wants Pakistan to satisfy it on terrorism before talks on other issues can be held. However, India maintains an interest in trade with Pakistan, but without meeting the complaints of the Pakistani business and trading community about the obstacles of no-tariff exports from Pakistan to India. This policy may help the BJP to win state elections and share power in India-administered Kashmir as a coalition partner after the forthcoming state elections.

If the BJP government is appeasing the political far-right, religious hardliners and ultra-nationalists, the Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan is playing a similar game. It is trying to salvage its domestic political reputation threatened by the ongoing political agitation by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri by showing to the political far-right and militants that it is equally tough with India. Like India, the Nawaz government has returned to Pakistan’s traditional position on Kashmir, i.e., its future should be decided on the basis of the UN resolutions of 1948-49 that call for holding a plebiscite in Kashmir to decide if the people want to join India or Pakistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave more space to the Kashmir problem in his address to the UN General Assembly in September 2014 than was the case last year. This enabled him to win much appreciation in Pakistan’s domestic arena in the same way as India’s current stand on Kashmir and the ‘get tough with Pakistan’ policy is wining goodwill for the BJP, mainly in the Hindi-belt states.

The special assistant to Pakistan’s prime minister has recently rejected the work done for evolving a workable solution of Kashmir between 2004 and 2007 (the Musharraf years) and asserted Pakistan’s traditional position on Kashmir. India has also rejected the useful work done in the past for evolving a working solution on the Kashmir issue.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office needs to undertake a dispassionate review of the current trends in global politics to judge how much support it can mobilise for its demand to implement the UN resolutions on Kashmir. No country, including Muslim ones, made any statement in the UN General Assembly favouring either Indian or Pakistani positions on Kashmir. If Pakistan cannot mobilise support for its demand on Kashmir at the international level, especially from the five veto-wielding powers in the Security Council, how would it resolve the issue?

China, other big powers and most other countries expect India and Pakistan to take up the Kashmir issue at the bilateral level and evolve a mutually acceptable solution. The international community will help to implement such a solution. However, it will neither implement UN resolution on its own nor force India to give in to Pakistan’s demand on Kashmir. Its main interest is that India and Pakistan should not go to war on Kashmir.

If Pakistani rulers are confident of diplomatic support, they need to formally invoke the Security Council for implementation of the 1948-49 resolutions on Kashmir. If this is not possible, emotionally charged statements inside Pakistan may help the federal government to become popular with the political far-right, but this will not resolve the Kashmir problem to Pakistan’s satisfaction.

The same can be said about India. The Modi government can continue to play the Kashmir card for promoting ultra-nationalism and strengthening politicised Hindu hardliners. However, it cannot unilaterally solve the Kashmir problem. Pakistan may not be able to get its way on Kashmir, but it has enough diplomatic and military capacity to deny legitimacy to India on this issue. The best option for both countries is the revival of talks on all contentious issues. -- The Express Tribune

The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian affairs

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