Avoid high jinks

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Focussing on Pak occupied Kashmir is good, but Parrikar must stick to the script

The recent war of words between India and Pakistan over the announced elections in Gilgit-Baltistan highlights a reorientation of positions on the Kashmir issue. Pakistan’s communication and diplomatic strategy has been to narrow the dispute down to Indian Kashmir. This tactic has worked because India in turn has failed to forcefully highlight conditions in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK), which includes Gilgit-Baltistan. It’s welcome then that New Delhi is making its concerns known about the Gilgit-Baltistan polls.

Despite Pakistan’s assertion to the contrary, the situation in PoK is far from ideal. The area is treated as a colony by Islamabad. That Pakistan’s minister for Kashmir affairs is also the governor of Gilgit-Baltistan exemplifies this point. Add to this Islamabad’s sustained efforts to change PoK’s demographic character – Gilgit-Baltistan’s sizeable Shia population has been at the receiving end of Sunni extremist violence while the Mirpur-Muzaffarabad area has seen deliberate settling of Sunni Punjabis.

In such a scenario, it’s smart strategy on New Delhi’s part to reiterate its claim on greater Kashmir. It reminds the international community that the dispute is not just about Kashmir Valley but also those areas under Pakistani occupation. However, for the government strategy to work those behind it must work in concert. In this regard, defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s recent remarks have been extremely unhelpful. He may have been shooting his mouth off when he said that terrorists should be neutralised through terrorists, but it has given Islamabad an opportunity to claim that India is sponsoring terrorism.

Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif has said as much, adding in the same breath that Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of Partition. That Pakistan’s power elite is still fixated on Partition when the world has moved on to multicultural states and societies is of course the problem – or the “core issue” to use Pakistani parlance. But Parrikar needs to watch his words and desist from making flippant remarks as well. He is no longer a provincial politician but the defence minister of a nuclear armed nation that aspires to the global high table. His wackier observations – such as the one about Ganesha idols’ eyes becoming narrower since they were made in China – make a mockery of his post. He should be aware that in the era of instant communication, his words have not only a local but also a global audience. –Times Of India

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