Pakistan’s Forgotten ‘Jugular Vein’!

NEW Delhi’s unexpected decision to unilaterally call off Foreign Secretary (FS) level talks last year just because Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit had disregarded its instructions to stop meeting separatist leaders, took everyone by surprise. The worst hit were the people of Kashmir as this sudden disruption in the Indo-Pak dialogue process meant that resolution of the nearly seven decade old Kashmir imbroglio would have to once more wait indefinitely. However, the flip side and positive outcome of this unfortunate development was that it did seem to invigorate Islamabad’s commitment towards the Kashmir cause. 

Many analysts believe that what actually motivated Islamabad to suddenly go on an ‘overdrive’ on the ‘K’ issue wasn’t the belated realisation that it had failed the people of Kashmir by its inept diplomacy, but by its desire to payback New Delhi for embarrassing Islamabad by calling off the FS level talks. However, the pro-Pakistan lobby led by the separatists outrightly rubbished this explanation and went into raptures, praising Pakistan for its sincerity and deep commitment to see the Kashmir issue resolved!

During his address at the annual UN General Assembly session in September last year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated that “Our support and advocacy of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is our historic commitment and a duty, as a party to the Kashmir dispute.”  The very next month, his foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz also spoke to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and when the latter refused to intervene, Aziz once again took the matter telling the UN Secretary General that “India should be advised to adopt a mature and reasonable approach on the Kashmir issue and refrain its armed forces from acting irrationally.” Keeping up its pressure on New Delhi, Islamabad ensured that it brought up the Kashmir issue in each and every forum- while President Mamnoon Hussain asked the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to “intensify its efforts for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “urged President Obama to take up the cause of Kashmir with the Indian leadership.” 

Even though Islamabad’s diplomatic ‘offensive’ to revive the ‘K’ issue evoked a noncommittal response from the international community, for the people of Kashmir, the year 2015 brought  great hopes that with Islamabad’s hardened stand on Kashmir, New Delhi would be forced to come to the negotiating table. In January, National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz made it clear that “Pakistan will not start talks with India without Kashmir.”  The very next month, terming Kashmir as Pakistan’s ‘jugular vein’, PM Nawaz Sharif made it clear that “There will be no compromise (on Kashmir)… This is an issue for the whole nation and with our determination and resolve, we will make progress.” It is no secret that in Pakistan, it is the army that determines Islamabad’s foreign policy with New Delhi. Thus, when Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif also spoke of Kashmir being the ‘jugular vein’ of Pakistan and said that the “Matchless sacrifices offered by Kashmiris will not go in vain,” the ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ camp was ecstatic! The ‘jugular vein’ comparison brought back bitter-sweet memories of how generations of Kashmiris after being initially enthused by this phrase found themselves cheated when they saw that Islamabad was very much alive and kicking  without its ‘jugular vein’! 

When the media reported that the Indian and Pakistani PMs could meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa, Russia, it raised hopes of a possible rapprochement between the two neighbours and both the PMs didn’t disappoint. However, what did annoy the separatists was the fact that Kashmir did not find mention in the joint declaration issued after the two PMs met. And in defending exclusion of Kashmir from the joint declaration by saying that the first priority was to reduce tension on LoC, Sharif’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz only added insult to injury to those who really believed that Kashmir was Pakistan’s ‘jugular vein’ . However, this explanation coupled with Aziz’s announcement that Kashmir will be tackled through ‘back channel Track-II mechanism’ once again reaffirms the strong suspicion of many Kashmir watchers that for Pakistan, the ‘K’ issue has never been something as serious as Islamabad publically proclaims it to be. When New Delhi rubbished Islamabad’s ‘Track II’ claim on Kashmir, Sartaj Aziz made the unexpected announcement that “No dialogue will take place unless Kashmir is on agenda.” 

So, at the end of the day, we have (like always for the last six and a half decades) returned to the same spot from where we had started. What hurts is that due to Islamabad’s inept diplomacy, New Delhi gets away every time. It was India that unilaterally called off FS level talks and the international community did not castigate New Delhi as it considered the Pakistan High Commissioner- Hurriyat leaders meeting as “attempts to interfere in India’s internal affairs.” In the present case too, New Delhi has scored a diplomatic victory by contending that the joint statement was a summary of what actually transpired as also what all was agreed upon during the meeting and after being perused by both sides it had been duly signed by representatives of the two countries. Therefore, if Islamabad now makes the inclusion of Kashmir a mandatory precondition of any Indo-Pak dialogue, then it is diplomatically treading on very thin ice. And if the Indo-Pak dialogue process does not recommence now, then Islamabad must be prepared to accept criticism from the international community for reneging on the joint declaration. 

Having survived for so many years without its ‘jugular vein’, Islamabad has all the time at its disposal and can thus take up the Kashmir issue at a time that suits its convenience. As far as the Kashmiris are concerned, there is no reason to worry about them, since over the years they have learnt the art of patiently listening to promises as well as developed the instinct of not believing in any of them. By turning down Pakistan High Commissioner’s Eid Milan party invite, Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani has expressed his anguish over Islamabad’s failure to include Kashmir in the joint statement on Indo-Pak dialogue and every self respecting Kashmiri should also do so. However, on the question of whether Pakistan High Commissioner Basit will really miss Geelani sahib during this year’s Eid milan party, your guess would be as good as mine!

Many analysts believe that what actually motivated Islamabad to suddenly go on an ‘overdrive’ on the ‘K’ issue wasn’t the belated realisation that it had failed the people of Kashmir by its inept diplomacy, but by its desire to payback New Delhi for embarrassing Islamabad by calling off the FS level talks. However, the pro-Pakistan lobby led by the separatists outrightly rubbished this explanation and went into raptures, praising Pakistan for its sincerity and deep commitment to see the Kashmir issue resolved!

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