Nawaz Sharif’s UNGA Address: Old Wine in New Bottles?

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While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s address at the 70th session of the UN general assembly (UNGA) in which he raised the Kashmir issue may have left the separatists and the Hibzul Mujahideen supremo spellbound, there are many who see no real reason for sharing their optimism. This is simply because unlike the separatists and the UJC chief who seem to be having an extremely short memory, this isn’t the case with the majority of the public. It amazing how anyone could fail to notice that with the exception of his ‘four point proposal’ for normalising Indo-Pak relations, whatever Sharif stated on the Kashmir issue at the UN this year was either quite similar to what he had said during previous UNGA sessions or a repetition of something said by someone else earlier! 

Isn’t Sharif’s observation that “Three generations of Kashmiris have only seen broken promises and brutal oppression,” similar to his last year’s statement that “Many generations of Kashmiris have lived their lives under occupation, accompanied by violence and abuse of their fundamental rights”? Doesn’t this statement also convey the same sentiment as the statement Sharif made last year reminding the audience that “More than six decades ago, the United Nations passed resolutions to hold a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are still waiting for the fulfillment of that promise”? And isn’t this in turn a repetition of Sharif’s 2013 assertion in his UNGA address that “The issue of Jammu and Kashmir was presented to the Security Council in January 1948; and yet the issue remains unresolved after nearly seven decades.” Lastly, isn’t Sharif’s most caustic remark that “This (non resolution of Kashmir issue) is the most persistent failure of the United Nations” a mere repetition of Asif Ali Zardari’s 2012 comment during the 67th UNGA that “Kashmir  remains a symbol of failures, rather than strengths of the UN system”? 

Sharif’s four point proposal is no doubt a constructive initiative and therefore deserves appreciation. However, while it is a good proposal, it still received no positive response since the platform selected to announce the same was inappropriate since the UN and international community now considers Kashmir to be a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Sharif also made a very serious mistake by not realising how the rapid growth of terrorism had so deeply influenced the thinking of a majority in the audience that no nation would like to get involved in an issue which had unproven suspicion being somehow connected with terrorism. Thus, the international community appears to have been convinced by Indian External Affairs Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj curt rejection of this proposal on the grounds that “We do not need a four-point proposal. We need just one- give up terrorism and let us sit down and talk. This will resolve all the problems!”  

What is really tragic is that instead of learning diplomatic maneuvering from New Delhi, Islamabad remains fixated with its age-old strategy of playing the same cards again and again by putting old wine in new bottles. The Modi government may be giving an impression of conducting coercive diplomacy but it is skillfully mitigating every highhanded diplomatic action it takes with a benevolent gesture. It may have abruptly called off the foreign secretary talks, but seven months later, under the SAARC Yatra programme, Indian foreign secretary Jaishankar was very much there in Islamabad conferring with his counterpart! Then, even after the post Ufa joint declaration acrimony, New Delhi still went ahead and announced dates for the NSA meet as if everything was normal putting the ball in Islamabad’s court.  

Contrary to the common view that this was done to further embarrass Pakistan, this was a wonderful opportunity for Islamabad to prove that was really serious about bilateral dialogue. All it had to do was to send the Prime Minister’s security adviser Sartaj Aziz for the NSA meet during which he could have unveiled the four point proposal. Thus the ball would have returned to New Delhi’s court and put it in a fix as now India could not use the excuse that Islamabad was violating the Shimla agreement and Lahore declaration by internationalising a bilateral issue. Had this happened, New Delhi wouldn’t have been in a position to reject this offer as it would have resulted in a serious loss of face in the eyes of the international community. However, Islamabad fell into New Delhi’s trap and called off the NSA after it was told that Aziz would not be permitted to meet the separatists. 

If one goes by the old but indisputable saying that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, then I’m afraid that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s doesn’t add up to much. Hurriyat (G) chairman may feel that “Nawaz Sharif adopted realistic stand in UNGA by speaking about the persistent failure of the United Nations with regard to resolution of Kashmir dispute,” but has this annually repeated statement done anything to resolve the ‘K’ issue is something worth considering! Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farook may be of the view that Sharif’s address “has encouraged the people of Kashmir to carry forward their struggle for self-determination,” but he hasn’t explained as to how? By saying that “Nawaz Sharif proved to be true spokesperson of oppressed Kashmiris by highlighting their plight before the world community,” isn’t Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) chairman Shabir Ahmad Shah unwittingly accepting that our own leaders have failed to do this? However, JKLF chairman Yasin Malik deserves credit for being more objective and restricting his praise mainly to the four point proposal, terming its contents as “positive and reasonable suggestions.”

The reasons for lauding Sharif’s address at the UNGA given by the separatists reminds one of the fairy tale in which courtiers go about praising an Emperor’s new clothes in order to prove that they are competent to hold their respective positions. It is not intended to downplay the role Pakistan has been playing in seeking resolution of the Kashmir issue, but for cautioning the separatists not to display unnecessary subservience to Islamabad as they then run the risk of being taken for granted. Resolution of the Kashmir issue has lingered on for more than six and a half decades and all Pakistan does is to join us in complaining about and protesting against this sorry state of affairs. 

If Islamabad really cares for Kashmiris, then it should not try to match New Delhi’s arrogance and refuse dialogue as this consigns the Kashmir issue to the backburner. If New Delhi wants to start dialogue by discussing terrorism let it be so- when it is clear that Islamabad doesn’t have any role in supporting terrorist activities in India but has conclusive evidence of New Delhi sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan, then why the hesitation to talk on terrorism and thus expose India’s hypocrisy to the entire world?  

Niloofar Qureshi is a regular contributor to the Kashmir Observer. She can be reached at: niloofar.qureshi@yahoo.com

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