Before we can effectively address the external challenges on Kashmir such as mobilizing international support for a just and honourable solution, we should give higher priority to clearing the confusion and contradictions that mark our own internal handling of foreign policy.
Despite its association with the genesis of Pakistan in August 1947, thereby making it the first and oldest subject on our foreign policy agenda, Kashmir’s pre-eminence is equalled today in 2016 by other subjects such as nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, USA, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and related spheres such as NATO, EU, Turkey, Russia, Gulf, other Muslim countries, and other major nations.
Yet Kashmir remains pivotal. Regardless of the machinations of Modi or his successors . Whether on the front-burner or on the back-burner, or even a side-burner, Kashmir simmers with an abiding luminosity and centrality. Sometimes the glow emanates only a mild, gentle warmth. More frequently in the recent past, the embers radiate intense heat. When the heat scorches us with the pain and agony being suffered by the women, youth, children and men of Kashmir as they confront curfews of unprecedented duration and absorb killings, blindings, assaults, rapes and the brutality of the Indian forces, we realize afresh that Kashmir is not a subject we can occasionally refer to in a token manner.
Kashmir remains a living, breathing, bleeding tragedy. And even if the image of some Kashmiris boldly brandishing the flag of Pakistan in the face of Indian troops could be a contrived, photo-seeking spectacle, we know that, at its core, the word ” Kashmir ” means an irreducible truth of injustice which deserves redress.
In the opinion of a few Pakistanis, we have unduly magnified the Kashmir dispute . Thus, we ourselves have allegedly constructed a serious obstacle that prevents improved relations with India. This writer strongly dissents with this view. Pakistan simply had no choice but to do what it has done for 69 years — condemn the dubious manipulation of the alleged Instrument of Accession by the Maharaja with the connivance of the Indian Government and Mountbatten, oppose the occupation of Srinagar and the Valley by Indian troops in 1947-48, call for the conduct of a plebiscite as per the UNSC Resolutions. Even our own Government’s failure to prevent the passionate but tragically indisciplined raids by tribesmen in October 1947 should not divert us from the undeniable right for self-determination of the Kashmiri people.
If the need to demonstrate absolute , unqualified unanimity amongst ourselves is the first internal challenge, the second issue concerns how we deal with the conceptual, strategic formulation of our foreign policy with reference to Kashmir and how we address tactical amendments to this policy as and when required by changes in objective conditions. In turn, this is closely related to the management of foreign policy on a day-to-day basis and our implementation of required measures. Process can be as crucial as substance.
Whereas emotion, passion, religion and pride duly, or sometimes unduly, affect our response, with regard to the second challenge we need to exercise a cool, cerebral, even clinical approach. The determinant factors shaping our response should be —- State and national interests; global and regional geo-political factors; economic imperatives ; fundamental principles of structural coordination ; cohesion within and between civilian and military spheres of power ; basic requirements of democratic, political institutions; successful precedents and case studies from other countries where approximately similar issues have been effectively addressed . Not emotion, passion, personal temperament, whims and inclinations.
An essential step in this respect is to have a full-time, full-fledged Minister for Foreign Affairs. The present Advisor to the PM on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz possesses vast experience in economics, finance, development and foreign affairs. He has previously served both as Foreign Minister and Finance Minister. He richly deserved to be the President of Pakistan. But, far from electing him as President , and purely to accommodate petty, party-related considerations of patronage, the PML(N) denied him a party ticket for election to the Senate — so as to enable some other favourite to become a Member of the Upper House. Which meant that Mr. Sartaj Aziz would remain an appointed, not elected Advisor. He has the status, rank and privileges of a Federal Minister and a Cabinet Member and is thus entitled to represent the Government in both the Senate and the National Assembly. But the Prime Minister retains the portfolio of Foreign Affairs as the Minister-in-charge.
To deprive Sartaj Aziz of elected status is to deprive him from possessing dimensions of credibility and authority, both within the country and on a global level. In a democratic parliamentary system, such as we have, the most desirable and most potentially effective option is to have in place an individual whose credentials are authenticated by being elected, rather than being appointed. Conversely, it is also true that, in the very same parliamentary democratic systems, there can be close family relations without elected status who enjoy more influence on official policy and actions than elected Ministers. There are such individuals in the present Federal Government and in the Punjab Government. But these are not ideal modes. On the international level, an Advisor simply does not project the totality of authority and credibility which a full-fledged , preferably elected Minister does.
Then there is also the intra-Government and intra-Ministry aspects to consider in this case. We have a distinguished former Ambassador in the person of Mr. Tariq Fatemi as Special Assistant to the PMr on Foreign Affairs with the status of a Minister of State. There is nothing wrong in a Prime Minister appointing a Special Assistant in addition to an Advisor, or even the non-existent Minister. A Head of Government is entitled to always receive inputs from more than one source to be able to weigh diverse opinions and options before making a final choice.
Compounding the perceived lack of credibility, authority and singularity of approaches in Foreign policy in the civil, political sphere is the unusual civil-military dimension relevant to critical aspects of foreign policy and national security policy in Pakistan. Due to factors beyond the country’s own control such as the existence of grave threats to State survival from the very birth of the country in 1947, the Armed Forces have played a major role in these spheres at almost all times.
Between 1947 and 1958, PMs Liaquat Ali Khan and H.S. Suharwardy briefly but boldly showed that, given strong political leadership it is possible to enable the civil segment to shape foreign policy.
In the period between Dec 21, 1971 and July 5, 1977, Z.A. Bhutto, notwithstanding his other deficiencies and misjudgments, and catastrophic errors in appointing General Zia-ul-Haq as COAS and in delaying settlement of the 1977 crisis also showed that strong political leadership can shape foreign and security policy without being dependent on prior endorsement by the military.
In 2016 , on Kashmir at least, there appears to be concurrence between the civil and military leadership. Yet there is still the curious anomaly about the Defence portfolio. Perhaps curious is too mild a word. Appalling, may be more apt. A cynical view is that the Prime Minister attaches such little real regard for the importance of the Defence sector that he is unwilling to appoint a full-time, full-fledged Minister of Defence. Instead, the portfolio is assigned as “Additional charge” to a Minister already unable to cope with the burden of being the Minister for Water for Power. It is difficult to find a precedent for such a bizarre arrangement. Even if we were to, for a moment, assume that a civil, political Minister of Defence exercises very limited power and authority in the presence of an unduly assertive, long-accustomed-to-its-predominant-role GHQ, this is exactly the wrong action to take and the wrong signal to send by a civil Government striving to strengthen political democracy.
For a political leader who is so strongly in favour of democracy and the political process as is the present Prime Minister to help perpetuate —- deliberately or inadvertently —the notion that , even if he were to appoint a full-time Defence Minister , such a Minister will merely be a cipher is to, in fact, strengthen and deepen the influence of the military over foreign policy , including Kashmir.
For a finishing touch to this lopsided process of having neither a full-time Foreign Minister nor a full-time Defence Minister to deal with Kashmir, the present Prime Minister insists on giving the Chief of Army Staff higher protocol than all his Federal Ministers and Secretaries!
And the PM frequently meets the COAS alone, without also inviting the Defence Minister to be present.
The third internal challenge is to facilitate the maturation of Azad Jammu & Kashmir into a genuine, autonomous model territory for what a single, united Jammu & Kashmir should be, and can be, one day. Unlike the short-sighted, insincere, insecure way in which India attempts to make Jammu & Kashmir an integral part of the Indian State, the State and the Government of Pakistan have shown far greater self-confidence and maturity in giving AJK the formal status of being a separate Constitutional entity. However merely ceremonial this feature remains, it provides the ethical and structural basis for Islamabad to cede much of its authoritarian control over the internal politics and dynamics of AJK. Official actions in this direction would also encourage the emergence of political forces within AJK that are independent of the domineering , distorting influence of the major political parties of Pakistan such as PML(N) and PPP.
In the political process, and most of all in governance, by reducing the scope for corruption and covert manipulation, Pakistan would serve the cause of strengthening positive perceptions on the international level about how valid is Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir by retaining its historic linkages with AJK while deliberately distancing itself from the political development of AJK.
To decisively engage global attention and support and address the external, international , challenges for a successful Kashmir policy, we need to first vigorously address the internal challenges.
(The writer is a former Federal Minister and Member of the Neemrana Initiative , the longest-running (since 1991) non-media-reported Track II Pakistan-India Dialogue .