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Is Kashmir project done and dusted?

Is Kashmir project done and dusted?

Imtiaz Gul

The legal status at the United Nations notwithstanding, is it time for Pakistan to wrap up the Kashmir project? Can it become a China to get for Kashmiris what Beijing got for Hong Kongers? Irrespective of the emotional attachment and Kashmiri Muslims’ inalienable right to self-determination, do we need a cost-benefit analysis of the Kashmir policy pursued so far?

Why I posit these questions? Let us consider the following:

Interim PM Anwarul Haq Kakar’s speech to a near deserted hall at the United Nations General Assembly on September 22 reminded us yet again of the rusty thinking on certain issues that sit at the core of some key problems that Pakistan faces — the country’s tainted image abroad because of its decades-old support to Kashmiri militancy which India successfully projected as abetment of terrorism; and the “commitment” to the cause of Palestinians.

Isn’t it about time to wrap up the Kashmir project? Should our leaders not stop always begging for external support and instead look inwards to identify reasons for our present pathetic existence? What was the point in reminding the world of the Indian atrocities in Kashmir, or the post-flood “commitments” made at Geneva in November 2022 (when almost entire PDM cabinet had made it to the Swiss city)?

Secondly, while climate change is a reality, many of its consequences flow from criminally reckless urbanisation and total disregard for the nature. The world — at least those familiar with Pakistan’s fledgling and dysfunctional governance — know this too well; commercialisation of forest, agricultural lands and obstruction of natural waterways (that cause the flood water to submerge residential areas).

Certain developments in (Indian) Kashmir since the abolition of the autonomy that it had enjoyed under the meanwhile deceased Article 370 until August 2019 offer some food for thought. Not a single country condemned India for abolishing Kashmir’s autonomy and annexing it into its union on August 5, 2019. None even demanded the reversal of that action that technically is still subject to resolution at the United Nations.

Realpolitik and a sense of hopelessness, it seems, has mellowed down resistance to and moderated rejection of annexation. Change, under the burden of circumstances, may also be in the air in Kashmir itself. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s release after over four years should be seen in this context. His first speech from the pulpit of Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid after walking out of detention probably provided first signs of that change.

In this emotional address to the Friday congregation on September 22, Mirwaiz called himself a “realist resolution-seeker” and rejected his branding by New Delhi as a “separatist or peace-disrupter”.

“Kashmir must find a path to resolution through dialogue, as we have consistently advocated. It is regrettable that we have been labelled as separatists and anti-national elements. Our role is to represent the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said while disproving the revocation of the special autonomous status for Kashmir.

Mirwaiz also reiterated his dream of a united Kashmir. But he is also conscious of the new bitter realities. There is little outsiders — including the United Nations — can do to help Kashmiri Muslims for realising the dream of self-determination for a united Kashmir. This — as of now — is more a pipedream overshadowed by geopolitical expediencies than an achievable goal — however legitimate. Nor will India ever relent control of the valley.

Should the staggering changes in the Middle East since the Abraham Accords three years ago serve as the guide?

“Subsequent partnerships such as the Negev Forum and I2U2 partnership of India, Israel, the UAE and the US strengthen shared capabilities and foster the collaboration necessary to meet today’s pressing challenges and opportunities,” said a State Department statement (September 15) to marking the third anniversary of the signing of the historic Abraham Accords.

The Abraham Accords were concluded on September 15, 2020 between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, followed by similar agreements between Israel, Morocco and Sudan.

Ahead of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s Middle East tour, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby indicated on the last day of September while talking to reporters that “all sides have hammered out a basic framework for what we might be able to drive at.”

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the next targets of the American diplomacy anchored in the Abraham Accords. Both are reluctant to embrace Israel.

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, the Prime Minister of Qatar, told a conference in Singapore (August 27) that his country still “believes the best way forward is 2001’s Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, which offered normalization between Israel and the Arab world if Israel withdrew from the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights and allowed the establishment of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.”

But Mohammad bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, it seems is looking at the Accords as an opportunity to win back the US support.

A normalisation agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, therefore, will not only be the crowning of the US efforts to minimise hostile relationships within the Middle East but also a boon for Saudi Arabia’s current astounding economic development.

Will our leaders take any cue from the rest of the world, including China and Turkey, embrace pragmatism or remain frozen in decades-old dogmas that are totally irrelevant to a world driven by geo-economic interests alone?

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