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The Indo-Pak Conundrum: Victims to their Own Narratives

M Waqas Jan

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As tensions between nuclear armed India and Pakistan once again escalate in the wake of the devastating attack on Indian paramilitary personnel in Pulwama, one can’t help but bemoan the Sisyphean manner in which both countries seem locked in extolling the same narratives over and again. This applies not only to those aiming to broker some semblance of peace between the two age-old rivals, but also those capitalizing on the ensuing discord and enmity for their own benefit. There seems as a result an inescapable script which both the Indian and Pakistani sides seem condemned to follow.

For those unaware of the above reference, it is perhaps better to give a brief account of Sisyphus in order to understand its relevance to Indo-Pak ties. Sisyphus of Ancient Greek legend was condemned by the Gods to rolling a giant boulder up-hill only to watch it roll back down, repeating the tasked infinitum. This punishment, meted out to Sisyphus against his hubris has since often come to denote the futility of human action, in a harsh and unforgiving world. This idea has since been presented by many artists and thinkers in relation to mankind’s own search for the very meaning of existence.

In the near timeless case of India and Pakistan, Sisyphus’s punishing task which he is doomed to carry out eternally, bears a striking resemblance to the futility faced by statesmen and policy-makers from both sides in reaching an agreement over Kashmir. Their inability to break free from the decades old vitriol and bad blood, and to resort to the same threats of war and retaliation have come to characterize the narrative underlying Indo-Pak ties following every major Kashmir linked attack that has taken place in India. The Pathankot and Uri attacks from two years back, the Gurdaspur attack from 2015, the 2008 Mumbai attacks as well as the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi have all served to crystallize the animosity between both countries.

All and any efforts made towards even just normalizing relations have been as a result instantly derailed. It’s as if the recent strides made at the ground-breaking ceremony of the Katarpur corridor, the designation of Most Favored Nation (MFN) status with regard to trade, and the decades of people to people ties built around cultural and cricket diplomacy by countless artists, writers, poets musicians and professional athletes from both sides of the border; has all been rendered meaningless in just a matter of days following Pulwama.

It is extremely unfortunate that based on these dynamics, the very idea of brokering a sustainable and lasting peace between the two countries has itself reached mythic proportions. This gap has further widened based on the willful construction of a nationalist identity and narrative that is directly premised on the politics of ‘otherness’ both within and across the borders dividing India and Pakistan.

In the case of India, this aspect of otherness has reached an unprecedented scale with the rise of far right nationalist discourse premised on the principles of the BJP led Hindutva movement. In direct tension with the secular foundations of Indian democracy, many have attributed India’s descent into a religious inspired nationalism as a worrying precursor to regional instability. As the ruling BJP government comes to increasingly resort to the politics of otherness as part of its bid for re-elections, many have accused it of willfully spurring anti-Pakistan sentiments in an attempt at uniting a diverse and divisive electorate against a singular common enemy.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his recently televised official statement on Pulwama, addressed this very issue and directly attributed it to the reason behind the bellicose rhetoric being espoused by Indian leaders. In the same speech he also reiterated Pakistan’s resolve to retaliate and defend itself should tensions escalate to the point of military conflict.

This entire diplomatic exchange represents thus the same narrative that both sides have remained locked in as a result of Kashmir. The BJP led government in India, constrained by its inability to move beyond pandering to its core electorate, seems perhaps more unable than unwilling to break free from its own set narrative. On the other side, Pakistan’s position has more or less been characterized as being dominated by its influential military to which its foreign policy on India has widely been accused of being held hostage from its civilian government. Both narratives are in turn deeply ingrained in the above discussed politics of otherness, to which both sides seem condemned to repeating over and again.

However, if one was to go back to Prime Minister Khan’s inaugural speech from September last year, he has repeatedly claimed that both the Pakistani government and its military are on the same page with respect to its regional interests and foreign policy. Even in his statement on Pulwama, he offered in clear terms Pakistan’s commitment to working with India against terrorism across the region. He has clearly indicated that he is willing to move beyond these set narratives and work towards attaining the much illusive peace between the two countries. Whether Imran Khan is successful in bridging this ever growing divide between the two countries remains to be seen. However, the fact that he has willfully acknowledged and taken up this Sisyphean task for what it is, presents some hope for those worryingly looking at the war clouds looming over the South Asian region once again.

Research Associate and Program Coordinator for the China Study & Information Centre (CS & IC) at the Strategic Vision Institute, a non-partisan think tank based out of Islamabad. He can be reached at waqas[at]thesvi.org

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South Asia

India’s Continuing Arrogance in Kashmir

Haris Bilal Malik

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On October 31, 2019, India formally split up the Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir into two federal (union) territories. By doing so India violated the UNSC resolutions on the matter and officially issued a new political map indicating Ladakh and Jammu as Indian Union Territories. According to this formal split,both the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh union territories will be administered by two lieutenant governors, Girish Chandra Murmu and Radha Krishna Mathur respectively. They are supposed to report to the Indian home secretary based in New Delhi. This clearly defines the motives of the Hindu nationalist government of BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which revoked Article 370 on August 5.Unfortunately, the prevalent security environment in Kashmir is dominated by the BJP, which has led India’s arrogance to determine the fate of the disputed region.

In the same vein, right before the formal enforcement of the constitutional split, a local body electoral exercise was carried out in the region. The maiden Block Development Council (BDC) Election was held on October 24 under much hype due to the evolved dynamics of the region. However, the region’s main parties such as the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, and Peoples Conference and other small parties had boycotted the local elections terming them as an ‘undemocratic’ exercise. These parties which have remained the major stakeholders in the politics of the region had turned out against the abrogation of Article 370 that granted the region special rights. It was also observed that the political parties had perceived this election as instead a “forced election” primarily because the region was still then under severe restrictions. Contrary to this general perception, the Indian government still carried out the post-revocation electoral exercise. This arrogant policy adopted by the Indian government seems to forcefully instill this notion of ‘our plan our vision’ by the BJP to decide the fate of the Kashmir region.

In addition to this notion, the Hindu-supremacist government of India, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been shamelessly flaunting the narrative that Kashmir has been ‘put in its place’. This means that contrary to the previous position of the Kashmir region as an autonomous entity under the Indian Union, it has been demoted to now being a ‘union territory’ like other union territories under the federal (Union) government of India. By doing so it seems that India is following a dangerous trajectory of dealing with Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan and the international community. In pursuit of its fascist vision inspired by its RSS ideology, the BJP led Indian state has blatantly ignored the global implications which its moves could have regarding the disputed region. Moreover, the ongoing crisis also provides an insight into Kashmir being a victim of the so-called rules based international order that has repeatedly failed to shield the Kashmiri people from the human rights violations of the Indian forces and protect their sovereign will.

It is worth mentioning here that Kashmir is one of the oldest issues pending at the UNSC table. The international community acknowledges Pakistan’s significance as the most important stakeholder vis-à-vis any development on the Kashmir issue. Contrary to Indian moves and suppression of Kashmiris, Pakistan has always insisted on the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute under the UN mandate. Moreover, Pakistan has always encouraged international mediation offers from influential countries especially by the U.S. This was evident during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first-ever visit to the US on July 23, 2019, when President Trump had offered to mediate  between India and Pakistan. The offer was greatly appreciated by Pakistan as it was aimed at some prospect of seeking a settlement given the evolved security dynamics of the South Asian region for the last few months. Whereas, India has often rejected such offers claiming Kashmir as its internal matter.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and as a potential superpower that can do whatever it pleases with a complete disregard for basic human rights. Under this notion, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Modi and inspired by Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures to forcefully make Kashmir an integral part of India via its brutal political and military actions. The most considerable aspect of such belligerence is that India wrongfully perceives that Pakistan is unlikely to or perhaps unwilling respond to any Indian move based on certain political, economic and strategic restraints vis-à-vis India. This however is once again a grave underestimation of Pakistan’s resolve and the sensitivity with which such moves are being taken by the Pakistani leadership.

Hence at the present, the rash and irresponsible actions of the BJP led Indian government has once again put at stake the peace and stability of the entire South Asian region, bringing it once again to the brink of conflict. Despite all the criticism worldwide, with its politico-military offensive in Kashmir, it seems that India has already decided to determine the fate of the disputed region through sheer arrogance and brutality. India is mistakenly perceiving that such moves would likely tighten its grip over the restive region that is at the heart of more than 70 years of hostility with Pakistan. India’s policy to forcefully make Kashmir a part of the Indian Union by annexing it through political and military means would serve as a dangerous precedent. This poses a serious detriment towards the long-desired peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute and even with more disastrous consequences for the whole region.

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South Asia

Remapping Indian Occupied Kashmir: A Multipronged Travesty

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The second Presidential Order on the Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir by India in 2019 is yet another outlandish decision to challenge the objectives of a peaceful coexistence. It is a call for altering an International Order more conversant to breach the democratic political norms, history and fundamental rights. Kashmiris are once again rebuffed of their demand for self-determination while being locked in an unprecedented brutal curfew entering into more than one hundred days. The desecration is obviously offensive.

Including the areas of Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilhas and Tribal Territory of 1947, a part from the remaining areas of Leh and Ladakh districts of 1947 into the Indian Union is a violation of several United Nations Security Council resolutions passed decades ago. The Kargil District was already carved out.

Historically, there were 14 Districts of Jammu & Kashmir at the time of partition, which included Kathua. Jammu. Udhanpur, Reasi,  Anantnag, Baramullah, Poonch, Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Leh and Ladakh, Gigit, GilgitWazarat, Chilas and Tribal Territory. The new districts included were Kupwara, Bandipur, Ganderbal, Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama, Shupian, Kulgam, Rajori, Ramban, Doda, Kishtiwar, Samba and Kargil. The illustrative declaration of Muzaffarabad and MirpurKhas areas of Azad Kashmir which are under the administrative rule of Pakistan is an untenable denial of the history of the region.

To refresh their memories India needs to remember that at the time when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the controversial Instrument of Accession with India in October 1947, Gilgit was already inflamed with the passions of rebellion against Hindus and Sikhs living in Gilgit. While representing the will of his people, Muzzaffar, the raja orderly in Chilas said:

“The whole of Gilgit Agency is pro-Pakistan … we could never swear allegiance to Hindustan. Apart from religion, the Gilgit Agency is really a part of the NWFP and is therefore a part of Pakistan. If Kashmir remains independent, well and good … .But if the Maharaja through pig headedness and bad advice, political pressure or attractive remunerations accedes to Hindustan, then there will be trouble here!”

This was sensed by the British Administrator William Brown as well and decided to overthrow the then Governor Ghansara Singh in a bloodless coup d’etat in November 1947 and a provisional government was established by the locals of Gilgit. Raja Shah Rais was appointed as the president and Mirza Hassan Khan as the Commander-in-Chief. Pakistani political agent took over the region, once Khan Abdul Qayyum received a telegraph from Brown on November 16, 1947.

By May1948, the Gilgit Scouts had already taken over Baltistan, Ladakh and Skardu as well. Indian reinforcements were blocked at Dras and Kargil which helped them cut off Indian communications to Leh in Ladakh. However, Kargil was recaptured by them in autumn 1948 but Baltistan remained in control of Pakistan, after which India itself took the issue to the UN.

The current remapping of the region of Jammu & Kashmir is nonetheless not only a snubof facts but also adding into already destabilising factors in the region.The Pakistani parts of Kashmir to the north and west of the cease-fire line established at the end of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, or the Line of Control as it later came to be called, were divided into the Northern Areas in the north and the Pakistani state of Azad Kashmir in the south. The name “Northern Areas” was first used by the United Nations to refer to the northern areas of Kashmir. Pakistan has declared that “no step by India could change the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir as recognised by the United Nations”, and has pledged time and again that it will continue to support the just struggle of the Kashmiris.

In an attempt to rewind the India of antiquity or revitalize the Indian Civilization lost in the international order of nation-states in the post WWI era, Narendra Modi’s arrogant Hindutva regime is non-realistic. The current attempt is a follow up of the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill (GIRB) passed by the Indian ministry of Home Affairs on May4, 2016, during his earlier tenure of rule on India. The Bill was meant to regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India. It restricted the addition or creation of any information related to geospatial imagery, data acquisition through space or aerial platforms such as satellites, aircrafts, airships, balloons or unmanned aerial vehicles without the permission of the government of India. The Bill also made its violation indictable in contravention of the section 4 with a fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to 100 crores or imprisonment for a period of up to seven years. The draft resolution had also decided to set up an Apex Committee, A Security Vetting Authority and an Enforcement and Appellant authority to only allow the distribution of maps considered right by the Indian government. It was deceptively declared to ensure the security, sovereignty and integrity of the state of India with impact on all who may or may not agree with the Bill defining the geographical boundaries of India. The spokesman of the Indian External Affairs Ministry Vikas Swarup once reiterated that the state of Jammu & Kashmir was an “integral part of India” and the GIRB was an “entirely internal legislative matter of India.”

Assaulting the international political system, human dignity, basic liberties and perpetual boundary disputes by the Indian offensive posture have added to the stressed political environment of the region. In case of the failure of the domestic proceedings to address human concerns, it becomes mandatory for the world community to ensure the respect of the world peace. History records that after the WWII, there had been 14 out of 21 major inter-state wars on territorial conflicts. Global history of cartography has always been closely linked. Situating the “geobody,” along with altering the archival documents by the nationalist regime of Modi largely emboldened by the Western powers for their own strategic and economic preferences, is a teasing question on the UN partiality. The history of border violations or failed negotiations over an issue increases the likelihood of armed conflict and nonbinding management.

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South Asia

Kartarpur Corridor: A message of Peace and Prosperity

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Kartarpur corridor was opened on 9 November 2019 (Saturday). It paved the way for the Sikh community to visit one of the most important religious shrines without a visa. There are approximately 150 million Sikhs around the world, out of which around 120 million are living in India. The other countries having the Sikh community are Afghanistan, Pakistan, UK, Canada, and USA.  However, the origin of the Sikh religion in Punjab, which was divided into Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab in 1947 at the time of independence of the sub-continent from British rule. The partition of Punjab has divided many Sikh families between Pakistan and India.  Due to political rivalry, among Pakistan and India, has adversely affected the Sikh Community. Some of the family members have never met in the last 72 years and few of them have already expired already.

While Sikh, Muslims and other religions lived together for centuries, especially in Punjab, and enjoyed complete harmony as the language and cultures are identical. But after partition, in 1947, the rivalry between Pakistan and India kept them separated for 72 years. With the opening of this Corridor, the Sikhs community in India becomes the most beneficiary and they are grateful for the gesture of goodwill by Pakistan.

The Kartarpur Corridor connects between Pakistan and India, the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib (located in Punjab, India) and GurdwaraDarbar Sahib (in Punjab, Pakistan). The corridor is intended to allow religious devotees from India to visit the Gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometers from the Pakistan-India border, without a visa.

The Corridor was first proposed in early 1999 by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, respectively, as part of the Delhi–Lahore Bus diplomacy. On 26 November 2018, the foundation stone was laid down on the Indian side and after two days, on 28 November 2018, the foundation stone on the Pakistani side was laid down by Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. The corridor along with all its allied services and amenities was completed in a record time frame. The corridor was completed for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev on 12 November 2019. As a special to mark the 550th birth anniversary, the Government of Pakistan has waved the fee amounting to US Dollars 20 for three days. It has created a huge good-will.

The corridor has not only connected the Sikh community on both sides of the border but also opened a new chapter of religious tourism in Pakistan. There are many other religious sites in Pakistan, which belongs to Hindus or Sikhs religion and may attract devotees and visitors in thousands of thousands in number. Kartarpur corridor is just a beginning, if it goes smoothly, many new sites will be open to Hindus and Sikhs as well.

This will also generate an opportunity for economic activities and enhance people to people contact. Promote harmony and understanding between the two hostile nations. In fact, Kartarpur Corridor is a message of Peace and Prosperity.

Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and a very responsible state. Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is well matured, visionary leader. He said on this occasion “Pakistan believes that the road to the prosperity of the region and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace”, adding that “Pakistan is not only opening the border but also their hearts for the Sikh community”. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, compared the decision to go ahead with the corridor by the two countries to the fall of the Berlin Wall, saying that the project may help in easing tensions between the two countries.

Previously, pilgrims from India had to take a bus to Lahore to get to Kartarpur, which is 125 km journey although people on the Indian side of the border could physically see GurdwaraDarbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistani side. An elevated observation platform had also been constructed on the Indian side, where people use binoculars to get a good view.

Indian Prime Minister Modi has thanked PM Imran Khan for his good-will gesture. It is hoped that India will reciprocate in the same manner and provide an opportunity to the People of Pakistan and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan to thanks Indian Prime Minister Modi.

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