It’s really asking for punishment. True, a TV anchor has to put up with a lot, but in asking Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) for a second interview, Karan Thapar had only himself to blame for the tirade that was unleashed by the pugnacious gentleman.
However, Thapar did have an important question to ask, which was whether an apparent forward movement on the bilateral front was dead, or whether there was hope ahead. , but it seems that Moeed W Yusuf still clings to hope.
The rest of the interview alternated between name-calling and rage at the alleged Indian “attack” on the residence of international terrorist Hafeez Saeed in Lahore. Yet, this posturing requires some analysis as to what Pakistan’s plans are.
‘Secret Contacts’ Between India and Pakistan
First, on the issue of secret contacts between the two sides, Yusuf confirmed that this had taken place between the security agencies, quite correctly refusing to state who had been involved. Such talks are held at the highest levels of intelligence, and on Pakistan’s side at least, they could mean that even the politicians may not be entirely in the picture.
The only other “confirmation” of talks came from the UAE’s Ambassador to the United States, Yousef al Otaiba, in a talk at the Hoover Institution, where he referred to an “article” on a role the UAE had played in ensuring a ceasefire. It seems that the UAE was probably no more than a location for the two to meet.
The most important indicator of a shift was from the top man himself. At an Air Force graduation ceremony early in February, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said Pakistan wanted to “extend a hand of peace in all directions”. This was followed by the ceasefire from February 25, and a speech by the Chief again in March, which was widely interpreted by everyone to read as a call for a reset in relations, including in Kashmir.
The speech admirably explained the context, which was that Pakistan needed to move away from a path of debilitating conflict to one of geoeconomics based on regional connectivity. This was followed by articles heavily relying on “sources” that said several rounds of contacts had taken place, that both civilian and military establishments were “on the same page”, and that Islamabad was jettisoning the jehadi culture.
At an Air Force graduation ceremony in February, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said Pakistan wanted to “extend a hand of peace in all directions”
Pakistan is Confused on What it Wants From India
Then came the inevitable hiccup on 1 April, when the Federal Cabinet rejected the Economic Coordination Committee’s proposal to import sugar, cotton and yarn from India, even after the Prime Minister had cleared the proposal while holding the finance portfolio. Clearly, there was some backtracking from within. At an Iftar party, however, General Bajwa saw this U-turn as arising from political compulsions. He added a few important points — that all issues including Kashmir could be discussed together, and that restoration of the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir was the issue, not Article 370.. Perceptibly, there was strong opposition from unknown quarters.
In May came more “leaks”, this time hinting that the contacts between the two sides had come to a “standstill”. The reason cited was that India needed to show “progress” to shift from talks to a dialogue. The conditions listed for a forward movement were: no change in the demography of Kashmir, which was apparently ‘non-negotiable’, that the “character” of the region should not be altered, steps should be taken to normalise the lives of the people, that statehood needed to be given “in one form or another”, and most notably, that any discussion on the status of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan is off the table.
For sheer cheek—it is difficult to find an equal—it is like a neighbour abusing and cheating on their partner while lecturing one on the sanctity of marriage.
The Issue About Statehood
Moeed’s message in the interview was almost identical to the above conditions. First, the demography issue raised is ironic. Pakistan has sought to alter the demography of Gilgit-Baltistan for decades by bringing in Sunnis, and arranged organised massacres when Shias protested. Second, the question of how “normal” Kashmir can get given the danger from terrorism to Kashmiris, particularly their elected representatives, remains unresolved. So, troops will have to stay, and Islamabad knows that.
Moeed then explained away Bajwa’s statement somewhat strangely, saying that Article 370 was not an issue because it was unrecognised by the Pakistani government. The TV anchor narrowed this down to mean that what was important was “restoration of statehood”. But the earlier statehood’s parameters were decided by various amendments to Article 370 itself, which, experts say, steadily eroded its autonomy.
General Bajwa’s reported preference for “statehood in any form” might just be interpreted as full statehood for Kashmir under the Indian Constitution, together with all its rights and privileges, while retaining its demographic character. That is what the Centre is said to be doing. Remember that domicile certificates are required by all states, with Tamil Nadu, for instance, requiring just six years of residence for application, compared to 15 years under Jammu and Kashmir’s new Domicile Law.
The next point, presumably, is elections. But that would be a far, far larger step to statehood, which is, at present, available to ‘Azad Kashmir’, whose Legislature has fewer powers than a District Commissioner’s office in India. Gilgit-Baltistan is languishing in a ‘non-state/non-country’ status, where people can’t even have a valid passport. That is one reason why both are “off the table”. It simply does not bear comparison.
Yusuf denied that he had said thereafter that all contacts were at an end. And that was the overall outcome of the interview — Pakistan wants an opening, a handshake, or any move from the Indian government that will allow it to save face and move forward towards a concrete dialogue
Decoding Yusuf's Comments
The one area where Yusuf deviated from earlier statements was the charge of terrorism against India. He virtually raved against the alleged Indian hand in the Lahore blast in early July. The usual threats of another dossier followed, which is strange since the blast was outside the house of a designated international terrorist. It was just as well that the TV anchor did not ask him whether Saeed was dead or not. That would have been embarrassing, to say the least.
What was interesting, however, is that Yusuf denied that he had said thereafter that all contacts were at an end. And that was the overall outcome of the interview—Pakistan wants an opening, a handshake, or any move from the Indian government that will allow it to save face and move forward towards a concrete dialogue.
Remember also that the Army Chief wants a “conducive” atmosphere in all areas, not just Kashmir. For New Delhi, this could mean a move to open up imports from Pakistan and to propose better road and rail linkages between the two countries. The key here is connectivity for both.
Meanwhile, Islamabad knows well that there is no walking back on Article 370. The next steps have already been set in motion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to end ‘Dil ki doori’ (the distance from the heart) and ‘Dilli ki doori’ (the distance from Delhi).
Besides, Panchayati Raj and District Development Council elections have already taken place. The path ahead is expected to move towards holding Assembly elections and hearing the people’s voice. It is difficult to see how Pakistan can reasonably object to that. It has been asking for self-determination for decades. After all, that is what democracy is about, from the bottom to the top.
(Dr Tara Kartha is a distinguished fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. She tweets at @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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