Imran Khan releases arbitrary map absorbing Kashmir, possibly at China’s behest. But there won’t be takers
Everybody knows that Pakistan never misses an opportunity to internationalise the Kashmir issue but the “cry wolf” screams make for such a tired and wasted diplomatic move that they don’t make news at all. Yet it could not have let the anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 go past without making some noise. So it released a new map of Pakistan, incorporating Kashmir, parts of Ladakh and Junagadh in Gujarat in a naked display of its territorial ambitions and highly wishful thinking. India has rightly called the vacuous and unilateral declaration, that is not backed by any credible reasoning, support groups, historical reasoning or legal validity, as a “political absurdity.” Worse, the challenge to our globally accepted sovereignty came from none other than Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who cited the endorsement of his Cabinet, the Opposition and an unnamed Kashmiri leadership as the rationale for the new map. But it was what Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that shows this cartographic offensive to be a part of a larger pattern and not just Pakistan’s independent move. “The new map shows Kashmir shares a clear border with China,” he said, a clear indication that like Nepal, this attempt to redraw boundaries was made at China’s behest and underlines our eastern neighbour’s desire for strategic contiguity in the region than Pakistan’s any real concern for Kashmir. While India is firm on Chinese withdrawal from eastern Ladakh that seems to have driven a wedge in their greater plan to control the Karakoram by squeezing us with salami-slicing, Pakistan’s map claims are clearly intended to warn us of a two-front offensive. With the Chinese reluctant to pull back from claimed spurs and ridgelines in Ladakh, India is looking at a long haul of vigil and alertness this winter. China just wants to exhaust our capacities at the heights by opening up a second flashpoint. Just last month, Pakistan had moved almost 20,000 soldiers to the Line of Control (LoC) to match Chinese deployment on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Strangely it hadn’t positioned such troops even after the Balakot air strikes. The simultaneous build-up along the border and Pakistan’s renewed push on infiltration are clearly intended to stretch our resources thin and wear us out so that both could manage some territorial grabs in the process. If recent reports are to be believed, then the Chinese are no longer shadow-boxing. Just like in Nepal, their officials have had a series of meetings with Pakistani ones on Gilgit-Baltistan. China is also encouraging Pakistan to revive the defunct terrorist network of Al-Badr that was once active in Kashmir. Debt-trapped by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), with its economy in the doldrums and heavily dependent on borrowings and bailouts, Pakistan is but a pawn in China’s gameplan. The hyperbolic claims of Imran Khan are less spontaneous and more in alignment with the grandiloquent declarations of the Chinese dream.
Of course, Khan is also looking at extracting some home advantages with this move. He wants his constituents to know that he has not lost the leadership of the Kashmir cause although his repeated attempts to raise the change in its status at several international fora have not got any traction over the last year. At China’s insistence, the UN held a closed-door meeting on Article 370 last August but stopped short of censuring India and described Kashmir an internal issue within India’s constitutional space. At one time, he himself had conceded ground, saying he wasn’t being able to turn the tide of international opinion because India was a “large market.” So he needed to show he still means business. Second, by involving Turkey in its criticism of India, Khan wants to stake his claim to leadership of a neo-Islamic axis involving Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia. This is evident from the Pakistan Government’s information campaign, encouraging both China and Turkey to issue anti-India statements and tweets. It is trying to get Kashmir under the banner of pan-Islamism. Most significantly, the US is now more an ally of India to humour it. So it is now left to Pakistan to devise its own exportable Kashmir strategy. This is one of the reasons why the Government must make efforts for a civil integration of Kashmir lest the perceived alienation becomes a fertile ground for Pakistan to implement a new separatist agenda. Already the Kashmiri youth, who have been more interactive with mainstream discourse because of pursuing higher education and jobs across the country, are sensing a conspiracy to keep them out with continued curfews and internet bans. There must be political engagement with people’s representatives as confinement is only making them martyrs before locals when they could be used as assets to push governance. The ground situation will be chaotic or negative but one has to work through it rather than risk Pakistan whipping up its agenda at our expense. If indeed the Government wants to publicise normalcy, then it should take a step forward, no matter what the risks. Or else the political economy of Kashmir could just drift away.
Courtesy: EDITORIAL-The Pioneer