Anger on Kashmir Waiting to Explode

Islamabad may have done its homework

IRSHAD SALIM — An eerie silence continues to define Jammu and Kashmir’s landscape, one year after it lost its special status, says an opinion piece in the Gulf News –it appeared a day before August 5 which marks completion of one year of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strike in the Himalayan Valley –he was looking for a home run in the region’s geopolitical baseball field.

That (fishing expedition) appears to have failed, point out several independent observers. Playing footsie in an era of unhinged geopolitical rivalries doesn’t help according to several observers and analysts I spoke with.

As for my own experience, I’ve seen footsie leading to a brawl in sports bar at times.

Friends, allies and supporters that the world’s largest democracy and secular state have, have been characterizing Modi’s move as “what the hell is that”.

The maverick outfits Modi pulled out from his closet to wear “have tarred India’s image globally” says the op-ed.

Example: in South Asia, Modi’s move was called by no one other than Bangladesh (India’s ally in the region) PM Sheikh Hasina as “We couldn’t understand it”.

One analyst in Washington DC understood though. The gap between where the Kashmiris stand and what Delhi wants to achieve in the occupied/annexed valley, he has highlighted:

In the Middle East, some are still figuring out (apparently), and some don’t get it (probably).

The op-ed in the well-read UAE-based paper points out this: “The Modi government labors to equate silence with ‘normality’ and ‘acceptance’. It added that the “official project of erasure of its (occupied Kashmir’s) geography, politics, symbols and memory continues”.

In my opinion, Kashmir seems to becoming a subject of interest in the Emirate’s community of readers.

The UAE is a member of 57-Muslim nations OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries). The org. condemned Modi’s Kashmir move, but it has not convened a meeting on Kashmir on Pakistan’s request. Islamabad has characterized this as dragging foot and as “dilly dallying” and says it may opt to form outside the OIC a coalition of those willing to press on Kashmir issue.

That OIC’s cold feet on Kashmir has gotten Islamabad upset, specially after the UN Security Council took notice and met within 72 hours –for the third time this year, hit nerves of most in Pakistan.

“If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Aug 5.

This may have rung some alarm bells in the region and across the Atlantic.

Additionally, borders between India, Pakistan and China are becoming extremely fragile. 

None of the stakeholders is likely to step up the ante but border tensions are likely to assume a permanent quality.

Can OIC step up to the plate? “Not possible till we have monarchies in the Arab word. Their policies and preferences revolve around survival of the monarchy”, says a top military official on condition of anonymity as he’s not authorized to speak.

Can Pakistan work things out with and within Saudi-led OIC? Yes, says a former head of a think tank who has been an ambassador of Pakistan to Riyadh. “OIC needs transformation and structural changes though”, he adds.

The global tectonic shifts, however, are less guided by moral questions and more inspired by strategic and economic goals. Kashmir’s volcanic situation provides fertile ground for both.

US-based scholar Dr. Akbar Ahmed suggested at a Webinar (on Aug 5) in Riyadh that Saudi could play a major and a positive role as it has influence on both rivals: Pakistan and India. His suggestion dovetails Qureshi’s urging earlier that evening on local TV that OIC should step up: “I am once again respectfully telling OIC that a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers is our expectation”.

A major reason behind the not-so-diplomatic request –after a year wait –is OIC’s failure to call the foreign ministers’ meeting. Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to accept Pakistan’s request for one specifically on Kashmir apparently did it.

According to energy and geopolitical analyst Rashid Hussain Syed who has lived in the kingdom for several decades, “The process of dehyphenating Pakistan with India in the Arab capitals is reaching its logical conclusion. India is their partner, and we are the poor relatives”.

But Pakistan has more than transactional relationship with the kingdom, no?, I asked. “We need to understand the US pressure on Riyadh and Abu Dhabi on the issue. Washington wants Indo-Arab relations to flourish and the Arab regimes are dependent on Trump for their survival”, Syed said.

Mr. Qureshi’s utterances were the height of exasperation. Apparently, both the State and the government are on the same page on OIC.

Riyadh’s support to Islamabad is crucial for any move on Kashmir at the OIC, which is dominated by Saudi Arabia, UAE and some other Arab countries. These oil-rich states have over the years gotten closer to India.

“The process began with a highly successful, yet less reported visit of Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh to Riyadh post-9/11. That was a watershed moment in Indo-Saudi relationship,” Syed says.

“Let’s wait. The issue would take some twists and turns and we may be on the receiving end on a number of fronts, he adds.

But Islamabad may have done its homework beyond swapping $1bln Saudi loan with one from China.

“We’ve to fight for Kashmir…no one will serve us on a platter,” said a Pakistani defense official based in the Middle East to me earlier.