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Pakistan’s offensive on Kashmir will persist. India must be ready
Islamabad will deploy all political and diplomatic tools to lobby in the West. But it senses failure.
For the moment, India has prevailed in the Kashmir argument with Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s week-long visit to the United States (US) capped a period of fervid diplomacy. This stretched from Howdy Modi in Houston to a series of bilateral/plurilateral meetings in global capitals as well as at the United Nations (UN) in New York to staving off a challenge at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
For Modi himself, for foreign minister S Jaishankar, and for officials in the ministry of external affairs, there is a sense of quiet satisfaction. India has been able to persuade the world community that changes in the legal and political architecture of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh are well-intentioned and deserve a chance, despite short-term pain.
However, what has concluded is only the first round. The Kashmir issue is an article of faith for Pakistan, a critical organising principle of its foreign policy and self-identity. One must not underestimate the adversary’s resolve. Pakistan’s determination, even desperation, will keep Kashmir simmering as a diplomatic challenge for India for the foreseeable future.
Pakistan is hoping for two things.
First, it is almost praying for violence in the Kashmir valley. Prime Minister Imran Khan indicated as much during his UN General Assembly speech when he made dire predictions of what would happen after the restrictions were lifted.
Second, Pakistan is working very hard through its own diaspora networks and political allies in the West, particularly in the United Kingdom and Europe, and the US too.
A case in point is the failed attempt to overshadow the Howdy Modi event in Houston. As soon as it was announced that Modi would be visiting the city, the Pakistani consul general in Houston, a mild-mannered diplomat, was sacked. She was replaced by a clear-headed and expensive project to mobilise protesters. A Pakistani federal minister flew down to Houston to mastermind the protests. Resources were raised, likely from the Pakistani community and Pakistani-run businesses in the US.
The Pakistani case has found a receptive audience in US media, particularly so-called liberal newspapers. Within the political system, however, uptake has been limited. It will be significantly enhanced only if an ultra-Left candidate, such as Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris, wins the Democrat nomination. While that looks unlikely, it is still early days in the presidential election.
The same formula — of sending state agents from Islamabad/Rawalpindi and collecting financial contributions as well as crowds from the Pakistani diaspora — has been more successful in the UK. There are many reasons for this, including the political profile of the Pakistani community. In the US, the Indian community has a greater social, economic and, to the degree it matters, electoral cachet. Landmarks such as Y2K and the technology boom, the nuclear deal, and, now, the Howdy Modi event have showcased the relative muscle of the Indian diaspora.
In the UK, the Indian community has not demonstrated a matching profile. The Indian diaspora has had a steady rise but no one-shot quantum jump since perhaps the success of second-generation Indians of east African origin came to be noticed after the Thatcherite reforms. Only David Cameron tried to woo British Indians qua British Indians but that effort vanished with him.
The economic advance of Indians has worked to their electoral disadvantage. They have integrated and moved out of community strongholds. For younger members of the community, India represents an idea and a culture; there is little engagement with it as a contemporary reality. In contrast, British Pakistanis are more likely to be influenced by issues “back home”. The Pakistani community has also remained ghettoised, giving it capacity for collective bargaining.
Take the Ealing Southall parliamentary constituency. Once, it was swung by Hindu-Sikh voters. Today, the 28% Pakistani vote dwarfs the 23% Indian vote. Voters descended from Bangladesh and Somalia are an additional factor. As the UK approaches another election, with bitter, narrow contests, the Pakistani vote is much coveted. This explains Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party declaring war on India. It also explains why the Conservatives are relatively quiet, confident that middle class Indians will not vote for Corbyn and so taking them for granted, while hoping some in the Pakistani community could jump over.
About ten British members of the European Parliament (MEPs) come from constituencies where the Pakistani vote is vital. These MEPs have prioritised the Kashmir issue, and Islamabad’s propaganda, in Brussels. This makes the European Union and its institutions another battleground. To that extent, a quick Brexit will help India.
Despite the minefields described above, Pakistan will almost certainly lose the larger battle. It is difficult to believe that its case for an Islamist breakaway territory in Kashmir, patronage of terrorism and overstated accusations against India will ever convince mainstream global public opinion. Intuitively Pakistan knows it is on the wrong side of history — and is already betraying defensiveness.
In statecraft, it is critical to protect your principal. The gambles and aggressive statements come from others; the principal or top leader is shielded, giving him or her room for deniability and compromise. In the case of Pakistan, the army is the principal and is pushing Imran Khan to make outlandish statements, knowing he is destroying both his credibility and any ability to ever sit across the table with Modi. In a sense, the army is setting up Imran Khan for failure — and for eventual removal.
This commentary originally appeared in Hindustan Times.
Ashok Malik (ORF)
11 October 2019