By Senge Sering
Copyright: CBS News

Messages of solidarity with India and outrage against Pakistan continue to pour in from different parts of the world as New Delhi tries to deal with the aftermath of Pulwama suicide attack that killed 42 soldiers in Kashmir. Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) has accepted the responsibility of the attack. With Lashkar-e-Toaiba (LeT) busy in Balochistan and Afghanistan, most analysts now call JeM as the face of Pakistan-led terrorism in India’s Jammu & Kashmir. As expected, Pakistan denied involvement in the attack although JeM-chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, resides in the Pakistani city of Bahawalpur. In this scenario, China’s efforts to block a UN-maneuvered ban on the JeM-chief is a grave concern for the international community. It would not be far-fetched to say that China, which openly interferes in the occupied-Gilgit-Baltistan, now holds a veto to peace in India.

Like the international community, a large number of people in Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan realize that Pulwama-like incidents are neither about promoting human or minority-rights nor about the protection of Islam and Muslims from the “Infidel” India. It is also not about solving the Kashmir issue and liberating the land and rescuing its people. If Pakistan was serious about the rights of Kashmiris then it would have had respected the UNSC resolution 47 and withdrawn its troops and nationals from Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (POK) in 1948.

Most educated Pakistanis have come to accept that Pakistan’s insistence to define India as an existential threat is baseless as there is no credible proof of India initiating any attacks against Pakistan since its inception in 1947. The fact is that Pakistan’s establishment needs anti-India rhetoric and violence and interference in Kashmir to justify a burdensome military budget to its tax-paying civilians. Anti-India rhetoric also helps the military control Gilgit-Baltistan and exploit the resources with impunity and without offering compensation to the locals. The situation also grants China an opportunity to check the economic growth of its arch-competitor India since Pakistan holds a veto over India’s physical link with resource-rich Central Asian countries and the Middle East. In short, the Pakistani military sees open borders and a strong democracy weakening its narrative and control over foreign policy, resources, and civilian institutions.

Pakistan-backed terrorists have caused irreparable damage to the ecosystem, social fabric, and economy of Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan’s desire to bleed India and cause a slow death by thousand cuts has destroyed several generations of Kashmiri Muslims whose only skills include stone pelting, causing arson in their own neighborhoods and kidnapping and killing.

Yet, one could emphasize that it is in the region’s larger interest for Pakistan to change chronic bad habits of seeing opportunities and victories in the suffering of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. For instance, an incident like Pulwama injects distrust and compels the Indian government to prolong the closure of the Kargil road between Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan, which hurts cross-LOC trade and tourism. The situation is an anathema for more than half of the population of Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh who depend on this route for their socio-economic wellbeing. It also hinders cultural exchanges and the chance of divided family members – whose numbers go in tens of thousands – to meet each other.

Pakistan’s effort to dictate terms on Kashmir by employing militants as bargaining tools denies political space for other stakeholders like the people in Gilgit-Baltistan, Poonch, Ladakh, and Jammu & Kashmir and keeps them hostage to an impasse for no fault of their own. Although Pakistan claims that it wants Kashmir’s negotiations to be peoples-led, it obstructs chances of communication between two genuine stakeholders, i.e. the people of Gilgit Baltistan and the Indian authorities. To make the situation worse, Pakistan implicates local activists for sedition and terrorism and incarcerates them when they challenge Pakistan’s illegal presence in Gilgit-Baltistan and POK or try to contact Indians. In contrast, Pakistani authorities have the freedom to travel and communicate with the Kashmiri leadership including the separatist, Hurriyat Conference.

The global reaction to the Pulwama attack shows that the world opinion regarding India’s relationship with Kashmir is changing, which gives India the needed legitimacy to continue with counter-terrorism efforts. In his recent visit to India, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Salman Al-Saud reiterated that his country does not agree with Pakistan’s stance or interference in Kashmir. A majority of the world’s Muslim countries now see Kashmir as India’s internal matter and emphasize on peaceful dialogue between New Delhi and Kashmiris to find an amicable solution. In this context, the US Department of State using the term “Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir” in its press release on the Pulwama attack is significant. Unexpected support came from New Zealand when its parliament approved a resolution condemning the Pulwama attack and expressed solidarity with India. Similar reactions came from Russia, Japan, South Korea, the European Union and Australia boosting India’s desire to block Pakistan’s interference in Jammu & Kashmir.

The world has finally realized that India’s help is vital to stop Kashmir from becoming another Syria. The international community also sees India as a lead partner in saving Gilgit-Baltistan and Jammu & Kashmir from becoming Chinese satellites as it would enhance China’s strategic leverage in the Indian Oceanic Region, the Persian Gulf, and Africa.

In this context, global powers are re-calibrating their understanding of the often misused term “occupation “in regards to New Delhi’s relationship with Jammu & Kashmir.  History shows that in 1947, the ruler of Jammu & Kashmir established a constitutional relationship with India to escape terrorist attacks and invasion from Pakistan. The ruler of Jammu & Kashmir signed the letter of accession with free will and fulfilled all legal obligations under the umbrella of the British Partition Plan and British Independence Act of 1947 to become a legal part of the Indian Union. On the other hand, Pakistan acquired control of Gilgit-Baltistan, Muzaffarabad and Mirpur through military invasion and by violating the standstill agreement that it signed with the ruler of Jammu & Kashmir. In this context, comparing India and Pakistan over Jammu & Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan is like comparing apples and oranges.  

 Pakistan’s reliance on terrorism to dictate regional politics is hurting its relations with other neighbors as well. Just forty-eight hours before the Pulwama attack, Pakistan-based militants invaded Iran and killed 27 Iranian soldiers. Iranian military’s General Mohammad Ali Jafri accused Pakistan’s forces of supporting the attackers and vowed to avenge the massacre. It is very rare that two arch enemies, Iran and USA, both accuse the same country, Pakistan, for promoting terrorism and working to sabotage peace in the region. If that doesn’t constitute a wakeup call, then the decision of the European Union this week to declare Pakistan a country with a deficient counter-terror framework should compel the rulers to remove fingers from the snooze alarm and clean-up their act. Decisions like these could lead to irreparable economic damages and reprisals for Pakistan as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)will be meeting soon to evaluate Pakistan for possible inclusion in the blacklist of countries funding global terror.

The international community must convey to the Pakistani rulers that band-aid solutions like temporary closure of a Jihadi Madrassa or placing a terrorist leader under house arrest would not help eradicate the larger chronic ideological illness that has plagued Pakistan for over six decades.

Mr. Senge Sering is a researcher and human rights advocate. He completed his engineering degree from the University of Engineering and Technology, Pakistan, and Masters in Development Studies from the University of East Anglia, England. Currently, Mr. Sering is running Washington, DC, based Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies.

(The article was originally published by Hudson Institute, and can be found here)

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