In a subsequent decision, services of the bi-weekly Samjhauta Express have also been stopped permanently.
By Ashok Sajjanhar
Pakistan announced a slew of measures on Wednesday, 7th August in response to India’s abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A to nullify the special status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. These actions were declared by Premier Imran Khan after a meeting of the National Security Committee and a Joint Session of the two Houses of Parliament. These include the expulsion of the Indian envoy to Islamabad by down-grading the level of diplomatic relations. The newly appointed Pakistan High Commissioner will also not join his position in New Delhi later this month, as was expected. In addition, all trade between the two countries has been stopped. Two routes for air flights out of the 9 routes available have been closed. It may be recalled that Pakistan had opened its airspace to flights from the West to India and vice versa on 16th July after having closed it on 26th February in wake of the Balakot air-strike following the Pulwama terrorist attack on 14th February. In a subsequent decision, services of the bi-weekly Samjhauta Express have also been stopped permanently.
These actions appear to have been taken by Pakistan purely to satisfy and mollify its domestic constituency. There is a total disconnect between Imran Khan’s government and the opposition in Pakistan’s Parliament. The opposition parties are clamouring for some strong and decisive action by Pakistan against India’s move to revoke the special status of Kashmir. In videos of discussions in Pakistan’s Parliament, Imran Khan is seen exasperatingly beseeching the opposition benches to suggest what action he should take against India. He asks rhetorically whether the Parliamentarians would like him to attack India!
All measures taken by Pakistan are at best symbolic and will not have any significant impact on the existing ground realities. However, the decision to downgrade diplomatic ties is both short-sighted and counter-productive. Ambassadors/High Commissioners are very important channels of communication at high political and senior official levels. Their utility and necessity becomes even greater when relations between the countries are less than cordial. In the current state of relations between India and Pakistan, there is critical need for the two countries to stay engaged with each other to the maximum extent possible. In earlier cases in other countries as also between India and Pakistan, it is seen that it is relatively easy to sever or downgrade diplomatic ties, but much more difficult to bring them back to the pre-existing level when the immediate emergency ceases to exist.
It also appears that Pakistan wishes to send out a somewhat alarmist message to the world about action by India being in violation of UN Resolutions.
Pakistan has also threatened that it will take the issue to the United Nations and to the Security Council in particular. India needs to counter this initiative with a well formulated and executed strategy. Indian Foreign Secretary has already briefed the Ambassadors of P-5 countries in New Delhi about the rationale of this decision. Ambassadors of several other countries have also been briefed by other senior officials. It has been stated that India’s action is purely an internal matter of India and has been undertaken to promote economic growth, improve governance and enhance social development of the region. It is unlikely that Pakistan’s machinations will result in any appreciable support from any of the significant countries except possibly China. Pakistan’s foreign minister is undertaking a visit to China where he might be able to elicit some supportive noises. India will need to rebut these comments summarily as it did when the Chinese foreign office spokesperson termed the change of Ladakh into a Union Territory as ’’unacceptable.’’ India tersely remarked that this is an internal matter of India and as India does not comment on the internal affairs of other countries, it would expect them also to refrain from doing so. Hopefully the message would have gone through to the Chinese authorities who have many skeletons like Xinjiang, Hong Kong etc in their cupboard.
Statements emanating from several countries like UAE, Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc have been supportive of India’s action while those by some others like USA, UK, Saudi Arabia etc have been balanced and factual. Turkey has expressed an interest to help the two countries but this position is no different from what was expressed by Turkish President Erdogan during his visit to India in 2017. It may be noted that on account of Turkey’s longstanding support for Pakistan, Imran Khan had called Erdogan to brief him about the situation. Another world leader called by Imran was Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad. Malaysia has however issued a bland, balanced communiqué on the issue.
The biggest challenge for India in the coming days would be to maintain peace and tranquillity domestically in the Kashmir valley once the curfew is lifted. Situation should be quite normal in Ladakh and Jammu but the Southern districts of Kashmir valley will need watching. Pakistan will try its utmost to dispatch jehadis and terrorists to Kashmir to carry out some major terrorist incident. Imran Khan has already warned that a Pulwama like attack by locals could take place and that Pakistan should not be blamed for such an eventuality. USA has however issued a strict warning to Pakistan that it should rein in its terrorists and ensure that no attacks are launched against India. It is a moot point whether Pakistan will pay heed to this counsel or will feel compelled to show to its domestic constituency that significant pain has been inflicted on India. Pakistan will have to take the decision in light of the forthcoming meeting of the Financial Action Task Force and the threat issued by its Chairman that Pakistan could face being put in the Black List if it does not take stringent action against money-laundering and terrorist groups operating from its soil.
India will be able to relatively easily handle the international fall out of the decision to revoke Articles 370 and 35A and integrate Jammu and Kashmir into the mainstream. It will however have to stay extra vigilant to foil all attempts from across the border as also from within to carry out some major terrorist attack(s). Most importantly, India will need to pro-actively reach out to our sisters and brothers in Kashmir to win over their hearts and minds and convince them that the decision has been taken for their security, well-being and prosperity.
(The author is former ambassador, President of Institute of Global Studies, and Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Views expressed are personal.)