Dialogue on Kashmir and ‘Pakistan First’
By Dr Shabir Choudhry
It is claimed that Pakistan is a ‘Fort of Islam’; and that the country was established for Muslims, assuming that for Muslims of the world and not only Muslims of Punjab, Sind, Balochistan and Frontier.
This myth was soon shattered when East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh; and those who fought for united Pakistan, and even though they were Muslims and loved Pakistan, were left stranded in Bangladesh. Those Pakistanis are now known as Biharis and they continue to suffer since 1971.
It became clear that Pakistan was not established to become ‘home’ of all Muslims; as the rulers of Pakistan rejected even those who sacrificed everything for Pakistan twice, once in 1947 and second time in 1971. The rulers of Pakistan abandoned approximately 350,000 lakh Pakistanis in Bangladesh, but in 1979 accepted around three million refugees from Afghanistan.
Some argue that the rulers showed their ‘generosity’ in accepting Afghans because they got dollars per head; and poor Pakistanis known as ‘Biaharis’ had no dollars to pay. In any case what ever allusion were there that Pakistan is still a ‘Fort of Islam’, and that it was established for Muslims was soon over when Muslims from different countries in trying to escape the American wrath in Afghanistan, took refuge in Pakistan and were hunted down by the Pakistani authorities and ‘bundled’ to America.
It was clear that Pakistani rulers have adopted a new policy of ‘Pakistan First’. One can give many interpretations to this new policy, as it could virtually mean abandoning everything what Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, stood for in the past.
Najam Sethi, a prominent Pakistani journalist in his article, ‘Indo – Pak peace: Compulsions and dividends’ wrote: ‘Putting "Pakistan First", which expressly means putting Kashmir on the back burner… Pakistan has accordingly stopped talking of the UN resolutions on Kashmir. It has also stopped talking about Kashmir as the "core" issue. In other words, it has gone back to the pre-Kargil Lahore Summit formula of February 1999. All that remains is to exchange India's demand for a permanent end to "cross border" infiltration with a composite dialogue with India which meaningfully leads to a peace dividend in which the people of Kashmir can also participate voluntarily and democratically in any decision regarding their future.’
Another writer and political analyst, C Raja Mohan wrote in his article, Putting Pakistan First: ‘The time has come, many analysts in Pakistan believe, for Islamabad to put Pakistan First' in its national strategy. They argue that Pakistan's magnificent obsession to "liberate Kashmir" at any cost since the late 1980s has turned out to be disastrous. The decade of the 1990s in which Islamabad put "Kashmir First" and embarked on a proxy war against India has had extraordinary negative political, economic and social consequences for the nation.’
Some Pakistani policy planners believe that they are paying a very high price for this obsession to "liberate Kashmir" at any cost; and as a result they have falling behind. One doesn’t have to be an economist to reach this conclusion; one can assess the relative economic and social decline of Pakistan in the region by looking at different indicators. For example, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, Pakistan was ahead of India in economic terms, and now its per capita income has fallen below that of India. At the turn of the millennium it stood at US$ 460 for India and US$420 for Pakistan
According to a leading Pakistani economist, Shahid Javed Burki, with the present rate of growth, the gap between India and Pakistan would surely widen. If both countries economic growth remains at the same level (6 percent for India and 3.5 for Pakistan), then by the year 2025, India’s economy will be ‘worth about $10 trillion in purchasing power; and Pakistan’s will be $524 billion’. And in per capita terms this will reflect as follows: In 2025, India's per capita income will be $7,000, and Pakistan’s will be $2,500.
Even Pakistan’s economic growth has been slower than that of Bangladesh, former East Pakistan, which many thought was a burden to West Pakistan. According to the World Bank’s recent report, which gives the average annual economic growth rate of the two countries in the last two decades: During the 1980s Pakistan grew at 6.3 per cent and Bangladesh at 4.3 per cent. In the 1990s Pakistan's was 3.7 per cent while Bangladesh moved faster with 4.9 per cent. Of course there are many factors for this economic decline and one big factor is Pakistan’s military budget.
In order to get out of this ‘economic mess’, Pakistani governments are advised to change its economic and foreign policy, especially with regard to India. Experts believe that Pakistan needs to get its act together at home by improving law and order situation that foreign investment could be encouraged; and make a U Turn on Kashmir policy that relations with India could improve leading to the status of a ‘most favoured nation’.
According to new thinking Pakistan cannot progress only with the foreign aid, and with continued hostility with India; it has to change for its own sake and learn to live in peace with its neighbours. It appears that this advice has ‘clicked’, and Pakistani rulers are busy sorting out some of their internal problems; and more importantly, devising a policy to say good bye to its old Kashmir policy.
Kashmiri nationalists had no allusions about Pakistan’s sincerity to the Kashmir cause. Pakistani governments never wanted to liberate the Kashmiris, the whole approach has been to ‘get Kashmir’ and make it part of Pakistan. And to Pakistani officials by making Kashmiris citizens of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, they are ‘liberating’ them.
To Pakistani officials it is not important whether the people of Kashmir have any desire to join Pakistan or not. Of course they can always find some who will say we are Pakistani first and want to join Pakistan. It is not difficult to find such people; President Bush had no difficulty in finding them in Afghanistan and Iraq even after virtually destroying these countries.
I never had any doubts about Pakistani political elite’s ability to make U Turn on Kashmir. Political history of Pakistan is full of examples where big U Turns are not only made but people accept them as well.
No self respecting nation abandons its legal and constitutional part of territory, even if that territory is totally barren and inhabitable. Pakistani rulers learnt an art of making U Turns and saying good bye to its own legal and constitutional parts. According to the rules agreed by both Muslim League and Congress regarding the position of Princely States, state of Junagarrh legally became a part of Pakistan after its Muslim ruler acceded to Pakistan, and Jinnah Sahib as a Governor General of Pakistan accepted this accession. Now no one even talks about it or even remember it.
East Pakistan was legal and constitutional part of Pakistan until 1971, but I have heard many Pakistanis saying that it was a liability to us. Many said ‘thank God, we have unburdened ourselves of these Bengali traitors’ (‘Jaan Chhooti in Bengalioon sey’.) No one remembers them today; and no one even remembers those who stood shoulder to shoulder with Pakistani soldiers in defence of former East Pakistan.
If the rulers of Pakistan could say good bye to East Pakistan, and show no sense of national loss or loss of pride, giving away Kashmiri territory to China in a border adjustment is perhaps too trivial to be mentioned. For the sake of those who don’t know, Pakistan handed over some Kashmiri territory to China from Gilgit and Baltistan, and it was called border adjustment.
Some kind of ’hold’ in Afghanistan was considered as a ‘strategic depth’ for Pakistan, and support of Taliban government was a corner stone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. I don’t want to be seen as rubbing salt, but we all know how easily they were all dumped.
In order to preserve, what they regard as ‘Pakistani interest’, Pakistan’s political elite needs another sacrificial lamb to make this big U Turn on its Kashmir policy. Their stooges have already started paving their way in order to ‘soften the blow’ by saying we will accept LOC as a permanent settlement. Come on Kashmiris, Pakistani elites need your sacrifices, ‘Baita charr ja sooli par, ram bhali karay ga’, meaning, son put noose around your neck and jump - God will take care of you.
The writer is a Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, a known writer
and author of many books and booklets on Kashmir, and lives in London.