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A Year After Kashmir Annexation, Pakistan’s Diplomatic Isolation Continues

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On the first anniversary of BJP-led India’s shocking annexation of the part of Jammu & Kashmir that it occupied in 1948, it would appear that Pakistan, too, has taken off the gloves. Or at least to the extent that maps are concerned! And so, Prime Minister Imran Khan has presented a “new political map” of Pakistan which also includes all of Indian-occupied Kashmir.

Commentators have been pointing out how changing maps has little impact on the ground, especially for the weaker of two states in a dispute. They have also emphasized that the actual cartographic changes are not nearly as significant compared to previous official Pakistani maps. We will not dwell on either aspect.

There are some aspects worth noting in the Pakistani government’s latest stance on Kashmir.

First, the fact that official rhetoric now appears to be fully mirroring India’s annexationist stance towards the former princely state of Kashmir. That India has steamrolled over its own constitution (article 370) and all political-diplomatic good sense by annexing Jammu and Kashmir is quite obvious. But those at the helm of affairs in Pakistan ought to ask themselves whether fighting fire with fire – on maps – is a good idea, given the high moral ground that Pakistan needs to take on the disputed territory.

It is difficult to square Pakistan’s official stance that Kashmir is a disputed territory with its map-based rhetoric that all of Kashmir is de jure a part of Pakistan. Likewise, it is difficult to reconcile this territorial claim over all of Kashmir with avowed support for Kashmiri self-determination.

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There is a common assumption in Pakistan that oppressed Kashmiris would want to replace a violent Indian occupation with annexation by another state which has its troubles with federalism and popular self-determination. Such an assumption must be subjected to at least some critical review, if Pakistan is to become an effective advocate for the oppressed Kashmiris.

Second, the fact that all these cartographic changes, song releases and minutes of silence are – at the end of the day – meant for public consumption within Pakistan. They are unlikely to move the international community, where Pakistan does not enjoy a much more stellar image than BJP-dominated, increasingly violent and religious-extremist India.

As long as Pakistan struggles with its own international image problems – which cannot be addressed through increased censorship – it runs the risk of falling for its own rhetoric. We have already seen that strategic assumptions based on public posturing and bluster can be dangerous for a country. Pakistan has had to face this bitter lesson of strategy many times in its history, but just recently, we have seen a large-scale reaffirmation of it on the part of India.

After all, India’s disastrous clash with China over disputed territory has done much to shatter illusions. It is obvious that the power imbalance between India and China cannot be resolved by hyper-nationalist posturing from the BJP. Moreover, all of the image-making for a domestic audience falls apart when actual conflict breaks out. Pakistan faces a similar gulf of actual strategic power vis-a-vis India. And our policy-makers have to bear that in mind when deciding what hopes to give the Pakistani people.

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The sentiment that unites Pakistanis and the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir is very real. Its intensity has to be harnessed by the Pakistani government for meaningful solidarity to the Kashmir cause, rather than temporary sabre-rattling.

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Naya Daur