Why it's not in Pakistan's Gen Raheel Sharif's interest to focus on reclaiming Kashmir

The neighbouring state's agenda should rather be on ensuring its own regions don't break away.

 |  7-minute read |   13-06-2015
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Pakistan's army chief General Raheel Sharif lost his brother, Major Shabbir Sharif, in the 1971 Bangladesh war of liberation. Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf was then a company commander of the elite Special Service Group (SSG) commando battalion, but did not take part in the war in Bangladesh. Raheel Sharif himself was just 15 years old then. The death of his older brother fighting the Indian Army in Bangladesh in 1971 left a life-long scar on young Sharif.

In Musharraf, however, Raheel Sharif found a mentor when he was commissioned into the Pakistani army in October 1976. Musharraf had been Major Shabbir Sharif's course-mate. At every stage of Raheel Sharif's career, Musharraf ensured his protégé received regular promotions. It was Musharraf who promoted Sharif to the rank of Major-General before he was forced to resign as president of Pakistan in 2008. A grateful General Sharif last year halted Musharraf's treason trial initiated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who Musharraf had deposed in a coup in October 1999.

Changing dynamics in South Asia

Bangladesh is a wound that festers not only in General Sharif's mind but on the Pakistani psyche. It demolished the short-lived "idea of Pakistan" and sliced the country into half. The historic land boundary agreement (LBA) formalised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on June 6, 2015 deepens Pakistan's isolation in South Asia. Both Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Maithripala Sirisena and Sheikh Hasina are keen allies of India unlike their predecessors Mahinda Rajapaksa and Begum Khaleda Zia.

With its principal longtime benefactor, the United States, disengaging from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia caught up in a vicious Sunni-Shia war in Yemen, Pakistan is now wholly dependent on China. But even the much touted $46 billion China-Pakistan economic corridor is in trouble. Baloch insurgents have vowed to sabotage it every inch of the way from its source in Gwadar port through its long passage across Balochistan which compromises 44 per cent of Pakistan's territory. Several Chinese workers in the area have been attacked, causing Beijing to reassess its economic strategy in Balochistan.

The election in Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), through which the China-Pakistan corridor will pass on its way to Xinjiang in Eastern China, is meant to assuage the people of this disputed and neglected region. Shia-majority Gilgit-Baltistan has now become a focal point with India lodging a strong protest against the election held there on June 8, 2015. In an uncharacteristically robust comment last week, India's external affairs ministry condemned the poll in Gilgit-Baltistan, calling it an attempt by Pakistan to "camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation of regions which are an integral part of India".

In response, General Sharif declared on Wednesday, June 3, in a speech at the National Defence University in Islamabad: "Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of partition. Kashmir and Pakistan are inseparable."

He added: "While we wish for peace and stability in the region, we want Kashmir's just resolution in the light of the United Nations resolutions and as per aspirations of the Kashmiri people to bring lasting peace in the region." General Sharif has neither read nor understood the United Nations resolution that he referred to in his speech. Most Pakistani politicians, armed forces officers, journalists and even civil society members deploy the same UN bogey General Sharif did in the hope that a "lie told often enough becomes the truth".

1948 UN Resolution on Kashmir

What exactly does the UN resolution General Sharif quoted say?

This is the relevant clause of the resolution adopted by the UN on August 13, 1948:"As the presence of troops of Pakistan in the territory of the state of Jammu and Kashmir constitutes a material change in the situation since it was represented by the government of Pakistan before the Security Council, the government of Pakistan agrees to withdraw its troops from that state. When the Commission shall have notified the government of India that the tribesmen and Pakistani nationals have withdrawn, thereby terminating the situation which was represented by the government of India to the Security Council as having occasioned the presence of Indian forces in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and further, that the Pakistani forces are being withdrawn from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the government of India agrees to begin to withdraw the bulk of its forces from that State in stages to be agreed upon with the commission."

Since Pakistani troops and civilians continue to illegally occupy what constitutes nearly 40 per cent of the territory of J&K, it remains in clear violation of the terms of the UN resolution. General Sharif is a literate man. But his comment last week on using the 1948 UN resolution to resolve the Kashmir issue defies common sense. The last thing Pakistan should seek is putting to effect the 1948 UN resolution. If it did so in letter and spirit, the Pakistani army would have to move out of PoK lock, stock and gun barrel. Gilgit-Baltistan would revert to Indian sovereignty. The poll of June 8 would be rendered infructious. The China-Pakistan economic corridor would have to be re-routed. China's occupation of the northern territories in PoK would cease.

Much of this, as both Delhi and Islamabad know, is impractical. The line of control is in effect now the permanent international border. It can be argued that the Shimla accord of 1972 between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, following Pakistan's surrender in the Bangladesh war, supersedes the 1948 UN resolution. But some of its terms are harsher on Pakistan than even the 1948 UN resolution. That is why Islamabad harks back time and again to the UN resolution.

After formalising the historic land boundary agreement with Bangladesh in Dhaka on Saturday, June 6, Modi attacked Pakistan four times in his hour-long speech the following day in the Bangladesh capital: "Pakistan constantly disturbs us and has created a nuisance. It promotes terrorism and incidents keep recurring." Touching on the Bangladesh war of liberation, Modi reminded his audience: "These days, when people hijack a plane full of about 100-200 people, they can get anything they want. But we had 90,000 prisoners from Pakistan and didn't bargain. We didn't want to settle scores with Pakistan from the soil of Bangladesh. This is our character on peace, and the world asks for our credentials for the UN Security Council."

Pashtun and Baloch insurgencies

Pakistan meanwhile is being pulled apart by centrifugal forces. It faces a growing insurgency in Balochistan. And though Pashtuns have been co-opted by the Punjabi-dominated army, resentment simmers beneath the surface. Sindh too is in turmoil with Shias in Karachi being slaughtered on an almost daily basis.The fear in the Pakistani establishment, riven by homegrown terrorism and sectarian violence, is the long-term future of Pakistan as a united nation. Its ten million-plus Baloch want the independence denied to them by the forcible annexation of Balochistan by Pakistan in April 1948. (Balochistan was not part of Pakistan at independence in August 1947.)

The Pashtuns number 30 million in Pakistan and around 14 million in Afghanistan. They are one people divided into two countries by the arbitrarily drawn colonial Durand line. The demand for a unified Pasthunistan is a slow-burning fire that could erupt in the future as Pashtun nationalism foments. Pakistan would then be reduced to West Punjab and Sindh.

Having lost Bangladesh decades ago, it could in future possibly lose the lands of the Baloch and Pashtuns. It has already lost their hearts and minds. This fear prompts Pakistan's Scotch-loving generals to continue waging a low-intensity proxy terror war against India. It keeps India off-balance and jingoistic public opinion at home united.

India's inconsistent policy on Pakistan has helped Islamabad. The feeble response to Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani's passport application is symptomatic of this. Pakistan derives respectability and credibility in the eyes of the world by engaging with India: playing cricket with it, talking to it, needling it, and sending terrorists across the border to deliver yet another of its thousand proxy cuts.

The unfinished agenda of partition for General Sharif is therefore not, as he said last Wednesday, reclaiming Kashmir but ensuring Pakistan's other regions don't break away.


Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

The writer is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor. He is the author of The New Clash of Civilizations

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