US President Donald Trump listens to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Community Summit on September 22, 2019, at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Photo: AFP

As the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly gets under way, the rift between Pakistan and India over the Jammu and Kashmir issue has almost overshadowed it. Both countries in a bid to prove each other wrong have created hype in the US. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a massive public gathering in Texas and the presence of President Donald Trump and other US politicians made it a huge success.

Modi in his speech indirectly accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorist outfits and openly told the world from that platform that repealing Article 370 of the Indian constitution was not only beneficial for the future of J&K but was an internal matter of India.

The images from that gathering showing Trump hand-in-hand with Modi and vowing to fight together against “Islamic terrorism” was another setback for Islamabad’s unsuccessful policy. Trump, who is more interested in next year’s presidential election than anything else, cleverly won the sympathy of the Indian audience, and when he met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier, he tried to win the sympathy of Pakistani voters in the US as well by saying that he would try to mediate the Kashmir issue. However, this time Trump added the word “if.” He said he would try to mediate “if” both parties are willing to accept him as a mediator.

So the message is clear: Trump does not want to damage his ties with India but also wants Pakistan’s support in case the talks with the Afghan Taliban resume in the near future. One wonders why Islamabad did not bother to try to arrange a meeting with one of the potential Democratic presidential candidates, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. In fact, Sanders criticized the Trump-Modi rally and the lockdown in Kashmir. Since Modi has put his weight behind Trump for the next US presidential election, it would have been much better for Islamabad to put its weight behind a Democratic presidential candidate. This would not have resolved the Kashmir issue either but at least Islamabad could have garnered the support of Democrats. Perhaps the revival of military aid from the Trump administration was a hindrance to meeting Sanders or Warren at this point.

On the other hand, Imran Khan while talking to the Council on Foreign Affairs also admitted that al -Qaeda was trained by Pakistan in the 1980s to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan at the behest of the US. When asked what happened to the Abbottabad Commission report on the alleged presence of Osama bin Laden and his killing there, Khan replied that he was not aware of the findings of that report. While it is no secret that Pakistan trained militant organizations with the backing of the US to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, Khan while on a tour to highlight the human-rights abuses in Kashmir opened a new Pandora’s box. Perhaps he still lacks the art of when and where to speak, which is a basic trait of leadership.

Islamabad needs to revisit its strategy and understand that as long as it goes forth with a begging bowl in its hands and fights proxy battles for US dollars and Saudi riyals, no one in the world will take it seriously. Perhaps Pakistan should let the Kashmiris fight their own case, as up to now Islamabad has only added more difficulties for them by first supporting militancy in Indian-administered Kashmir in the 1990s and now, with no diplomatic support, is only wasting the time of Kashmiris who are pinning their hopes on Pakistan.

While New Delhi under Modi is moving on a self-destructive path with hyper-nationalism and religious supremacy ideologies, Islamabad needs to end the narratives based on rhetoric. Instead, it needs to get in the back seat for a while and let the Kashmiris fight their own case. If Kashmiris under Indian rule show resistance after the curfew is lifted, it will put New Delhi on the back foot.

Pakistan’s foreign policy is a failure not because of Indian propaganda but because of a lack of understanding of the modern world

War is no solution to the Kashmir problem, and credit goes to the military establishment in Pakistan that despite immense pressure it has not opted for direct or indirect war. However, the establishment needs to realize that since the era of General Ayub Khan the country’s foreign and other political and social narratives have been shaped by the establishment itself, and these rotten narratives based upon liberating Kashmir with the might of gun and the use of religion to exploit society for waging proxy wars in Afghanistan have pushed Pakistan toward an abyss.

Pakistan’s foreign policy is a failure not because of Indian propaganda but because of a lack of understanding of the modern world.

Pakistan has been fighting wars since 1979. From Afghan jihad to the “war on terror” and the operations against terrorists in Pakistan it has been war all the time. Then there has always been political instability in one way or the other and elected governments were never allowed to function properly or to shape foreign policy and state narratives. In contrast, democracy has been allowed to flourish in India, and state narratives in that country are shaped by its elected representatives. A dictator or a puppet regime of the establishment can never have political credibility at home or abroad, while a genuinely elected leadership always carries legitimacy and thus cannot be easily isolated on the diplomatic front.

Just to give one example, the same Indian Prime Minister Modi came to Pakistan and met his then-counterpart Nawaz Sharif because he knew that Sharif was a legitimately elected leader and had the power to make decisions. Likewise, the late Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister because he knew she was the elected leader. However, both Sharif and Bhutto were declared traitors because the establishment felt insecure that Indian prime ministers were meeting with them. Now the situation is that Prime Minister Khan has told the press that Modi does not answer his phone calls. So the question is, were not the so-called traitors Sharif and Bhutto much better in terms of foreign relations than the establishment’s blue-eyed guys, and was it not an honorable thing that Modi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee both came to meet Sharif in Pakistan?

The lessons to be learned from the Kashmir fiasco and Pakistan’s other diplomatic failures are that only a genuine elected leadership can negotiate with India and end the global isolation of Pakistan. Otherwise, Pakistan will remain isolated no matter how many proxy wars it fights for the Saudi monarchs or Washington.

As far as Kashmir is concerned, the government of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and its people should be given the opportunity to raise their voices for their blood relations’ fundamental human rights in Indian-administered Kashmir. This is all Pakistan can do for Kashmir right now, whereas New Delhi needs to ask itself if it will be able to impose the curfew forever, and whom it will talk to after the curfew is lifted, as the local J&K leadership is either discredited or behind bars.

Deep inside, Modi and his administration know that Kashmiris will not accept the theft of their identity as their fate, and the saner voices in India should come forward and stop Modi from imprisoning the entire population of J&K, as Kashmiris have lost everything in the battle between Pakistan and India over this issue. Neither New Delhi nor Islamabad is ready to give Kashmiris the right to choose whether they want to be part of  India or Pakistan or if they want independence. Independence remains the red line for Kashmiris living on both sides of the border.

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