India will be keenly watching the outcome of the Pakistani brainwave “to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris,” as Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated in Islamabad on August 4.
He spoke on the eve of the first anniversary of New Delhi’s decision to fully integrate the former state of Jammu and Kashmir by amending Article 370 of the country’s constitution that had provided for special status to the region as part of the Indian Union.
In retrospect, August 5 passed eventfully within India but in an unexpected way – a triumphalist moment marking the commencement of the construction of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya.
The ceremony in Ayodhya relegated Jammu and Kashmir to the back burner even as India’s opposition – and the media – was frog-marched to provide the chorus for the joyful occasion of temple construction.
As a columnist in the South China Morning Post noted with biting sarcasm:
“Much water has flowed down the Sarayu River – on whose banks Ayodhya stands – between the ending of the mosque and the beginning of the ‘golden chapter.’ Opposition parties, which once saw the demolition as independent India’s most shameful moment, now prefer silence or seek to join in the festivities over what is to replace the debris.
“The Congress, a sorry shadow of its former self and unsure where it fits in this ‘golden chapter,’ has even been trying to claim credit for the temple to out-Ram the BJP. The media, which then couldn’t hide its horror at the razing of the mosque, now can’t hide its relief at the raising of the temple …”
Strange are the ways India’s secular democracy works. The point is, August 5 from now on is guaranteed to be a joyful day for the Indian hinterland to celebrate.
New Delhi also draws satisfaction that the international community did not raise dust on the anniversary day – not even the United Nations Human Rights Council – apart from a symbolic attempt by China on behalf of its “Iron Brother” at the UN Security Council.
Suffice to say, Qureshi’s threat to Saudi Arabia stems from the frustration that it could do nothing more than the renaming of Islamabad’s Kashmir Highway as the “Road to Srinagar” and the unveiling of a “new map of Pakistan.”
Meanwhile, Qureshi did not seem to factor in that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the diplomatic platform on which the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman, exercises leadership of the Ummah. Other than oil, it is that title that prompts the world community to take Saudi Arabia seriously.
And that hallowed title dating back to Saladin was adopted by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I after defeating the Mamluks and gaining control of Mecca and Medina in 1517, and was used by all subsequent Ottoman Caliph sultans until Mehmed VI (1861-1926), the last.
By the way, King Salman is only the third Saudi monarch to take up the title.
Turkey’s “neo-Ottomanism” under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dreams about the recovery of the lost historical heritage, which was pried away from it in a blatant conspiracy hatched by Imperial Britain when it stirred up the so-called Arab Revolt.
Ankara refrained from making any statement on Kashmir on August 5 – presumably, New Delhi’s “quiet diplomacy” is working. Having said that, Erdogan may not be found wanting if Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan indeed moves to challenge the Saudi misuse of the OIC as a vehicle of Saudi foreign policies.
Yet Qureshi’s brainwave remains quixotic. Any Pakistani initiative to gather a credible number of countries to create a non-Saudi OIC narrative is a non-starter. Qureshi may have ended up inflicting a wound on the Saudi-Pakistan relationship.
This is not to be compared to Pakistan’s reluctance to fight in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. This is about challenging Saudi leadership of the Ummah – and that too, in such an unseemly hurry on the fourth day of the 84-year-old King Salman’s return from the hospital after surgery.
The Pakistan-Saudi relationship has been in some drift lately. There are telltale signs: Pakistan reportedly scrambled to pay back a hefty Saudi loan even ahead of time; the Saudis have not cared to renew the deal for supplying oil to Pakistan under deferred payments; again, nothing seems to have moved on the grand idea of US$10 billion worth of Saudi investments in the Pakistani economy, either.
Therefore, all factors taken into consideration, wise and prudent statecraft lies in Islamabad focusing single-mindedly on the Afghan problem at this crucial juncture rather than frittering away its limited diplomatic and political capital on the Kashmir issue.
That is also what the international community expects from Pakistan, as the timing of the phone calls to the Indian and Pakistani ministers (here and here) by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week would suggest.
Washington’s priority lies in somehow kickstarting the intra-Afghan dialogue and taking some political mileage out of it back home during President Donald Trump’s campaign in the November election.
Washington expects New Delhi not to act as a “spoiler,” while it counts on Islamabad to be a key facilitator of the Afghan peace process. What Kashmir?
The bottom line is that despite the hype by some Pakistani – and Indian – analysts, there is no shred of evidence to suggest that the developments in eastern Ladakh augur China’s entry into the Kashmir issue.
That stand-off stemmed almost entirely out of the idiocies in Indian policies – principally, its death dance with the Quad and its gravitation toward the US-led “Indo-Pacific strategy” and the unwarranted move to insert Aksai Chin into its integration plan for Jammu and Kashmir under the mistaken notion that Trump would scare off Beijing.
A consistent message
On August 5, Beijing restated its “consistent and clear” position on Kashmir when Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said:
“China closely follows the situation in the Kashmir region. Our position on the Kashmir issue is consistent and clear. First, the Kashmir issue is a dispute left over from history between Pakistan and India, which is an objective fact established by the UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements between Pakistan and India.
“Second, any unilateral change to the status quo in the Kashmir region is illegal and invalid. Third, the Kashmir region issue should be properly and peacefully resolved through dialogue and consultation between the parties concerned.
“Pakistan and India are neighbors that cannot be moved away. Harmony between the two countries serves the fundamental interests of both sides and the common aspiration of the international community. China sincerely hopes that the two sides can properly handle differences through dialogue, improve relations and jointly safeguard peace, stability and development of the two countries and the region.”
Simply put, as much as Beijing cannot accept the Indian claim to Aksai Chin and considers New Delhi’s recent assertions to be “illegal and invalid,” it remains rooted in the belief that the Kashmir problem as such is an issue between India and Pakistan.
Unlike the Americans, who keep inserting the “wishes of the Kashmiri people” as a template, Beijing unequivocally frames its position that Kashmir is a bilateral issue. Wang pointedly expressed China’s goodwill toward both its neighbors by urging them to solve the issue through dialogue and peaceful negotiations.
Put differently, despite the raucous Indian claim on Aksai Chin lately, the Chinese stance on the Kashmir problem has not changed since early 1994 when the then-Chinese foreign minister Qian Qichen conveyed to his Indian counterpart the late Dinesh Singh, at a meeting in Tehran, Beijing’s stance on the Kashmir issue in the post-Cold War setting on exactly the same lines as Wang Wenbin did.
This may disappoint hardliners in Pakistan and India, but facts are facts. The sooner Pakistan and India face these geopolitical realities, the better it will be for their own security and prosperity.
MK Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.