'Bloodbath in Kashmir': Imran Khan's UNGA speech may have verged on the hysterical, but his call to action for radicals is 'most dangerous'

Tara Kartha

The UNGA 2019 went off as expected. The Prime Minister of India made a speech that tickboxed development and progress. The Prime Minister of Pakistan ranted and raved on Kashmir. The former was rather staid and kept to the UN format; Khan's delivery may have verged on the hysterical, but boring he was not. He received applause from a large contingent of Pakistanis, while the Indians sat stone faced and clearly furious. Does it matter in the end? Yes and no.

At one level, Pakistan for the first time, is using the international media to get its leverage with all its assets deployed for the purpose. Various cabinet ministers, the prime minister and President of 'Azad Kashmir' and a slew of think-tankers have been deployed in the field. On the backfoot economically, close to being blacklisted for terrorist financing, and beset by political opposition at home, the Pakistani establishment is using the Kashmir issue with language aimed at different interest groups.

The UNGA speech was first aimed at the Muslim diaspora in general, thus hoping to get expatriate populations to force an issue, and thereby getting disinterested governments to act. This succeeded marginally. Support from Turkey and Malaysia is almost traditional, and therefore their public backing doesn't count as much, even though useful. A resolution by the Labour Party in the United Kingdom was more typical of the reaction Pakistan was hoping for. This clearly catered to the Mirpuri population estimated at about a million. The irony is that the Mirpuris came to the UK in the 1960s after their villages were overrun by the construction of the Mangla Dam in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Promises of compensation never came, either to individuals or to the "Azad Kashmir" government. More will follow as the Mangla Dam is raised further. If the UK doesn't want to be overrun by immigration, it should be using its energies to get "Azad Kashmir' at least the powers of a province, if nothing else. And finally, there are Representatives from Muslim majority districts in the US who are pressing for human rights hearings. And that pressure is coming from other ethnic nationalities like the Somalis.

A second objective is more familiar. Finding world capitals closed to his pleas, Khan chose the UNGA to follow up with the threat of 'another Pulwama' and escalation into a nuclear war which forces governments to sit up and take notice. He may find that this continuous nuclear threats may actually work to Islamabad's disadvantage, as there is a growing unease about Pakistan's nuclear capabilities. But as of now, its all about the moment. That old tag to describe South Asia as ' the most dangerous place in the world' has stuck, and Khan is simply applying more adhesive.

Then there is the angle of 'human rights violations' pitched at such a preposterously high level that it becomes impossible not to take notice. Allegations of 11,000 women raped in Kashmir for instance, is as unholy as it gets. That gets the human rights' group their space for more funding and Congressional attention. Note that there is going to be a testimony on Human Rights in South Asia. Delhi has faced that before, but it is still an irritant in India-US relations, and that's also what Islamabad is aiming for.

It's his last target audience that is the most dangerous. References to Hitler, Nazism, and warning of another 'appeasement' would have most people in splits, except that the whole speech was aimed at inciting Muslims not only in Kashmir, but also in India to act violently against the government. After a long disclaimer that there was no such thing as 'Islamic terrorism', that's precisely what Imran called for from the high table of the world's largest body. This was a call to action, and an appeal to radicals. And here's the problem. There's really no defence against such rhetoric, and if he keeps at it, there's the possibility of a spark being lit somewhere, and the inevitable backlash. That's the one thing that Khan is hoping for.

Now, to consider the downside, and what Khan could not achieve. Shortly after the end of the session, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells in her perss interaction, opened with the meeting of the Quad €" the grouping of India, Australia, the US and Japan €" now significantly upgraded to the Foreign Ministers level. The strength of the India-US relationship was stressed, and the 'historic' Houston gathering referenced. Wells mentioned 'mediation' , but went on to note that India had made it clear that it wanted no such effort, and that any future dialogue would hinge on Islamabad's efforts in stopping terrorism, where she advised that a 'lowering of rhetoric would be welcome'. Then, in a rather unusually acid remark, she noted, "I would like to see the same level of concern expressed also about Muslims who are being detained in Western China, literally in concentration-like conditions".

That was a slap in the face of the Pakistan-China special relationship. With a tri-service exercise coming up and a large trade deal in the offing, it is tempting to write off Khan's expletives as so much hot air.

However, some caution is advised before dismissing the whole. There is no doubt that Khan has managed to insert the 'K' word into the India-US relationship. Diplomats will be expected to, at least, make a reference to this in future press read outs. The US Ambassador in Delhi will be involved in quiet talks to persuade the government to reach out to political leaders and undertake specific measures for the betterment of the people. All that is easy, since it is what Delhi means to do anyway. Elections to the Block Development Councils, literally the building blocks of local development is likely to be held next week, and will be the first real test of a return to normalcy. But 20 years of terrorism has created its own local dynamics €" mainly of fear €" that will take time to settle down. Islamabad's ranting and virtual incitement of Kashmiris is therefore dangerous, and aimed precisely for a 'bloodbath'.

Some careful footwork by separate ministries could be useful. First, Islamabad needs to be 'persuaded' to stop this ranting and raving. That's going to take some serious talking to, since it seems to be determined to paint itself against a wall as part of a larger strategy. Second, there is a need to look for effective crowd control mechanisms other than the dreaded pellet gun.

The injuries caused by this has turned attention away from the fact that India €" unlike Pakistan €" does not rain down fire upon its own people, and has, in fact, practised a degree of restraint quite unknown in modern counter terrorism techniques. This aspect has completely escaped not only the international, but also the domestic audience. Which brings us to the third point.

Islamabad has understood the power of information warfare in its very real sense of the use of media. India has not. The use of right wing elements on Twitter to troll contrary views is not a solution, in fact, that is worsening the situation. A dedicated and directed effort to highlight the terrible situation in Pakistan-occupied-areas will be of use not only to India, but also for those unfortunates living there. India's position on Kashmir needs to be sold more fully and energetically.

The Indian Embassy in Washington has been working itself to the bone on this, but in the end it is but one unit. Much more is needed in terms of a thrust using think tanks, the visual and social media and all other platforms available. Shrugging this Pakistani invective and sweeping it under the carpet may cost us later in very high diplomatic laundry bills.

Also See: Imran Khan says Kashmir issue overlooked by world as India a booming market, warns of serious consequences

At UNGA, Narendra Modi takes high road: PM makes case for de-hyphenating India-Pakistan, draws stark contrast with Imran Khan

At UNGA, a tale of two speeches: Narendra Modi spoke like a statesman, Imran Khan mired in a maze of contradictions 

Read more on India by Firstpost.