Pakistan’s Isolation a Win for Indian Diplomacy: Opinion

Newly-appointed Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addresses the media on his first day at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on August 20, 2018. (Photo by FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

(by Raj Narayan)

A week has passed since India’s decision to break the status quo on Kashmir and the 24-hour news cycle refuses to let go of the momentous events leading up to Home Minister Amit Shah’s speech in the Rajya Sabha. Amidst all the brouhaha, another Indian minister has silently worked his way through the diplomatic channels to isolate Pakistan over Kashmir.

Over the past six days, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar easily replaced his bureaucratic hat with a ministerial hat while jetting around the world and keeping the global narrative around Kashmir limited to New Delhi’s statement that the abrogation of Article 370 was an internal matter of the country.

True, there was a bit of a twist in the tale concerning Washington where a senior White House official refuted New Delhi’s claim of having given a heads-up to the Trump administration about its decision to remove special status on Kashmir. That the matter barely made it to a single news cycle last Wednesday is a credit to our country’s diplomatic corps.

Because barely 24 hours later, US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus “clarified” that there was no change in Washington’s policy on Kashmir and reiterated that it was indeed a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. In the process, Trump’s gaffe over offering mediation on the Kashmir issue also got swept under the carpet.

However, a bigger feather on Jaishankar’s cap was his meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who might have made the right noises over Kashmir to placate its all-weather friend Pakistan, but followed it up by announcing a slew of new initiatives to strengthen Sino-Indian cooperation including an expansion of facilities for Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims.

The two countries not only made the right noises about de-escalating any border tensions through enhanced communications and confidence building measures, they also announced as many as 100 activities that would be organized to strengthen people-to-people ties. Once again, Jaishankar put his personal ties with Beijing, established during his ambassadorship, to good use.

Showcasing his diplomatic acumen, the External Affairs Minister preceded his visit to China with diplomatic efforts to get Russia on India’s side. Late last week, a foreign ministry statement from Moscow unequivocally backed New Delhi’s stance of Kashmir being an internal issue and reminded both countries to resist from aggravating the situation:

“We proceed from the fact that the chances associated with the change in the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and its division into two union territories are carried out within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of India and hope that the parties involved will not allow a new aggravation of the situation as a result of the decisions.”

So, where does all of this leave Pakistan? These words of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi their status in a nutshell: “Let the people of Pakistan and Kashmir be aware that nobody out there (at the UN Security Council) is waiting for you, nor are they waiting for your invitation.” It may be recalled that last week the UNSC snubbed Islamabad’s demand for a debate over Kashmir and the involvement of the Security Council. Instead, Secretary General Antonio Guterres referred to the Shimla Accord of 1972 that rejects any third-party mediation in the Kashmir valley.

In fact, Qureshi obliquely referred to the economic interests of some of the countries that left Pakistan in the lurch, suggesting that no nation wants to forgo the one-billion-dollar market and suggested that the realignment towards New Delhi was real. “We talk about Ummah (Muslim countries) and Islam but those who are the safeguards of Muslim nations have invested in India. They have their interests there,” he added in an obvious reference to Saudi Aramco’s 15-billion-dollar deal with Reliance Industries.

Though Pakistan may yet attempt to internationalise Kashmir through the UN, it stands very little chance of finding support at the Security Council with the US, France and Britain obviously endorsing India’s stand, and Russia and China possibly preferring to wait and watch, given the lure of the Indian market for technology and consumer goods.

It is about time Pakistan realized that future wars will be fought on economics, and the only way to battle New Delhi would be to spend less on defence and more on industry and infrastructure.