The decision to ditch SAARC Summit was a classic case of viewing regional cooperation through the narrow prism of bilateral problems
For one or the other reason South Asia has remained in international headlines for the past fourth months. Beginning with the mammoth rallies in the Indian Occupied Kashmir, which met with an inhumanly brutal response by the security forces in early July; Uri attacks in the same disputed territory followed by New Delhi’s hasty accusations against Pakistan and Pakistan’s strong denial; creation of a war hype; and finally, postponement of the SAARC Summit. All along, the plight of the people of Jammu and Kashmir continued to be a story of killing bullets, blinding pellets and crippling curfews.
In all these events, two things are amply clear. First, be it human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, baseless accusations against Pakistan, creation of war hysteria or the decision on non-participation in SAARC Summit, leading to postponement of this conference, all of them contributed to reducing (if not eliminating) the space for diplomacy to work together and ease the situation. Needless to say, for diplomacy to work, one has to first create space for it. That is important.
Second, all these incidents either happened in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, or was a direct consequence of what was happening there. At the center of it was the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, the oldest unresolved item in the United Nations agenda. Unresolved disputes remain trouble spots till they are resolved.
As in the past, this time too engaging in a baseless blame game has served only as a “pretext” to block the already existing dialogue/cooperative processes. This effectively curtails the scope of diplomacy, which had rational and workable solutions in its bag.
In Uri attacks, for instance, instead of vitiating the environment by hastily accusing Pakistan, it would have been helpful to go for independent investigations, as proposed by Pakistan. One can hardly find an argument to justify shying away from such investigations. Interestingly, the attacks served to dilute the international attention on the plight of Kashmiri people, and that too just before the UNGA Session.
A New York Times op-ed on October 16th was thought provoking. Referring to the international media focus shifting to subsequent developments, the author remarks that “hardly anyone notices that since July, some 1,000 Kashmiris have sustained eye injuries because Indian forces are firing at them with pellet guns”. Over three months ago, on July 21st, the same daily had commented on the plight of “overwhelmed” hospitals in Indian Occupied Kashmir reporting that “more than 100 mostly young, are threatened with blindness by pellets lodged in their eyes”.
More recently, on October 19th the Contact Group of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) passed a resolution that “condemned in the strongest possible terms the unabated killing and brutality” let loose by the occupation forces. The resolution also “recalled the numerous unimplemented UN Security Council Resolutions which declare that the final disposition of the state of Jammu and Kashmir will be made according to the will of the people …”
The decision on non-participation in the SAARC Summit, which was to be held in Islamabad, was a classic example of viewing regional cooperation through the prism of bilateral problems. This was precisely the approach that was categorically rejected both by the EU and the ASEAN before they could become success stories and models for the contemporary world. Both succeeded despite differences among the member states. The formula adopted was simple: not to make regional cooperation contingent on bilateral problems. Our region first needs a vision for a better future and then the political will to work for it with commitment and devotion.
Both in interstate relations and in regional affairs, diplomacy has its own way of working and offering ‘tried and tested practices’ to suit various situations. Use of brutal force to suppress the aspirations of a whole population; appetite for blame game rather than addressing the real issues; saying “No” to dialogue and regional cooperative processes; and creating war hysteria serve only to reduce the space for diplomacy to work. That is unhelpful.
It is because of this reason that Pakistan has been supporting the continuation of regional cooperation and other dialogue processes. To be successful in achieving sustainable peace and development, such processes should be all encompassing, endeavoring to address all issues including the outstanding disputes.
Everybody has an important role to play in making use of the established practices of peaceful resolution of disputes, respecting human rights including the right of self determination promised by the United Nations, developing mutual confidence that is conducive for regional development and uplift of its people. Parties to the dispute—Pakistan, India and the people of Jammu and Kashmir—should call on the United Nations to implement its outstanding resolutions. The international community must also show its commitment to human rights by sending UN and OIC Fact Finding missions to the Indian Occupied Kashmir. That is the way forward for durable peace and prosperity.
Following the course of brutalities against unarmed civilians, engaging in blame game and shying away from meaningful dialogue and resolution of the core dispute would further constrict the space for diplomacy and work against the vision of a peaceful, stable and prosperous region.